When Carlos Lopez joined a startup boys basketball program called Findlay Prep in 2006, he never aspired to win a national championship.
Learning to speak English was his more immediate goal.
“I never thought about it, never,” Lopez flatly said of a national title. “I was some little kid from Puerto Rico coming in when I was 15 years old. I thought I was never going to play in the States.”
Lopez’s journey with the Pilots will come to an end this weekend, when Findlay Prep competes in the National High School Invitational at Bethesda, Md.
The second-seeded Pilots (30-0) open with a quarterfinal against No. 7 seed Mountain State Academy (W.Va.) at 3 p.m. Friday on ESPNU.
Whereas other players have transferred in and out of Findlay Prep while spending a season or less in the program, Lopez has been there since the beginning.
“The first two weeks I came here two years ago, I was about to go home,” Lopez said. “It was really hard for me; I was lost. But coach (Michael Peck) taught me a lot.”
The 6-foot-11-inch, 210-pound senior post player has adjusted so well, he decided to stick around by signing with UNLV in November.
Though the Pilots are ranked No. 1 nationally in USA Today’s Super 25 poll, they’re the No. 2 seed behind longtime power Oak Hill Academy (Va.).
“Everybody wants that matchup,” Peck said. “I’ve got no problems with wanting it, sure. But nobody’s going to this tournament and walking to any final.”
D.J. Richardson, Findlay Prep’s senior shooting guard who has signed with Illinois, agreed, saying, “We’re going to go out there and play like we’re the underdogs.”
Mountain State Academy (23-6) is led by junior guard Noah Cottrill, who has orally committed to West Virginia.
Findlay Prep guard Avery Bradley will meet his teammates in Baltimore today after playing in the McDonald’s All-American game Wednesday at Miami.
Bradley, who has signed with Texas, scored 15 points for the West in a 113-110 loss to the East. He also won the slam dunk contest Monday.
Findlay Prep is without former starting swingman Victor Rudd, a major Division I prospect who is no longer with the team. He was suspended for the regular-season finale Feb. 27 for violating team policy and has not returned after failing to fulfill terms of a possible reinstatement.
Rudd was similarly suspended for a Jan. 10 game at Canyon Springs, and the Pilots think they are prepared to play without him.
“No one guy — myself or staff included — is bigger or more important than the program,” Peck said.
Richardson said the Pilots have adjusted to Rudd’s departure with the backcourt crashing the boards more often.
“It’s really hard for us,” Richardson said. “He was one of our main rebounders. After he left, the guards had to come in and scrap and get more rebounds.
“He played a big role for us, but we had to get over it.”
Said Lopez: “Victor was part of our family, but he made his decision and we wish the best of luck for him. But we feel pretty good. We’re ready.”
Contact reporter Tristan Aird at taird@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203.In-depth high school sports coverage