This much is easy to say about Findlay Prep: It is not only the most talented basketball team in Nevada, it’s also one of the most highly regarded programs in the country. The Pilots are the two-time defending champions of the ESPN RISE National High School Invitational, the closest thing there is to an official prep basketball championship tournament, and at 19-2 and ranked No. 8 in USA Today’s Super 25 basketball rankings, they are a threat to win a third straight crown.
But to call Findlay Prep a high school team is somewhat deceiving. First, there is no school called Findlay Prep. And, second, the private school that the program is affiliated with, Henderson International, no longer has a high school, having dropped grades 9 through 12 last year because of declining enrollment. In addition to one senior who elected to complete her secondary education at Henderson International, Findlay Prep’s 10 players are the lone high school students on campus.
Despite the unique relationship, though, Pilots coach Michael Peck says he has received assurances from the program’s founder, local car magnate Cliff Findlay, that Findlay Prep will continue in its current arrangement.
“He’s not interested in letting this dissolve and go away,” Peck says. “It’s done what our mission was set out to do, and that is to prepare young men for what’s next at the college level.”
Findlay, who could not be reached for comment, has bankrolled the program since its inception in the fall of 2006, and the players all receive full scholarships to Henderson International, where annual tuition costs about $17,000. Most of the players live near the school in a large two-story house, where assistant coaches Brett Price and Andy Johnson supervise them.
There was speculation when the program was launched that Findlay Prep would essentially be a feeder program for UNLV, especially since Findlay is a former Rebels basketball player and a longtime university booster. But the University of Texas actually has received the largest number of Findlay Prep alumni, with Pilots senior point guard Myck Kabongo being the program’s fourth player to commit to the Longhorns. By comparison, sophomore guard Nigel Williams-Goss, on track to become the first four-year player at Findlay Prep, is just the third Pilots player to commit to UNLV, where he will follow current Rebels Brice Massamba and Carlos Lopez.
Peck, the Rebels’ video coordinator for three years before coming to Findlay Prep, says Findlay has put no pressure on him to steer his players toward UNLV.
“If we have four or five seniors in a given year, any program in the country probably can’t take that many kids in one recruiting class anyway,” he says.
With the Pilots’ success on and off the court—all 21 players who have graduated from Henderson International since the Findlay Prep program started have received Division I basketball scholarships—Peck doesn’t even have to recruit. The school receives hundreds of inquiries each year from students around the world who want to play for the Pilots, who have received extensive national coverage, including games being televised on ESPN.
“We really don’t pursue kids,” Peck says. “We don’t go in people’s backyards and take kids out of schools. We are offering student-athletes something that if they feel that’s what they want or need to get where they want to get, then we offer that for a lot of kids. But we’re not for everybody.”
With such a talented roster each year, Peck says the toughest part of his job is to convince each player to give up part of his game for the betterment of the team.
“Your wants and our needs might be very different,” he says. “Now when those wants and needs meet, now we’ve got something special. And we’ve been blessed with guys that have embraced our vision and have been very receptive to coaching and sacrificing elements of their individuality.”
Part of that sacrifice also involves a limited social life. With so much time spent traveling during the season, and a school devoid of other high school students, Peck must make sure that he finds teens who can handle the disciplined and somewhat-isolated regimen.
Senior guard Nick Johnson, who is bound for the University of Arizona, says the Pilots’ prosperity is worth the concessions.
“That’s what you sacrifice for,” he says. “You sacrifice not being friends with as many people or going to prom or living the typical lifestyle of a high schooler. I mean we don’t want to be typical. We’re good at what we do, and if we have to give up something then that’s what we’ll do.”