The Findlay Prep Pilots are not your typical high school basketball team.
Their 12-man roster boasts nine players with a height of over 6-foot-6 and chiseled 200-plus pound frames that seem to be carved from the tools of Michelangelo Naismith himself.
The Pilots have an impressive track record since the program began in 2007, with a list of recent alumni that includes current NBA players DeAndre Liggins, Avery Bradley, Myck Kabongo, Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and last year’s number-one overall pick in the NBA Draft – Anthony Bennett.
The talent that Findlay has cultivated and subsequently produced has been nothing short of phenomenal, and this season’s roster is no exception.
When the Pilots travelled north to Langley, British Columbia this past weekend to take on a pair of B.C. all-star teams as part of the second-annual Tsumura Basketball Invitational (TBI), measuring sticks were abundant.
In the two games, held on back-to-back Saturday and Sunday nights, Findlay beat the pair of TBI Selects squads with relative ease. The lopsided results were expected, with the prep school currently ranked as the number-one program in the United States, but the experience for everyone involved was invaluable.
For the Pilots, it gave them an appreciation for the homegrown local talent that B.C. offers, and for the Canadians, it left them with a sense of worth, and more importantly, motivation – in terms of seeing what can result from relentless hard work and an obsessive devotion to development.
On Saturday night, the Pilots took on the TBI Selects 1, headlined by University of Washington-bound Tristan Etienne, UBC-bound Mindy Minhas, Tamanawis Secondary’s cold-blooded killer Sukhjot Bains, and class of 2015 phenom, two-time NPH B.C. Showcase MVP, Jermaine Haley.
Findlay, led by sophomore Derryck Thornton Jr., senior Kansas commit Kelly Oubre, and a slew of other blue chips undoubtedly headed for Division-1 programs, cruised to a 117-75 victory – with seven players reaching double figures.
But the local squad didn’t recede or shrink in the presence of the Findlay future pros. Head coach of the Pilots, former Toronto Raptor fan favourite Jerome “Junk Yard Dog” Williams, had high praise for the hosts.
“Obviously this is a very good team that we played tonight,” said Williams. “They put up 75 points against us, and I know that if they had more time to practice with one another, that they’d be a well-seasoned team. I think this bodes well for British Columbia.”
The difference in skill level between the two teams, as noted by most players and coaches, was relatively even. It was just the sheer size, leaping ability and superior athleticism that tipped the scales in Findlay’s favour.
“Skill-wise, I think they’re the same, but athletically I think they’re definitely at a different level,” said Minhas, who scored six points for the TBI Selects.
Tamanawis’ Bains was another highlight for the TBI Selects, scoring 10 points and attacking the rim like it was just another day at the office.
“I just wanted to prove to everyone that even Canadian players can play against the best competition in the United States, and that we can actually do good – even though the score doesn’t really reflect that,” said Bains.
Minhas also noted that the B.C. squad played like they ‘had nothing to lose’ – allowing them not to get too caught up in the hype surrounding their competition.
Williams, on the other hand, was asked post game if there were any feelings of elevated expectations and pressure that come with the label of being the best high school team in the United States.
“Expectations and pressure? As far as where I come from, in the NBA, that’s every given night. It comes with the territory,” said Williams. “You don’t overlook anybody, and you play with the same intensity wherever you go. Tonight was no different, because if we didn’t come out ready to play, this team would have beat us.”
On Sunday night, it was TBI Selects 2’s turn to tangle with Findlay – and the results were a little more lopsided. The Pilots outscored the Selects 26-6 in the opening frame and kept piling on the pain from there – with a final score of 131-56 in favour of the visitors.
The second Selects squad was a quite thinner on star power, but were led by Seattle Univeristy-bound guard Jadon Cohee – whose past experience with American competition helped him exude a confidence that was mostly absent from the rest of the Selects’ roster.
Cohee’s crossovers, spins and head fakes were largely ineffective against the 6-7 lightning-quick Oubre – his defensive matchup for most of the night – but the reigning B.C. provincial champion still created ways to score and managed to lead all Selects in the match with 15 points in 24 minutes of play.
“I’ve played a lot of games in the U.S., so I’m used to the intensity, although I’ve never played against that many players that are all that good,” said Cohee. “But whenever I come onto the court, I always have something to prove – that’s just the way I play. I wanted to prove that I could play with these guys.”
Rashad Vaughn, the 6-6 senior originally out of Minnesota, was one of the most consistent performers for Findlay, and led the Pilots with 26 points and eight assists on Sunday night. Oubre added 23 points and eight rebounds, while University of Arizona commit Craig Victor recorded 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Findlay shot an incredible 67 per cent from the field over the two games, and only attempted 11.5 three-pointers per contest compared to the TBI Selects 29.5 attempts per game – showing that the Pilots understood their distinct physical advantage in the paint and exploited the hell out of it.
But blowouts aside, this weekend was a great opportunity for the best up-and-coming ballers in B.C. to gauge just exactly how they match up with some of best high school players on the planet.
Many of the TBI Selects were quick to point out the disparity in athleticism between Findlay and their own peers – and rightfully so. But Etienne, who was spoken of by many in attendance as someone who could have easily suited up for Findlay, felt right at home.
He spoke for the province as a whole when trying to reflect on what it takes to turn what many saw as a viewing gallery – into more of a mirror image.
“Going into a game like this, where the entire team is full of great players, you think ‘Wow they’re great.’ But I’ve played against guys like this since I was young. I was ready for it, and I knew I could compete with them,” said Etienne.
“It just lets us all know that all we’ve been dreaming about, all the hours we’ve been putting in the gym – it’s all worth it.”
-Findlay has three Canadians on their roster – all from Ontario. Toronto’s Dillon Brooks (10 points in 15 minutes of play in game one), Mississauga’s O’Shae Brissett, and Justin Jackson – also a Toronto native (10 points and seven rebounds in game one, 17 points in game two).
-Kelly Oubre, who has committed to Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks, is going to be a special player. He wears the number 22 jersey at Findlay, and should have no problem filling the shoes of the current number 22 at Kansas.
-The amount of dunks in both games was ridiculous. I’m not kidding when I say that the majority of Findlay’s possessions ended with slams. It was incredible.
-The edge and aggression that the Findlay players brought was almost as noticeable as the jump in athleticism. Each Pilot, and especially Oubre, was legitimately mad when they ended an offensive possession without a score – or when the TBI Selects managed to score on them.
-I believe if Etienne, Minhas, Cohee, Haley, Bains and Mouat guard Corey Hauck were grouped together on one roster, that they would put up a decent fight against Findlay if a rematch were to take place.
-Williams, who has one of the best nicknames ever in Junk Yard Dog, is quick to bestow many monikers upon his players: “We’re very proud to help a lot of Canadians that want to come across the border and play for us. This year of course we have three very good Canadians in Dillon “Bounce” Brooks, O’Shea Brissett – who is my man “Lego”, and of course Justin “Action” Jackson, – who is a phenom.”