Anthony Bennett’s success could mean big things for UNLV’s future with Findlay Prep players

Senior signed his letter of intent Tuesday, officially becoming the highest-rated Findlay grad to commit to UNLV

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Christopher DeVargas

Findlay Prep’s Anthony Bennett before a ceremony March 21, 2012, to honor his selection to the McDonald’s All-American team.

Anthony Bennett made it official Tuesday.

Bennett, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward at Henderson’s Findlay Prep, signed a letter of intent to take his skills approximately 12 miles north to UNLV’s campus. He’s the third Pilot graduate to make that trip, joining recent grad Brice Massamba and junior Carlos Lopez.

But neither of those recruits were close to Bennett’s stature. Both Massamba and Lopez were three-star prospects on an evaluating scale of five stars. Bennett is a consensus top-10 player, the top-ranked power forward in the country and the highest-ranked recruit at UNLV since Larry Johnson transferred from Odessa College in 1989.

"We are excited to have Anthony Bennett join our program,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said in a statement. "He is a winner whose versatility allows him to make plays from multiple spots on the floor. He is an explosive scorer, excellent rebounder and terrific passer. Anthony is a great teammate and has a tremendous basketball background."

Bennett is the type of “local” signee Rebels fans have been hoping for since 2006, when UNLV booster and former power forward Cliff Findlay created his namesake school, which isn’t really a school at all.

Most Las Vegas sports fans are familiar with Findlay Prep’s story. For the uninitiated, the Pilots attend class at the Henderson International School and compete all over the country under the Findlay moniker against other prep academies. This year they won their third national title in the last four years.

The players — this year, coach Michael Peck had 12 kids on the roster — live together in a house that’s within walking distance of the school. They come from around the globe to put in a year or two of hard work under a microscope and then take off for a Division I scholarship. In addition to Bennett, this year’s class includes kids going to Ohio State (Amedeo Della-Valle), Arizona (Brandon Ashley) and Oregon (Dominic Artis), among others.

The situation makes plenty of people uncomfortable, including Eddie Bonine, the executive director of the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“Findlay is a basketball academy,” Bonine told The Daily back in February. “The last frontier of virgin sports is high school athletics. What’s going on here, it doesn’t pass the smell test.”

With Cliff Findlay’s connections to both programs, it’s not hard to see how this theory gained traction. And now that Bennett has become the first marquee Pilot to make the drive north, the whispers will only get louder.

Any explicit connection between the two programs, of course, would be an NCAA violation. And no, Peck says over and over to anyone who will listen, he does not steer his players to UNLV, where he was the team’s video coordinator before taking over at Findlay in 2007. Selfishly, he said, he likes it when some players stick around because then he can continue watching them develop and mature as players and as people. But more than that, he wants them to go to a college that makes them happy and, in a lot of cases, gives them a chance to make money playing basketball.

For the majority of Findlay’s existence, UNLV hasn’t fit that bill, and the Pilots know it. The Mountain West Conference hasn’t offered the prestige or national cache of traditional powers in major conferences.

“Kids are in tune with that, and it matters to them,” Peck said.

But the times are changing. And while Rice, Mike Moser, Khem Birch and Katin Reinhardt are all big reasons for that, Peck draws the line back to 2010 Findlay graduate Cory Joseph.

A top-10 recruit, Joseph included UNLV in his final five and made the drive north for an official visit. Joseph committed to Texas and now plays for the San Antonio Spurs, but his consideration of staying in the desert changed the point of view for Findlay’s other top recruits.

“They saw that that’s a cool thing now. ‘I’m not going to get laughed at if I look at UNLV,'” Peck said. “(Bennett) only adds to that.”

Location is UNLV’s obvious advantage with Findlay kids. But if you take the Pilot coaches at their word — and in six seasons they have yet to give you reason not to — it’s really the Rebels’ only advantage that doesn’t change year-to-year. Peck works hard to make sure his kids look at coaching style, possible playing time and their overall comfort with the campus. Those change for each kid every year.

This year, Findlay and UNLV look like the perfect match many want them to be. First, there’s Bennett. And in the class of 2013, forward Christian Wood (No. 55) has already committed and guard Nigel Williams-Goss (No. 39) is still considering the Rebels after backing out of his original commitment when Lon Kruger left for Oklahoma.

The conference affiliation and lack of television exposure are still knocks against the Rebels, but Rice is implementing a fast-paced style that excites kids. And after this season, Rice will likely send at least Moser and possibly Bennett to the NBA early, another appealing idea for top recruits.

If Bennett succeeds and leaves for the NBA after one or two seasons, Rice will have the full attention of any future Pilot. And as long as the Rebels have success, UNLV will be a legitimate option.

But that’s all it is: an option. What’s right for Bennett — a shy kid who gets to play with his friend, Birch — may not be right for the next top-10 kid to play for Findlay.

But make no mistake, Rice has made UNLV relevant to the Pilots in ways his predecessor never could.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. UNLV's ESPN top 100 recruits out of high school

    Anthony Bennett '12_________#7
    Khen Birch '12_____________#12
    Katin Reinhardt '12_________#47
    Mike Moser '09____________#55
    Quintrell Thomas '08________#56
    Bryce Jones '10____________#69
    Anthony Marshall '09________#85

  2. Top 10 scorers in 2012 Rivals150

    3. Katin Reinhardt
    School: Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei
    The Buzz: Coming off a highly successful senior season, Reinhart will be counted on to put up points for UNLV. He shoots with deep range and has a terrific pull-up jumper.

    http://rivalshoops.rivals.com/content.as...

  3. I'm not to worried about the television exposure. They'll work something out before the 2012-13 season. Also, I'm sure they'll get a few games on ESPN.

  4. If the Rebels can be successful recruiting Findlay Prep athletes, the recruiting budget will certainly benefit. Coach Dave Rice would get to sleep in his own bed too.

  5. If Moser doesn't play better than he did down the stretch then he isn't a lock for the NBA.

    Anyway, Bennett is a great grab and hopefully will open the recruiting floodgates all the way for the future...

  6. @AmLowLife

    Moser wore down as the season progressed from playing way too many minutes. He should be able to stay fresh during the season with a deeper bench. Coach Rice admitted, on the radio today, that he was struggling (my word, not his) with his rotation, but will lock down with nine guys. This will allow him to run a full court press and the uptempo style he wants. Taylor Bern had a nice assessment of the types of line ups Coach Rice can go with next season. I agree with Taylor that the only guys playing (not counting garbage time) will likely be Marshall, Smith, Hawkins, DeJean-Jones, Reinhardt, Bennett, Q, Birch, and Lopez. Hopefully Morant and Cook redshirt so they can develop and get more playing time next year.

  7. When it comes to Moser, people tend to forget that he didn't play much at UCLA before sitting out during a transfer season. Before last year, he hadn't played regularly since high school.

    The fact that he came out this season so strong is impressive, even if he hit the wall a bit. With a season of full time play now under his belt (and bigs in form of Bennett and Birch along side him), expect big things next season.

  8. I had the fortune to talk to Tad Boyle a couple of weeks ago and he commented that when CU looked over the film, they were thrilled that Moser liked to throw up so many threes(open and many times contested). They wanted to keep him away from the basket and encourage him to shoot. Pretty telling. Seemed to me that Mike was so worried about proving his all around offensive abilities that he forgot what made him so tough in the early to mid season. Hopefully he gets that message and shoots them on occasion, not a steady diet. Take it to the rack Mike! Runnin' Rebels!