Team: No. 1 seed Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.)
Record, FAB 50 Rank: 29-1, No. 2 (No. 1 in the West)
Head Coach: Michael Peck (154-8 career record)
On a team with a bevy of talented players, somebody is bound to be overlooked. Last summer, Shepard wasn't selected for the Boost Mobile Elite 24, nor was he selected for this year's McDonald's or Jordan Brand games. A three-year performer, Shepard has had an All-American season and has been the Pilots' most consistent player, averaging 15.5 points, 7 rebounds and 6.9 assists, setting the program's single-season record for dimes in the process. This from a 6-foot-8 player who began his high school career playing power forward. The No. 53 player in the ESPNU 100 also has a reputation as one of the nation's finest defenders. The recent San Diego State recruit was lauded for his defense work on Shabazz Muhammad and Jabari Parker, arguably the nation's two best players.
A point guard with flair, Artis is underrated as a scorer and finisher. After a standout sophomore year at Salesian (Richmond, Calif.), Artis' play leveled off as a junior and he joined the Pilots for his final season. It has paid off; Artis averaged 14.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4. 5 assists per game. Forwards Anthony Bennett and Brandon Ashley missed game time for various reasons and Artis has been been the team's leading scorer since Christmas. At the Hoophall Classic, the No. 67 player in the ESPNU 100 had 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds when the Pilots knocked off then POWERADE FAB 50 No. 1 Simeon (Chicago).
This is the third go-around at the NHSI for the 6-foot-8 McDonald's All-American. Two years ago, the No. 7 prospect in the ESPNU 100 played for defunct Mountain State Academy (Beckley, W. Va.), which upset Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) in the first round. Early this season, the Canadian native played like the All-American he is, leading the way in big win over Marcus (Flower Mound, Texas) with 19 points and 12 rebounds. After mid-December, however, he played sparingly and the team won big games playing a smaller lineup. With a healthy Bennett, who averaged 16 points and 10.1 rebounds, Findlay Prep can win in a variety of ways.
Road to NHSI:
The Pilots played one of the nation's most challenging schedules, the norm since the program was first eligible for the FAB 50 in 2008-09. They knocked off Marcus (Flower Mound, Texas) 47-39 on the road and were 13-0 going into a game against NHSI participant La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.).
Plenty came out of that 67-66 loss. "We didn't play well and we didn't have a sense of urgency early," Peck said. "Anthony wasn't 100 percent in that game and his hurt hamstring reared its ugly head. Since then we found a good mix. We probably needed that to happen to this group."
Since that game, Bennett and fellow McDonald's All-American forward Brandon Ashley have missed numerous games, but the Pilots jelled when they went to a smaller, perimeter-oriented lineup. Findlay Prep played only two games within a single-digit margin all season long. They were especially impressive in back-to-back wins over Simeon (Chicago) and Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas).
Peck, a former assistant at UNLV, has brought his team to the NHSI all four years and enters this year's field with a 6-1 record and a No. 1 seeding. Last year's first round loss to Florida state champ Dwyer does not sit well with him. "I don't want to go down there for one game. I don't want to be sitting in a hotel for two more days while other teams are playing. That's not what I signed up for."
Peck's team is the only one with a player participating in the McDonald's All-American Game in Chicago on March 28, the day before quarterfinal action begins. No other team has that disadvantage and the Pilots actually have two players making the trek from Chicago to Bethesda, Md.