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Rested Pilots seek third national title

Just about any player on the Findlay Prep basketball team could score 30 points in a given game.

But what can happen when a McDonald’s All-America point guard, two fellow Division I signees and several other college prospects play as one unit?

“If we play together, nobody can beat us,” said senior swingman Amir Garrett, who is headed to St. John’s.

The Pilots will take that philosophy to the ESPN RISE National High School Invitational with hopes of winning a third straight championship.

Third-seeded Findlay (28-3) meets No. 6 seed Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Dwyer (32-1) in a quarterfinal at 1 p.m. Thursday at Georgetown Prep in Bethesda, Md. The game will be televised by ESPNU.

The Pilots, ranked No. 7 nationally by USA Today, haven’t played since a 104-59 rout of Impact Academy on Feb. 24. But coach Michael Peck thinks his players will be rested rather than rusty after giving them 10 days off when the regular season ended.

“We’ve put in three weeks of practice against each other and scrimmages, so we’re ready,” Peck said.

Findlay senior shooting guard Nick Johnson sees reminders of his team’s brief but storied history every time he walks in the film room, which is decorated with trophies and a net from the first championship in 2009.

“You walk in here and you see all the plaques and stuff, and you just want to keep living that tradition,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who wears No. 3 in honor of his late uncle, former NBA standout Dennis Johnson, is carving out his own legacy. The Arizona signee is an explosive finisher who has become a YouTube hit for his high-flying dunks.

Johnson is part of a deep backcourt that includes senior Myck Kabongo, a Texas signee, and sophomore Nigel Williams-Goss, who has committed to UNLV.

Kabongo will join the Pilots this morning after playing in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago on Wednesday.

Findlay’s guard play has been a strength for years. But the Pilots have received a boost in the post this season from junior forward Anthony Bennett.

Bennett, who is being courted by UNLV and several other programs, set Findlay’s single-season field-goal percentage record this season at 71.6 percent.

“When (Bennett) goes up, he’s going to punish the rim,” Peck said. “At our level, you don’t see that a lot.”

This year’s bracket might be tougher than the past two seasons Findlay has won the event.

Dwyer won the Florida Class 5A state title this season. If the Pilots defeat the Panthers, NBA factory Oak Hill Academy (Va.) might be waiting in the semifinals.

The other half of the bracket is loaded with No. 1 seed Montrose Christian (Md.) and No. 4 Winter Park (Fla.), which boasts the consensus top player in the nation in Austin Rivers.

Findlay was humbled 63-37 by Montrose on Feb. 12. But Peck said his players are not thinking about a possible rematch in the title game because they know how good Dwyer is.

“The emphasis is the same stuff that we’ve always emphasized: defense and rebounding,” Peck said. “We’re going to have to get stops to win a championship.”
 

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