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Distractions not hindering Findlay Prep’s title pursuit

Findlay Prep’s ability to block out distractions was key last season in marching to a 33-0 record and the mythical high school boys basketball national championship.

It’s a quality the Pilots have needed more than ever in recent weeks.

Findlay Prep (29-2) opens defense of its ESPN RISE National High School Invitational title against Charlotte (N.C.) Christian (29-4) at 5 p.m. today at Coppin State in Baltimore. ESPNU will televise the game.

Findlay Prep coach Michael Peck said the uncertainty lingering over where the Pilots will call home next season hasn’t hindered his team’s focus.

“We just explained to them, ‘Don’t consume yourself with worrying about things that you can’t control,’ ” Peck said. “Our guys can’t control whether the school stays open.”

That school is Henderson International, where Findlay Prep players attend classes, practice and play home games. The program has been in limbo since Feb. 26, when the school announced it wouldn’t operate its high school campus beyond this academic year.

Declining enrollment and the troubled economy were cited as reasons for the private school closing two of its three campuses.

Peck said he hopes a buyer can step up to fund Henderson International, which has been a member of the Florida-based Meritas Family of Schools since 2005.

But if the Pilots have to move, Peck said, “It would definitely be in the Las Vegas area.”

“We need a high school,” he added. “If that could be on this campus, it’d be great, a no-brainer. But that’s not up to me, and I’m not involved in those meetings.”

Findlay Prep has five seniors who figure to move on to college basketball next year, anyway. But the school’s pending closure has left its underclassmen hoping for a happy resolution.

“My family moved out here with me, so we made a big commitment to this school,” said freshman guard Nigel Williams-Goss, originally from Oregon. “Obviously I’m praying it stays, which I think it will.”

For now, the Pilots are zeroed in on defending their tournament crown. A repeat title atop national media polls appears less likely because Houston-based Yates (34-0) isn’t allowed by its state association to play in a postseason event following the Texas state tournament.

Peck said Findlay Prep’s top two scorers, guard Cory Joseph and forward Tristan Thompson, will join their teammates today after playing Wednesday in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Columbus, Ohio.

Findlay Prep is seeded second in the eight-team tournament, which concludes Saturday. Today’s task will be seventh-seeded Charlotte Christian.

“We’re all hyped up right now,” Pilots senior forward Godwin Okonji said. “Now that it’s finally here, I think we’re prepared to go.”

Though in his first year in the program, Williams-Goss said it’s crucial for the Pilots to retain their tournament title. The event is in its second year.

“When the previous team sets a bar that high, there are a lot of expectations to live up to,” he said. “We didn’t really worry about living up to other people’s expectations, but we had expectations for ourselves.

“We know we’re the best team in the country, so it’s time to go show it.”

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