CHICAGO -- Brandon Ashley had to admit that the point was valid, but he wasn’t about to agree with it completely.
Last year, Quinn Cook, Austin Rivers and Myck Kabongo were all adamant that their hectic schedule during the week of the McDonald’s All-American Game plus the minimal amount of sleep they got the night before they flew from Chicago to Bethesda, Md., to play in the National High School Invitational wouldn’t have any bearing on how they performed in the opening round.
Kabongo’s Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) and Rivers’ Winter Park (Winter Park, Fla.) squads both got sent packing on the first day, while Cook and the Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) Warriors made it to the title game and lost in double overtime to Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.).
All three later conceded that fatigue from a week’s worth of Windy City grinding played a major role in their teams' ultimate demise.
“I hear all that, and that makes sense, but I’m gonna say exactly what they said,” said Ashley, a forward at Findlay Prep who suited up for the West in the McDonald’s All-American Game. “I’m gonna say it won’t affect my game in the least.”
We’ll find out Thursday (8 p.m. ET on ESPNU) when the top-seeded Pilots take on No. 8 Coolidge (Washington, D.C.) in the quarterfinals at Georgetown Prep.
“See, what most people don’t understand is that the schedule we’ve been on this week isn’t even as bad as our AAU schedule,” said Ashley, an Arizona signee. “It’s way crazier during the summer. Three games a day; play at 10 p.m. one night and 8 a.m. the next morning. This is nothing.”
Their “nothing” would be overwhelming for many high school players, but at Findlay Prep, even with a lighter load, the travel schedule is more Division I college than high school.
“What’s crazy is we haven’t even traveled as much as we did in the past,” said Bennett, a forward who is ranked No. 7 in the ESPNU 100. “We still play in the big tournaments, but the schedule hasn’t been as hectic this year.”
That’s something that “shocked” Ashley, who transferred to Findlay from Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) for his senior season.
“I expected the travel to be a little worse,” said Ashley, who is ranked No. 10 in the ESPNU 100. “Because it’s ‘Findlay’ and all that. It hasn’t been that bad at all. This week may have been the craziest week, travel-wise, for us.”
Ashley and Bennett will hop on a plane Thursday morning and plan to head straight to the shootaround. After that, both said they plan to grab a long nap before tonight’s game.
“We’ll just rest up and relax as much as possible,” Bennett said. “We know how important this tournament is and we know what happened last year, so we won’t have a repeat of that.”
Kabongo, who just finished his freshman season running the point at Texas, said that the Pilots should be playing “with an enormous chip on their shoulders” after falling so early in last year’s NHSI.
“We fell short of the Findlay standard,” Kabongo said. “They will have to come out and play hard to regain that. I know they will.”
Even if that means they won’t get a shot at knocking off Oak Hill, the top team in the POWERADE FAB 50. Warriors coach Steve Smith opted not to participate in the NHSI this season for the first time since the tournament’s inception in 2009 due to the timing.
The Warriors just returned from a 12-day trip to China on March 20 and immediately went on spring break.
“As a competitor we would’ve loved to see Oak Hill because they’re No. 1 and we’re No. 2,” Ashley said. “But they went and did their thing in China, so it’s all good. We’re focused on what’s in front of us and that’s Coolidge. That’s all we’re worried about.”
To the casual observer, a No. 1 facing a No. 8 is a gift, but Bennett was quick to point out that such thinking was “fool’s gold.”
“I don’t know a whole lot about Coolidge, but I know you’ve got to be good to get in this tournament,” Bennett said. “Only big-time teams get in this.”
Added Ashley: “This isn’t the NCAA tournament. It’s not like a 16-seed playing the top seed. This is a small tournament and everyone is elite. You can’t come in and expect a blowout. I’m not guaranteeing a championship, but what I will say is that we’ll be giving a championship effort.”