National High School Invitational Recap
Findlay Prep repeats as National High School Invitational champs but are they now the top team in nation?
by Franklyn Calle
Last year Findlay Prep came into the NHSI looking to make a statement and position themselves among the elite programs in the nation. And they did just that after finishing undefeated with a 33-0 record and defeating Oak Hill in the championship. This season, they were no longer sneaking on anybody as they stood right next to the powerhouses. Although this time around the road to glory wasn’t as perfect leveled as last season, the results remained the same.
As I arrived to Baltimore on Friday for the semifinals, the bracket had already suffered a major hit with the fall of Oak Hill to Mountain State, 59-53. This destroyed the much anticipated match-up of Oak Hill Vs. Findlay Prep in the semis. Other than that, everyone else who was expected to win in Day 1; took care of business.
Winter Park Vs. Montverde Academy
–Villanova-recruit James Bell began the game scoring eight of his team’s first nine points. The 6-5 wing has a nice shooting touch with a tremendously athletic abilitiey. He came into the tournament leading Monverde in scoring with 18.3 points per game. After the hot start, Bell would cool off and only score six points throughout the rest of the game.
–Although Montverde’s top scorer would cool-off, Marquette-bound shooting guard Jamail Jones (left) was just getting started. The 6-5 senior had the crowd buzzing when he began the second quarter with a tomahawk dunk roaring straight down the middle of the paint.
–Austin Rivers, whose recruiting has gotten very interesting as of late, kept doing his best to keep his team in the game. Rivers, who has been verbally committed to Florida since his sophomore year, has seen his recruitment process pick up media attention after an unofficial visit to Duke and now recent reports that North Carolina has also gotten in the mix. He has said that he continues to stand by his verbal to Florida but there is no doubt that he has begun to explore other options. And no one can blame since he committed too early to even fairly evaluate other major programs who were recruiting him at the time.
–The fourth quarter saw Rivers and Jones display their offensive talent. Rivers was going to work in the paint and getting to the free throw line. A floater and a 3-pointer later had Montverde on their hills as it seemed like 5th seed Winter Park might knock off the #1 seed. But Jones continued to demonstrate his prominent leaping ability and his ability to get to the basket with ease with another striking jam. Jones pulled a crowd-pleasing spin move on his way to the basket for a lay-up with under a minute to go, giving Monverde a 51-49 lead. But Rivers came down and drew the foul, getting to the free throw line and knocking down two to tie up the game. Turnovers from both squads in the following possessions led to us into overtime.
–To sum up overtime, Winter Park was unable to hit a single field goal while Montverde spread the floor and ran it hitting a 3-pointer, a potential three-point play off a lay-up, and being aggressive in the paint and knocking down crucial free throws. Montverde advanced to the championship game , defeating Winter Park 62-56.
Mountain State Academy Vs. Findlay Prep
–Mountain State came into the game pulling off a shocker on Oak Hill. But this time the defending champs were standing in their way of extending their cinderella run. The first quarter was pretty much back-and-forth and it was actually Mountain State leading 16-15 after one quarter of play. But that’s as close as the game would ever get.
–The best way to sum up the rest of the game is in two words: Cory Joseph. The uncommitted senior point guard was literally unstoppable. A variety of defenders were put in front of him throughout of the game but the effect remained unseen. Jospeh, who has used all of his five visits, doesn’t have a timeline as to when he plans to commit but has cut his list to five: UConn, Minnesota, Texas, UNLV and Texas (in no particular order). Joseph doesn’t seem to ever take a possession off and has his hands very active in the passing lanes. But most importantly, he can score in any way possible. From coast to coast lay-ups to jumpers off the dribble, off the pass, behind the arc and getting it done on the free throw line (7-for-7), the Canadian product didn’t seemed to be forcing anything and just took whatever the defense gave him.
–Mountain State’s scoring was kept in single digits in the second and third quarter with nine apiece while Findlay scored 35 in the same time period.
– Xavier-signee Justin Martin had a quiet 14 points but showed tremendous upside. At 6-6, he showed the ability to knock down shots from distance.
– Heading to the fourth, Findlay Prep was on top, 50-34. Throughout the last quarter of play both teams traded baskets. Findlay wins 68-53. Cory Joseph finishes with 32 points (36 points for the rest of the team).
Findlay Prep Vs. Montverde Academy
–For the second straight year, the NHSI championship game featured the top two seeded teams. Last year the tournament got lucky as the teams who met in the finals, Oak Hill and Findlay Prep, were actually the top two ranked teams in the country. This year, that wasn’t the case. Yates HS of Houston, Texas, the top ranked team in the nation was unable to participate because of state association rules. As so was the case with most of the other top ranked teams. Montverde and Findlay came in ranked 4th and 5th in the nation respectively, according to ESPN. This brings up the question of whether Yates, who finished undefeated at 34-0, should keep its top spot or whether Findlay deserves consideration. You be the judge!
–Texas-bound Tristan Thompson (right) looked to be the aggressor from the tip-off. He helped put Findlay on the scoreboard as he played point guard, coming down court and finding Joseph cutting for a lay-up. The next field goal, he hits a lay-up off the spin. Next time down Thompson connects on another lay-up, this time with the feed from junior guard Nick Johnson. A couple of possessions later, the 6-9 power forward once again put his point guard skills to test as he went coast-to-coast finishing up with the lay-up and putting the Nevada school up 10-4 with under four minutes to go in the first, forceing Montverde to call a timeout.
–Findlay’s man-to-man defense seemed to be working perfectly as they held Montverde to only two field goals in the first period and found themselves with a 16-8 lead after the first eight minuets of play.
–The second quarter went to Montverde as they fired back behind an 11-2 run to begin the period. The run was highlighted by a monster jam by Jones on Thompson (arguably depending what angle you saw it from). A lay-up by DeForest Carter and a 3-pointer by Jones gave the Florida school a 24-21 lead and all of the sudden we have a game. But Joseph once again steps up and closes the quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers, regaining the lead for Findlay Prep at 27-26 heading to the locker rooms.
–Johnson, a highly touted 6-3 junior guard, stepped up big time for Findlay in the third quarter. A couple of 3-pointers and couple of hard finished lay-ups in traffic by Johnson helped extend Findlay’s lead to six, at 43-37 heading into the final quarter of play. The highlight of the third came when Thompson posterized Montverde’s Papa Samba Ndao in a rim-rattling facial.
–Despite the fact that Findlay only hit two field goals in the fourth, their aggressiveness got them to the free throw line 21 times. They had only attempted two free throws in the first three quarters of the game which Johnson missed both. The percentage didn’t look too well for them though as they went 11 for 21 from the charity line.
–Montverde didn’t do much better from the floor themselves, as they went 3 for 12 from the field. And unfortunately for them, they weren’t getting to the FT line to make up for the field goals as Findlay was, only going 2 for 4.
–Joseph (left) took home MVP honors with 17 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. Thompson finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds while Johnson contributed 13 points for Findlay.
– For Montverde, Jones finished with a team-high 21 points and Bell with 10, marking the only two player in double-figures for the Eagles.
– The “Boys All-Tournament” went to Findlay’s Tristan Thompson, Montverde’s Jamail Jones and James Bell, and Winter Park’s Austin Rivers.
Interesting offseason ahead.
The Oak Hill loss in the first round of the tourney brings many questions as to what the national powerhouse would look like next year. The team was composed of all seniors with the exception of three juniors. Doron Lamb, Pe’shon Howard, and Roscoe Smith will all be graduating this spring, leaving the program with no star-power returning. But as head coach Steve Smith told SLAM last summer, he receives calls from tons of players during the summer with the intentions of playing for him. So no surprise is to come if and when news breaks this offseason that a blue chip prospect has decided to transfer to the Virginia school.
But Oak Hill isn’t the only elite program surrounded with question marks. The champs themselves have important decisions to make about their future. Findlay prep, which is on its third year of existence, may not have a place for its players to attend classes in. The Henderson International School, where the team attends classes, has announced that it will close its doors after the academic year because of financial troubles. Findlay Prep is expected to be looking to work an agreement with another school to stay afloat next season. Was this Findlay’s last game ever?…Only time will tell.
Another interesting development will be where does the tourney go from here. Will other state associations allow their teams to participate in the event? Will the tourney loose some of its credibility if the top ranked teams continue to not participate in the years to come?
All these question set up for the start of a very interesting offseason with many left wondering just how different might things look around a year from now.
(Photos courtesy of ESPN)