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December 19, 2014

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Findlay Prep’s mascot a perfect choice given Pilots’ penchant for air travel

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Sam Morris

Findlay Prep guard Derryck Thornton Jr. drives to the basket while being defended by coaches Rodney Haddix, left, and Jerome Williams during practice Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

Travel schedule

• Tsumura Basketball Invitational (Nov. 30-Dec. 1), Langley, Canada

Las Vegas to Bellingham, Wash.: 945 miles one-way

Bus from Bellingham to Langley: 29 miles

Round trip: 1,948 miles

• 2013 Mike Miller Classic (Dec. 29), Mitchell, S.D.

Las Vegas to Sioux Falls, S.D.: 1,100 miles

Bus from Sioux Falls to Mitchell: 73 miles

Round trip: 2,346 miles

• Meritas Rancho Solano AZ Showcase (Jan. 3-4), Scottsdale, Ariz.

Bus from Henderson to Scottsdale: 299 miles

Round trip: 598 miles

• Flyin’ to the Hoop (Jan. 17), Dayton, Ohio

Las Vegas to Dayton: 1,700 miles

• Basketball Hall of Fame’s Hoophall Classic (Jan. 20), Springfield, Mass.

Dayton to Boston: 707 miles

Bus from Boston to Springfield: 92 miles

Roundtrip: 4,961 miles

• Findlay Toronto Showcase (March 1), Toronto

Las Vegas to Toronto: 1,950 miles

Round trip: 3,900 miles

• Dick’S Sporting Goods High School National Tournament (April 3-5), New York

Las Vegas to New York: 2,240

Round trip: 4,480

Findlay Prep Basketball

Findlay Prep guard Renathan Ona Embo takes part in a ball handling drill during practice Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Getting to know Findlay Prep

• Where they play: Findlay Prep is a member of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association but doesn’t play for a high school state championship. Rather, it needs the membership to compete against other schools affiliated with a state association. Part of the agreement with the NIAA is that Findlay doesn’t court Las Vegas-area players.

• Global influence: Players have come from all over the United States, Canada, Italy, Nigeria and other countries.

• Housing: Most players live in the same house in Henderson, which was purchased by Findlay for the program. One of the coaches lives in the house as a chaperone.

• Alumni: Former players include Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, Cory Joseph with San Antonio and DeAndre Liggins in the NBA D-League.

• Their school: Players attend the Henderson International School, where they are the lone high school students. Henderson International in 2010 closed its high school, which had about 100 students. It still operates from kindergarten through eighth grade. The $17,000-per-year tuition is paid by Findlay.

• Record: Over the past seven seasons, Findlay Prep has a remarkable 223-13 record. From 2011-13, it won 45 straight games. It won three national high school titles from 2009-12.

This isn’t your typical high school basketball team.

When the Findlay Prep Pilots travel to New York at the beginning of April for the Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Tournament, it won’t be a new experience for the Henderson-based national powerhouse.

This season, they’ve played outside Southern Nevada six times, traveling more than 17,000 miles.

“All aspects of the experience translate over to the college and pro levels,” said Jerome Williams, Findlay’s coach and a former NBA player. “The kids are learning on and off the court how to prepare for the next level.”

Here’s a look at how it’s done:

On whose dime?

They’ve been to Boston; small-town Mitchell, S.D.; and broken out their passports for a game in Canada.

Seems expensive, right? Not exactly.

Most of the travel this season for Findlay Prep’s 12 players and six coaches is paid for by the showcase in which they participate. Organizers handle airfare, hotels, food and other expenses. All flights are commercial and players fly coach.

And Findlay Prep gets all of its gear — uniforms, shoes, warm-ups and other apparel — from a sponsorship with Nike.

Academic success, too

The walls of Findlay Prep’s basketball office are lined with framed McDonald’s All-America jerseys. Newspaper clippings also hang to document achievement.

Above Williams’ desk, however, is what he considers most important — his diploma from Georgetown. He makes sure players realize they have to excel in the classroom first.

Most trips are during the holiday season or on weekends. A few times each season, players will miss school on a Friday.

“It’s all about scheduling and planning,” Williams said. “We make it to where our guys barely miss school.”

It’s no wonder every player to graduate since the program’s birth in 2006 has been a Division-I qualifier.

Just like a college trip

Findlay Prep doesn’t land in a new city and go directly to the arena for a game. Everything is comparable to how it’s done at the next level. There are team meals, film study of the opponent, a scouting report printed for players to review and a pregame walk-through in the hotel.

Recovery

When you are tall, traveling on an airplane is a hassle. “It’s terrible, but you get used to it after a while,” said Horace Spencer, Findlay’s 6-foot-8 junior forward. “Flying takes a toll on your body. You have to be mentally prepared for it.” Williams employs techniques from his days of traveling in the NBA to aid players in recovery. He uses Game Ready, a cold-therapy compression system, to ease legs stiff from flying. “Ice bags are for high school,” Williams joked.

Easily spotted

Whether they are walking in the airport or sight-seeing in a new city, it’s easy to spot the Pilots. Nine of 12 players stand taller than 6-foot-6. “People ask, ‘Who is this team? Is it a pro team?’ ” Williams said. “When we say it’s a high school team, that really opens some eyelids.”

Eating on the road

Tournaments usually provide multiple meals, likely chicken or pasta dishes. Other times they’ll take up 10 tables at a Denny’s or McDonald’s for breakfast, or order pizza for lunch.

Extra travel

Rashad Vaughn, who is verbally committed to UNLV, and Kansas signee Kelly Oubre will play April 2 at the McDonald’s All-America game in Chicago, then the following day in New York with Findlay Prep at the National High School Tournament. As in past seasons, the tournament scheduled Findlay Prep to play in the last quarterfinal game to accommodate the travel of its top players.

Everyone wants to be a Pilot

Each of Findlay Prep’s national tournament games will be televised by one of ESPN’s family of networks. Like clockwork, when Williams checks his email, he’ll be flooded with notes of interest from players hoping to join the program. “I have two All Americans on my team. I get to play against those guys every day,” Spencer said. “It makes me fundamentally better.”

Some, however, think it’s a prep school for fifth-year players to bridge the gap from high school to college. “I get easily 50 calls a year from people who think we are a prep school,” Williams said. “I have to explain to them we are a traditional high school.”

Driven to succeed

Findlay Prep was founded in 2006 by auto dealer and UNLV booster Cliff Findlay. It has sent some players to UNLV, most notably 2013 NBA first-overall pick Anthony Bennett, but it’s not a feeder program for the Rebels.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21

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