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November 10, 2010
Findlay Prep starts season with win off the court
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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep has won a RivalsHigh 100 Hoops National Championship and has had dozens of players go on to Division I basketball programs, but it may have scored its biggest victory in its brief five-year history this offseason.
Its school was saved.
The Pilots are an elite group of athletes who play basketball at the school. The team's expenses are largely funded by the donations of The Findlay Education Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization headed by Cliff Findlay, a local businessman and former UNLV basketball player.
The team is a program at The Henderson International School, where the players attend classes.
The full name of the team is The Findlay Prep Basketball Program at The Henderson International School - a name that wouldn't fit very well on the front of a jersey.
This offseason, with the school facing hard economic times, many media outlets began reporting that the school would be closing.
"A lot of places jumped the gun with our alleged demise," Todd Simon, an associate head coach and full-time employee of the school, said. "The situation with our school was up in the air and people ran with half of the facts."
According to the school's headmaster, Brian Siegel, it is still a battle the school faces.
Apparently the rumors of The Henderson International School's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
In fact, the school is beating projections.
According to Siegel, the admissions projections were off by 50 kids. For a school that caps its class size at 60 kids, missing by almost an entire grade level is a good problem to have.
"A lot of the parents say we are being conservative," Siegel said. "But I would prefer to play it that way."
Siegel has plenty of experience in running a private school. He spent time at three other private schools in New York, Tennessee and Florida before going to Henderson International.
The main difference between his previous stops and his current position in Nevada is that, unlike most private schools, The Henderson International School is not a 501(c)(3). It is run by the Meritas corporation. And it is run like a business.
"Our company has 11 other schools," he said. "With plans to expand."
Henderson International, though, is just looking to get back to running with a full compliment of classes.
This year, the school shut down its high school operation except for the education of the Findlay Prep basketball players and one additional girl, who elected to stay and finish her senior year - an offer that was made to all junior students with one year left before graduation.
Once the school has a complete group of eighth grade students, the high school level will re-open.
When that will be, however, remains to be seen.
One major change has already has taken place. The school, which was on separated into two campuses - pre-kindergarten through fifth grade and sixth through senior year - is now combined into just one.
"We are on a beautiful campus," Simon said. "It's 14 acres and it is great. The kids love it. The players love it."
The players, after all, are a primary focus for the school.
"We don't want to pretend we are something we are not," Siegel said. "These are 10 young men who are here to play basketball. They are also here to get a top-level education."
The Henderson International School feels it is in a unique position to provide both.
"Look at our results," Siegel said. "We have 20 of our 21 basketball players still eligible and still playing in four-year colleges. The only one who isn't is Avery Bradley, and he signed with the Celtics."
This year's team will again be expected to perform on a national level. A preseason No. 5 ranking in the RivalsHigh 100 goes along with that.
The team is made up of players from all over the globe.
There are three players from Canada and players from Lithuania and Turkey as well as kids from numerous Western states (Oregon, Arizona, California and Texas).
Head coach Mike Peck is quick to point out that even though his players are from all over the world he and his coaches are not on the recruiting trail.
"We don't contact them," he said. "They approach us about the program. We are not trying to go get kids. They want to play here and go to school here."
Its billing as an International School is one it has earned, as well as the reputation for embracing its players as students. And treating them like family.
"They all fit in," Siegel said. "The community has reached out to them and the kids have embraced it.
"Parents often have cookouts and ask the boys to come over. Some have even asked if the boys would babysit. It is pretty remarkable."
And for players who have Division I talent and professional potential, there is an attitude to give back.
Myck Kabongo, the No. 24 overall player in his class, is one of the leaders on and off the court.
"Myck is a favorite of the kids on campus," Siegel said. "He is an idol or an icon on campus."
Kabongo has earned his status - off the court.
Aside from his production as a basketball player, he has gone above and beyond with the younger kids in the classroom. He is a teacher's aide for a fourth-grade class on the campus.
And he is not alone.
Nick Johnson, the No. 40 player in the nation, and Kevin Kaper, a member of the Turkish 18U international team, both help with a fifth-grade class as well.
"A lot of our seniors help the younger kids," Simon said. "They really like it and it has helped them grow in their appreciation for the school and this opportunity."
It is the opportunity that the school has given to the players that Siegel emphasizes.
"The basketball part of life is easy for these kids," he said. "They are elite players. In some cases, what is difficult is getting the education in order. They know that and that is why they are here."
Each class and each student is monitored daily. Not on a semester or trimester basis, like many other schools.
The coaches are given a daily report on the players, whether they were in attendance, homework was done or test scores are satisfactory.
It is a philosophy that comes from the headmaster, but emphasized and enforced through the head coach.
Coach Peck is the only coach the school has known. He is also a full-time teacher at the school.
"It is academics first," Siegel said. "Myself and Coach Peck are on the same page with that. These kids know that and do not try to slide around it."
While Siegel does acknowledge that the situation is unique and not ideal, he says that it is based on business and the business is better.
"I didn't know if I was going to be able to offer any of these opportunities as much as six months ago," he said. "We plan to bring back the high school in a few years."
And for those who want to naysay from afar, he has an equally powerful message.
"I am not a kid and I know people want to take shots," he said. "But they aren't sitting in the classes. If they want to see what it is all about, sit in the classes."
An option he can offer because of shrewd business decisions. A buzzer beater, if you will.