2011-12 teammates Anthony Bennett (UNLV) and Brandon Ashley (Arizona) are named McDonald’s All-Americans. Program alum Jorge Gutierez (’08) captures the Pac-12 Player of the Year award, and fellow alum Tristan Thompson (’10) shines during the NBA All-Star weekend in notching 20 points during the Rising Stars game. Head Coach Michael Peck is offered, and accepts, the Head Coach position for the Portland Trailblazers NBDL club….and the 2011-12 squad snares it’s 3rd ESPN NHSI championship in 4 seasons. Decades worth of success for most programs, it’s just another 365 days in the annals of Findlay Prep Boys basketball.
Stepping into the spotlight, and generous enough to share some valuable pre-season free time, new Head Coach Todd Simon made himself available for the following Q&A:
1. For those not familiar, what led to your current position as Head Coach of Findlay Prep’s boys basketball program?
In 2006 I was part of the inaugural staff as we shaped and molded the program’s foundation. In the past 5 seasons as Associate Head Coach, we have been able to play in 4 National Championship games, have won 3 of the 4 ESPN HS NHSI Championships as well as have every single senior graduate, play division 1 basketball and NCAA qualify in their freshmen year. We have had 4 NBA Draft Picks in the last 3 drafts and Michael Peck was rewarded with an unprecedented promotion from high school to the Portland Trail Blazers staff and their D-League Head Coach. As offers have emerged for Coach Peck and I over the years, the succession plan has been in place in the event Coach Peck moved on so the transition has been pretty smooth.
2. What, during your time as Findlay Prep’s Associate Head Coach, prepared you to take over the powerhouse basketball program?
I was very fortunate that Coach Peck had me involved in all aspects of the program and allowed me a strong voice on the court. His faith in me to handle a lot of different integral parts of the program fully prepared me for this job or any other that may have come along.
3. Given the program’s storied past, do you expect to find it more difficult attracting high-level student/athletes, or melding the egos often contained therein?
At this point in our program, we are in a position where our brand is established and their has not seemed to be a shortage of interest in the program. We are very meticulous in our admissions. Our program is not for everyone. The early hours, the accountability, being in a structured life, the academic demands, the competition everyday, and expectation to be at your best every single day is not lip service but a reality. Those not willing to sacrifice for the team are the wrong fit. So it starts with finding the guys that are “Findlay” players. Not every top 20 ranked player can play here. We need humble and hungry competitors that have an agenda of earning everything that comes their way. That helps meld the egos but we also focus on blending the team each year. We educate the kids on life and basketball, try to create a culture of empathy, and focus on awareness which helps create the buy in we need to have a selfless team.
4. The 2011-12 squad went 32-1 and secured its 3rd NHSI championship in 5 years. What are your expectations of the 2012-13 team and season?
While the naturally created expectation every year at Findlay is to go undefeated and win national titles, our goal is to simply “do it right and do the next thing right”. That is as close to perfect as anyone can be. This group has potential to do just that. I think this group has the potential to be one of the best HS defensive teams and certainly one of the physically toughest groups around.
5. Assuming you and the staff have established an opening day starting 5, which players made the grade? Of the non-starters, which player (if any) do you expect to push the starters for minutes, and possibly a starting role?
At this early juncture we don’t necessarily have a starting 5 and traditionally our first unit has been pretty dynamic over the season. But we have probably our deepest team to date. 8 of 11 players already hold high major offers, and we have 3 guys that have not played a minute of American basketball yet. 3rd year starter Nigel Williams-Goss (Rivals 4-star #59 ovrl) will be our point guard along with know talents Allerick Freeman (Rivals 4-star #53 ovrl, UCLA) and Stanford Robinson (Rivals 4-star #49 ovrl, Indiana). 3 International talents will join them. Junior Lucas Antunez from Spain is a tough, smart point that can really shoot. Belgium 6’6 wing Dion Wade is a senior that is athletic, defends, and can also really shoot. He has already picked up SEC, Pac12, Big East offers. 6’5 wing Braian Antunez made a name for himself at Adidas Nations and also brings speed and athleticism. Christian Wood has closed the gap on his potential to his production. He is now 6’11 and 210 lbs but has not lost his mobility. We’ll move him all over the floor 2 through 5 and he’ll handle it in transition. 16 year old senior Gavin Schilling has really emerged. He is a cut 240 with athleticism and thrives on contact. He has a high motor and an emerging post game that will make it tough to keep him off the floor. 3rd year post Benas Griciunas is now 7′ and 225 as a skilled, shooting big man. He has picked up a number of offers after a solid Global Challenge and u18 European Championships. 6’10 senior big man Fallou Ndoye has got to be one of the quickest big men I have been around. He is brute physical presence and can score with his back to the basket. 7’1 junior Kingsley Okoroh brings length and rebounding on the defensive end. I could see any number of starting combinations and going 10 deep with our full court pressure defense this year.
6. Which member(s) of the current squad do you anticipate assuming the largest leadership role?
With Nigel Williams-Goss in his 4th year here and being a natural leader, he is like having another coach out there. Benas Griciunas has also provided a 3 year experience level of guidance for the team. Those 2 are a model of excellence in the classroom, off the court and on the court.
7. Safe to assume Nigel Williams-Goss will play a pivotal role for this season’s club. What separates Williams-Goss from the average High school aged basketball player, and what are your thoughts regarding his off-season commitment to the University of Washington?
Nigel has earned everything he has received. He jumped into the fire at age 14 and did not get a free pass or a crutch in anyway. He has hardened into such a fundamentally solid player that I believe is the best defender in high school bar none. He probably has put in more hours than anyone in high school. There were dog days in the summer that he was getting in the gym for 2 or 3 a-days. We’ve had to limit him from getting too many workouts in at 6:30am during the school week. Washington got themselves a program changer. He wills victories, makes everyone better on the court, off the court, and in the off season.
8. Aside from Williams-Goss, which Findlay student-athletes have secured D1 basketball scholarships? How active a role do you expect to take in a player’s collegiate scholarship process?
Al Freeman (UCLA), Stanford Robinson (Indiana), and Chris Wood (UNLV) are committed. Gavin Schilling holds a ton of offers and has blown up a bit. He has officially visited Minnesota and will likely officially visit UCLA this month. Benas Griciunas will visit Auburn this weekend. Fallou Ndoye has unofficially been to USC and Mississippi State. Dion Wade holds offers from USC, Auburn, UTEP, and UCLA. Lucas Antunez, Braian Angola, and Kingsley Okoroh have a laundry list of schools that have shown interest but are just getting American exposure.
9. Fast forward two years, how has the Findlay basketball program evolved and/or changed under your leadership?
The Findlay program we developed has core values that won’t look much different. We are going to work, hold kids accountable. act in a professional manner, and have a brand of basketball that is seen as selfless, tough, and poised. I hope in 2 years the kids we have then exemplify a Findlay attitude and effort as the past groups have. I hope more alums then ever have reached their collegiate and professional goals and have been able to change the livelihood for generations of their families.
10. Is there anything about Todd Simon the average fan should know, but possibly does not?
I have always preferred to be a servant leader that would rather hold the spotlight for the players and the program rather than be in it. I grew up in a small town with 1000 of the kindest people on Earth and through basketball have seen my dreams evolve into exactly where I am at. This program has been much of my life since 2006, I believe in the mission here and believe we are making a difference for these young men. I’ve faced adversities each day with a form of Muscular Dystrophy called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, but it is also one of my best blessings as not a day goes by that I do not value and it has taught me incredible perspective. The ability to persevere despite adversities, the importance of attitude and effort and living a life of humility and service are things I try to pass on to our guys.