COMMENTARY: Findlay Prep sets high standards, leaps over them

Findlay Prep had just beaten the nation’s No. 1-ranked team Monday, just whipped up on Simeon (Ill.) 75-50 in a prep basketball showcase in Springfield, Mass., just improved its record to 143-8 in the last five-plus seasons, when coach Mike Peck offered his players this message:

“I told them it was good to be back on track.”

Which is like telling James Patterson it’s good his most recent thriller topped 5 million books sold, and not the paltry 4.8 million like the previous one.

But this is the level of excellence expected since the inception of Findlay Prep in 2006, since UNLV booster and former-Rebels-player-turned-auto-sales-magnate Cliff Findlay founded the program in honor of his late mother, Mary Jo.

Mother and son shared an unbreakable bond when it came to basketball, so Findlay threw his financial support at the concept of building a prep school power in Las Vegas, of attracting skill from across the globe and educating it at Henderson International School.

“I don’t think anyone could have imagined this kind of success so fast,” Findlay said. “It amazes me. I was at the airport in Los Angeles wearing a Findlay Prep shirt and a 10-year-old boy came up to me and said it is his lifelong dream to play for Findlay. It’s unbelievable how recognition of the program has already gotten to where it is.”

That tends to happen with 143-8.

And national championships in 2009 and 2010.

And NBA lottery picks as alumni.

Cox Pavilion today will host what has become the most anticipated prep game in these parts annually, when Findlay Prep and Bishop Gorman tip off at 2 p.m and some of the best recruits nationally are featured on ESPNU, when UNLV coaches can spend a few hours before their team hosts New Mexico at 7:15 watching some of those players they still covet from the 2012 class and beyond.

Tickets for Findlay-Gorman were going for $99 to $200 on StubHub this week. Yes. You read those numbers correctly.

It’s that big a deal to some locally, which brings us to one of those initial charges against Findlay Prep that has yet to be proven, that it was built as a means to funnel extraordinary talent down the highway and into UNLV’s program, that it would be, more than anything else, a feeder school for the Rebels.

Yeah. Not so.

UNLV has recruited and signed a few players out of Findlay, but no one with unbiased eyes and a straight face can claim the Rebels have taken from the prep school close to its best talent, unless UNLV has changed its nickname to Longhorns and its main color to burnt orange.

“I suppose it has always been considered by some an advantage for UNLV to be so close,” said Peck, a former video coordinator for the Rebels. “But the way colleges recruit now, anyone can be here in a day’s time. While we always like to see the Rebels do well because they’re so important to the community, I’d say it’s pretty obvious we’re not a feeder school for anyone. A lot of our players have already made their college choice before arriving here.”

Prep schools that double as basketball factories tend to get a bad rap as scandals have defined some across the county. Academics are almost always questioned and good intentions almost always doubted.

Peck knew this upon taking the job, that his program would in some ways exist under a perpetual shadow of cynicism. He can only point to a perfect record of his players qualifying academically for college programs, only keep working to successfully deliver the dream Findlay has presented about good kids and good students and (very) good players.

But what having Findlay Prep here has unquestionably done is raise the perception and, in many ways, the talent of prep basketball across the city.

“If I’m selling 50 cars a day and the guy across the street is selling 500, you better believe I’m going to find out what is making him so successful to sell 500,” Findlay said. “Playing against Bishop Gorman or Findlay or watching those teams shows other kids here who have that dream of playing Division I basketball where they are with their own games and what it takes to be really competitive at this level.”

The competition doesn’t get better here than what today will bring.

Not at the prep level.

And for anyone willing to shell out $99 to $200, not at many levels above it.

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