By BRIAN FITZSIMMONS
Special to ZAGSBLOG
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Todd Simon picked up his phone to send Michael Peck a text message before taking the court at the Blake Arena on Monday afternoon.
After Findlay Prep (Nev.) edged Montverde Academy (Fla.), 62-59, in a thrilling showdown between the best high school basketball teams in America, you’d better believe the winning coach is rushing to contact Peck again.
“Oh, yeah, we talk all the time,” smiled Simon, who took over the desert-based powerhouse for Peck after the accomplished leader was named head coach of the Idaho Stampede, the D-League affiliate of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Truth be told, the 32-year-old Simon had every reason to smile, especially after watching Washington-bound guard Nigel Williams-Goss sink a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift the Pilots over Kevin Boyle’s Eagles at the 2013 Spalding Hoophall Classic.
Findlay Prep, which should maintain its top ranking in the USA Today poll, overcame a 12-point deficit in the last minute of the third quarter and a nine-point hole entering the fourth.
“This team plays with a purpose,” Simon said. “We rehearse these situations, so they have poise. We do a lot of situations in practice. I’m a big believer in that stuff. I’ll put us down 15 with three minutes left … so the guys just turn the switch on. They get exited about it.”
There’s no doubt the country’s most loaded squad has bought into Simon, whose recent win became his signature triumph as an up-and-coming name in coaching circles.
“The preparation over the years, being with Mike, was always for when we had something in place, maybe when I would get the opportunity,” said Simon, who was an associate head coach under Peck for five years. “So I felt like we’ve been prepared.”
After all, Peck had coached six McDonald’s All-Americans, six Parade All-Americans, six Jordan Brand All-Americans and six NBA players, including Tristan Thompson (Cleveland), Avery Bradley (Boston), Cory Joseph (San Antonio), DeAndre Liggins (Orlando), Joel Anthony (Miami) and Louis Amundson (Indiana).
Simon last season helped Findlay go 32-1 and win the ESPN National High School Invitational. In the previous five years, the Pilots amassed a 157-8 overall record, including a 65-0 clip at home with three NHSI championships.
The current roster, which includes the ever-reliable Goss, UCLA-bound combo guard Al Freeman and Indiana commit Stanford Robinson, looks every bit as powerful as the past. That certainly bodes well for Simon, who claims he’s in it for the long haul.
“Opportunities have risen over the last four or five years, but where could I go (with more talent)? I love Las Vegas, I love this program,” he said. “I was there Day 1 and saw it when the school said we’re going to do this program. It’d be hard to leave something you’ve always held onto.”
Don’t look now, but a rookie is in the driver’s seat toward a national title.
Photo: Las Vegas Sun