Wednesday, November 10, 2010 marked the beginning of what proves to be a long and arduous journey for the Findlay Prep Pilots. You see no longer is Findlay Prep the hunter, they are now officially the hunted. They are everyone's national championship game.
Every game they take the court this year it's a foregone conclusion that they will receive everyone's best shot, because quite frankly who doesn't want to knock the champ to the canvas!? When a team achieves the kind of success that Findlay Prep has enjoyed over the past two seasons (back to back ESPN Rise NHSI Tournament Championships, which includes an undefeated season and a High School National Championship), it's easy for complacency to settle in and the desire to stay on top may not be as strong.
Well, if there were any question marks about this year's team's hunger toward duplicating the previous lofty goals that Coach Michael Peck and his staff have set during their tenure at Findlay Prep, they were pretty much answered within the first two minutes of opening night vs visiting Impact Academy.
The new look Findlay Prep Pilots came out like a pack of rabid dogs with suffocating defensive intensity, fast pace transition offense, and the look of a team that is ready to embrace the new year and it's upcoming challenges.
After the dust settled, Findlay Prep walked away with win No. 1 on the season as they handled Impact Academy 110-74 in a contest that revealed some new pieces to the Findlay puzzle and some veteran players that already know what it takes to reach that light at the end of the tunnel.
Will Findlay Prep go undefeated this season?
Myck Kabongo, the newest piece of the puzzle this year, has come in with all kinds of accolades and a top-10 ranking in the latest ESPN player rankings poll. He quite possibly may hold the keys to Findlay's success this year. He is the point guard, the floor general, responsible for the leadership of this team.
It's a lot of pressure for a young man to come into a new program as a senior and be expected to help guide this team to another championship. No need to worry! Kabongo is a veteran to this big stage. It's nothing new to him. He's led a nationally ranked program before during his stay at St.Benedict's Prep (NJ), and he's dominated on the summer AAU Circuit with the powerhouse Team Canada Grassroots Elite.
Here at Findlay Prep there's big shoes to fill when it comes to the previous student-athletes that have graced the Henderson International Gymnasium with their presence in the backcourt. The last two years at Findlay Prep they could have changed the name to Backcourt Prep, as Kabongo now falls in line with his predecessors Avery Bradley-Boston Celtics, DJ Richardson-Univ. of Illinois, and Cory Joseph-Univ. of Texas.
Kabongo didn't disappoint, as he set the tone of the game immediately with his ultra quick dribble penetration, weaving in and out of the defense, finding guys for open looks, and his overall ability to take control of the game was on full demonstration. His partner in the backcourt, Nick Johnson, a key cog on last year's championship team came out and revealed that he's not just a high flyer.
Yes, we all know by now that Nick Johnson can jump out the gym. However, early on out the gates he ignited the Pilots with his outside jump shot, draining three straight three-pointers in the span of a minute to pretty much put the game out of reach for good.
While Kabongo and Johnson were scoring at the offensive end, the defensive pressure was just as impressive. For the first game of the season the defensive intensity as a team was at a very high level.
For a team that is just coming together, there can be the expectations of a few missed defensive assignments and rotations. However, for the most part Findlay made it difficult for Impact Academy to get into their offense with constant ball pressure, forcing them to settle for contested jump shots.
Newcomer Amir Garrett has quickly adapted to Findlay Prep's aggressive defensive philosophy, as he harassed Impact Academy players all night with constant ball pressure, and secured every loose ball in sight. He also made it clear that he's not just a defensive stopper, as he was on the receiving end of a nasty alley-oop from Myck Kabongo later in the game that left the crowd buzzing.
Returning players Nigel Williams-Goss and Winston Shepherd will be asked to contribute a little more this year. While they didn't receive major minutes on last years championship squad, they did get their feet wet enough to know what is expected of them this year. Williams-Goss came out and displayed a more aggressive offensive approach draining a couple of jumpers and showed an ability to finish in the lane in traffic.
Williams-Goss could be the X-factor this year, as any points that he can contribute will help ease the load that Kabongo and Johnson will have to carry this year. Meanwhile, Winston Shepherd was doing what he does best—being the ultimate team player. He might be this year's Godwin Okonji, who was known as the heart and soul of the team for the past couple of seasons.
Shepherd has tremendous athleticism for a 6'8" forward, and he will be asked to do whatever it takes to help the team win. Rebound, score, distribute, play lockdown defense are just a few of the things to do on Shepherd's daily game list.
Newcomers Landen Lucas, Kevin Kaspar, and Nazareth Long all logged key minutes on opening night. Each player seemed to have a smooth transition to the Findlay way of life, proving that they will be key contributors throughout the season. Kaspar showed flashes of hard nose defense, ball handling ability, and a solid basketball IQ.
Landen Lucas used his 6'9" 250 lb. frame to help control the paint, and showed the ability to finish in the post. His soft touch from the free throw line was an added bonus as well. The 6'3" Nazareth Long didn't log as many minutes as the regulars in the rotation, but quickly showed he's not shy as he drained a three-pointer and looked every bit the part of an explosive young guard with a big upside talent wise.
Overall, it was a positive start to the season and it's always good to get some home cooking to start the season. Like previous seasons, this Pilots team will be tested nationally as they have stops in seven different states, east coast to west coast taking on everybody's best. Tonight was just the first step in what looks like a fun and exciting season!