COMMENTARY: While preps bask in spotlight, others make spectacle of selves

Bishop Gorman vs. Findlay Prep is becoming to local high school basketball what the Rose Bowl is to college football, what the Kentucky Derby is to horse racing, what the Indianapolis 500 is to auto racing. This might explain why Sam Schmidt, whose car qualified on the pole at the Brickyard last year, was sitting next to me in the media section.

Even Mayor Carolyn Goodman was on hand at Cox Pavilion on Saturday, handing out embossed black business cards redeemable for a free drink at the other Mayor Goodman’s place, Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads downtown. It should be noted that Mayor Goodman and her free drink cards were very popular in the media section under the basket.

In the front row, there were 1,034 college basketball coaching victories. Former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian (706 wins) and former Washington State, Southern California and Iowa basketball coach George Raveling (328) were sitting next to each other in the expensive seats. Former Nevada Governor Bob Miller was in the house. And casino owner Michael Gaughan.

I saw doctors. I saw lawyers. I did not see any Indians, much less an Indian chief. But I did see a Phillie: Shane Victorino, Philadelphia’s All-Star center fielder.

Afterward, a colleague was interviewing Michael Peck, the Findlay Prep coach, when he was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder.

It was Sen. Harry Reid, wanting to congratulate the winning coach.

My sports-writing colleague said he had covered a lot of high school basketball games, and though he was sure there must have been a time or two when a Senate Majority Leader interrupted one of his postgame interviews, he couldn’t recall the last time it happened.

And yet, while all of this was going on, while movers and shakers were primping and preening and handing out free drink cards, there was Winston Shepard, Findlay’s outstanding 6-foot-8-inch forward, telling other media — lots of other media — that while this Big City Showdown Challenge might trip Bishop Gorman’s collective trigger, “it’s just another game to us.”

Maybe it is. Maybe it was. Findlay won 73-61 to improve its record since 2006 to a bazillion and 8. 

But people do not pay $99 on Stub Hub for a ticket to just another high school basketball game.  

Last year, Findlay beat Gorman 89-86 in double overtime on a buzzer-beating 3-point basket. That wasn’t just another game. That was a classic.

The rematch only was a classic for a half. Gorman’s Ben Carter launched a shot from his own free-throw line just before the buzzer sounded, and when it banked off the backboard and into the basket at the other end, the Gaels ran off the court with a 34-33 halftime lead.

When the sellout crowd stopped roaring, Schmidt told me he had never witnessed a shot like that.

In the Findlay locker room, I’m sure Shepard told the other Pilots it was just another basket.

Findlay took control in the third quarter, mostly by pounding the ball inside and mostly by not fouling Shabazz Muhammad and the other Gaels who were missing easy shots. Muhammad is the best high school player on the planet but he had an off game, scoring 19 points on 9-for-19 shooting.

“All we heard was how were we going to stop Shabazz when it should have been how was Gorman going to stop Findlay,” Shepard said.

All I heard was that this was going to be better than Jimmy Chitwood sinking the winning basket in “Hoosiers” off the picket-fence play.

Bishop Gorman vs. Findlay Prep wasn’t like that. This wasn’t small-town kids with brush haircuts named Rade and Whit and Strap and Ollie and Merle vowing to win a game on a big stage for all the small schools that never had a chance to get there.

This was one high school basketball factory locking horns with another basketball factory.

This wasn’t about small-town innocence, about closing the barber shop so everybody could see the big game. This was about paying $99 on Stub Hub to see the big game, the way it’s played in the big city nowadays.

It was about Shabazz and Winston and ESPNU and Mayor Carolyn Goodman handing out business cards for free drinks before she left at halftime.

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