Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 | 2 a.m.
The 2011-12 Findlay Prep basketball team won't look at all like the one whose season ended with a thud in the quarterfinals of the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational last April in Maryland.
Take senior swingman Winston Shepard, for example.
"With a guy like Winston, you're looking at a guy who played (center) last year, and now out there, people who just walk in and don't know names would just say, 'Oh, he's a guard,'" Findlay Prep coach Mike Peck said. "It's because he's being dwarfed by some 7-footers, 6-foot-10 guys. We have size like we've never had before, but we also have some basketball players — guys who have a feel for different spots and know how to play. They have a willingness to play a certain way that will be unselfish, sacrificing certain elements of their games based on what the team needs."
Of the 12 members of this season's Findlay Prep roster, eight are newcomers. Five of those eight stand 6-foot-9 or taller. Eight of the 12 players in Pilots uniforms this year measure out at at least 6-foot-8.
The hope for Peck and his staff is that not only will the overhauled roster create match-up problems left and right but that the group will also jell early and make Findlay Prep have that dominant look again. That was not the case late last March, when the Pilots suffered a 70-61 upset against Dwyer (Fla.) High in the ESPN Rise NHI opener. It was an abrupt end to the program's pursuit for its third consecutive national title.
The four losses Findlay suffered last season were more than the program recorded in its first three years of existence combined (3). For the first time, Findlay Prep looked vulnerable.
Talent-wise, this year's group has what it takes to have that untouchable aura about it once again.
"From a chemistry standpoint, we're trying to kind of rebound from the bad feeling and the way last season ended," Peck said. "The guys returning know and understand that nobody who was part of that wants to go through that and feel that again.
"We're going to get back to Findlay basketball and the way we do things."
Here's a closer look at the 12 members of this year's Findlay Prep squad.
• Nigel Williams-Goss, junior guard, 6-foot-4, 180 lbs. (Portland, Ore.)
Williams-Goss is entering his third season in the Findlay Prep program. He decommitted from UNLV following the hiring of Dave Rice and his staff, but the Rebels' new regime has begun forming a relationship with him in efforts of reeling him back in. Williams-Goss will be Findlay's true leader on the floor this season, and he's a true point guard in every sense of the term. He looks the part now, too, having added roughly 10 pounds since the end of last season and rounded out his offensive game with a consistent outside shot. There's no reason to believe his steady development won't continue.
• Winston Shepard, senior guard/forward, 6-foot-8, 210 lbs. (Fresno, Texas)
Shepard is also on campus for a third season and will play much more on the perimeter as a senior than he did a year ago. Much of that is due to the wealth of size Findlay adds with its incoming group. An adept outside shooter and a gifted passer, the transition should be a smooth one. As for his recruitment, he's down to six schools: UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State, Georgia, Oklahoma State and UTEP. Shepard has indicated recently that he doesn't plan on signing a Letter of Intent until the spring.
• Anthony Bennett, senior forward, 6-foot-8, 235 lbs. (Brampton, Ontario)
Bennett had a bigger summer than almost any prospect in the 2012 class, and Rivals.com currently has him ranked No. 7 overall in the nation. The key for Bennett now is his health. Last season for him was injury-riddled to say the least. He'll be back on campus early next week the healthiest he's been in roughly a year. His recruitment should be wild to the finish, as he has a list of 10 schools still in the mix: UNLV, Kentucky, UConn, West Virginia, Oregon, Pitt, Florida, Missouri, Ohio State and Washington. In other words: Don't expect a decision anytime soon.
• Benas Griciunas, junior forward, 6-foot-11, 215 lbs. (Silute, Lithuania)
After not seeing much time on the floor as a sophomore, Griciunas returned to Las Vegas two inches taller with plenty of added bulk, helping make him a contender for more minutes as a junior.
• Amedeo Della Valle, senior guard, 6-foot-4, 180 lbs. (Alba, Italy)
Della Valle isn't on campus yet, but expect several coaches from around the country to want to get a closer look at him once he is. From the sound of it, few in America have seen him play, but he'll come across the Atlantic Ocean with a reputation as a deadly outside shooter. That will fill a big need for the Pilots, if he can get comfortable right away in his new surroundings.
• Petar Rusic, junior guard, 6-foot-4, 185 lbs. (Oakville, Ontario)
Very much in the same mold as Della Valle, Rusic will likely see minutes as a reserve in his junior season and get a chance to house plenty of 3-point shots.
• Dominic Artis, senior guard, 6-foot-1, 172 lbs. (Vallejo, Calif.)
He's small and has a baby-faced appearance, but Artis can do it all in the backcourt. His vision both in transition and in traffic is excellent, and he can score in a variety of ways. To boot, he's a very explosive athlete and can catch opponents off-guard with his leaping ability. He'll be able to sit back and focus on just playing as a senior, having committed to UCLA at the end of the AAU season. When he's on the floor at the same time as Williams-Goss, opponents could be put on their heels quite a bit.
• Brandon Ashley, senior forward, 6-foot-9, 215 lbs. (Dublin, Calif.)
A versatile forward who can play either inside or out, Ashley transfers in from the Bay Area and adds another elite-level talent to Findlay Prep's front line. He's easily the most highly-touted newcomer to Findlay this season, and his presence will allow Shepard to float the perimeter some more. As for his recruitment, he's narrowed his choices down to four: Kentucky, Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. His rapport with Artis should also translate well, as the two are AAU teammates and have played together for years.
• Nick Madray, junior forward, 6-foot-9, 210 lbs. (Mississauga, Ontario)
Another big man who can play anywhere on the floor, Madray comes to town already with a good build on his 6-9 frame. He turned heads while playing AAU ball alongside Bennett this summer and could follow his rise over the next two years at Findlay.
• Christian Wood, junior forward, 6-foot-9, 185 lbs. (Palmdale, Calif.)
Wood is the guy most UNLV fans will be keeping the closest watch on. He committed to Dave Rice and his staff back in July and comes to Findlay Prep not just for better competition and exposure, but to transform himself physically. He's tall, long, thin and dripping with potential. Wood said he hopes to get up to roughly 205 pounds in the next year. Meanwhile, he'll try to get himself on the floor, where he'll prove to be a difficult matchup for anyone on the perimeter.
• Matt Willms, senior center, 7-foot, 205 lbs. (Leamington, Ontario)
Another UNLV target, Willms' rise on the scene in the United States is picking up steam. After playing a year at Consortium Prep in Detroit last year, he grabbed the attention of several college coaches on the AAU circuit this summer. On top of trying to add about 20 pounds, he'll develop as the year goes on both in games and on the practice floor against a roster stocked with big bodies.
• Kingsley Okoroh, sophomore center, 7-foot, 225 lbs. (Derby, England)
The youngest member of this year's Findlay squad, most of Okoroh's first year in the United States will be spent developing in the background. However, he's already pretty well built for his height. His ceiling appears to be high.