Saturday’s showdown at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas might be between the No. 3 and No. 16 teams in this week’s FAB 50, but it very easily could help set up No. 1 vs. No. 2 to end the season.
Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) enters Saturday’s game (5 p.m. EST on ESPNU) against Bishop Gorman and senior Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 1 player in the ESPNU 100, at No. 3 behind No. 1 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) and No. 2 Grace Prep (Arlington, Texas).
If the Pilots -- who routed previous No. 1 Simeon (Chicago) in last week’s Hoophall Classic -- can get a win over the Gaels, they will make a case to move up to No. 2 in next week’s rankings.
It also just so happens that Oak Hill and Findlay Prep are going to be likely participants in this year’s ESPNHS National High School Invitational. The finals of that tourney will be on Sunday, April 1, and if those two haven’t lost between now and then, it’s a sure bet they’ll be seeded No. 1 and No. 2.
Bishop Gorman is not going to be easy for Findlay to beat, either. The Gaels are coming off their own huge win in Massachusetts over previous No. 5 DeMatha (Hyattville, Md.) and are firing on all cylinders with the return of Grid-Hoop standout Ronnie Stanley, who gives the Gaels the inside muscle to compete on the national level and Oregon recruit Ben Carter, who is playing at about 70 percent, according to Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice.
Findlay’s only loss of the season so far also has come against a school that is not currently eligible for the FAB 50. No. 2 Grace Prep has lost to top-ranked Oak Hill and a Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas) team it has also defeated.
The problem for Grace Prep staying in front of Findlay is that the Pilots may have a chance to play No. 1 later on. Grace Prep will have to win a tough Texas Association of Private and Prep Schools (TAPPS) state title, but will probably need more than just Oak Hill losing in order to win the mythical national title.
After playing Bishop Gorman, Findlay Prep’s toughest opponent may be Trinity Christian (Lubbock, Texas) on Feb. 10.
It also may be too early for Oak Hill to start looking ahead to the NHSI, too. The Warriors could face a tough test on Feb. 1 against No. 17 Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.).
FAB 50 Spotlight Player of the Week:
Josh Smith, Olympic (Charlotte, N.C.)
Sure, we could have gone with Shabazz Muhammad or one of the top Findlay Prep players such as point guard Dominic Artis for this slot, but our goal with this write-up also is to spread around the recognition. We’re pretty sure Shabazz won’t feel slighted.
As for Smith, he led the No. 35 Trojans into battle all year and is a key factor why they are perfect on the season and winners of their last 45 conference games.
In a road matchup last week at rival Charlotte Christian, which also was unbeaten in conference play, Smith scored 22 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked three shots in a 83-66 win to disappoint a majority of the standing-room only crowd at the game. Earlier in the week, he scored 16 points in a 81-72 win over Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology of Charlotte.
Smith is a 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward who may turn out to be a valuable recruit for Clemson. He chose the Tigers over other offers from Western Kentucky, Ohio and Tulane.
Highest Ranked Newcomer: No. 26 Pershing (Detroit)
The Doughboys staked their claim for a FAB 50 berth last weekend when the Detroit Public School League power traveled to Lansing to take on FAB 50 No. 14 Sexton in a clash of unbeaten teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the state.
The two teams didn't disappoint the onlookers with Pershing rallying from 12 points down after three quarters to prevail 81-80 on a last second steal and tip-in of the missed layup by Kahlil Felder with six seconds left.
Leading the win was 6-foot-4 senior wing Sherron Dorsey, an Iowa State recruit with 26 points, including five 3-pointers, and 11 rebounds. Six-foot-5 junior shooting guard Martez Walker netted 24 points and converted three foul shots with 11 seconds left to cut Sexton's lead to one point, setting up the final game-winner.
Pershing's next test could be Friday when the Doughboys face league rival King (Detroit), a 10-1 record team unbeaten vs. in-state foes.
The tradition-laden Doughboys are seeking their sixth Class A state title and first since 2009 when they finished with a 26-1 record. That team was led by future Michigan State cager Keith Appling, who scored a state finals' record 49 points in a 90-73 title game romp of Kalamazoo Central, which won the next two state crowns in 2010 and 2011.
Pershing's last titles before 2009 were back-to-back crowns in 1992 and 1993. The 25-1 record 1993 team finished No. 12 in the national ranking while the 26-1 record 1992 squad ended No. 20.
The Detroit school also has one of the strongest traditions of hoop success through the years in Michigan. Alums include NBA Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood, NBA all-star Steve Smith, ABA all-star Ralph Simpson and prep all-americans Robert "Bubbles" Hawkins and Winfred Walton.
Poetry in Motion: Welcome Back, Dunbar
The Poets of Baltimore (Md.) Dunbar have been off the national ranking radar for about 15 years, but an unbeaten 11-0 start has vaulted the tradition-laden team into the final FAB 50 spot this week.
Dunbar handed Baltimore's top-ranked team, Patterson, a 64-55 setback last Friday and staked its claim to a spot among the nation's elite teams.
The Poets last appeared in a national ranking list in back-to-back seasons of 1994 and 1995 when they captured Class AA state crowns with 25-1 and 23-3 records. The 1995 team was ranked No. 13 after the 1994 squad, led by McDonald's All-American Norman Nolan, ended at No. 5.
Dunbar's teams of 1991 and 1992 ran off 52 straight wins under coach Pete Pompey. The 29-0 record team in 1992 was wire-to-wire No. 1 national champion after the 27-1 team the previous season was ranked No. 2.
But those teams take a back seat in Dunbar lore to the 1980s juggernauts coached by Bob Wade. During a five-year period, Dunbar went 132-1, including a 59-game win streak in that was snapped in December of 1983 by DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville Md.). The 1985 team finished 28-1 and shared the mythical national crown with unbeaten Springarn of Washington, D.C.
The team regarded as the best-ever, not only in Dunbar history but in many national conversations, was in 1983 when Wade was selected National Coach of the Year and Reggie Williams as ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA for that season. Williams was joined on that 31-0 record team by two other future NBA players. The future pros, besides Williams, were Reggie Lewis and pint-sized guard Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues. The 1982-1983 team finished 31-0, while the 1981-82 unit finished 27-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country with a fourth future NBA player, David Wingate, playing the two guard.