Feature photo courtesy of Eric Mayer of the Mitchell Daily Republic.
Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, DeAndre Liggins, Anthony Bennett, Jorge Gutierrez, Nick Johnson, Kelly Oubre Jr., Christian Wood, and Rashad Vaughn. What do all ten of these NBA players have in common? They were all Findlay Prep Pilots.
Findlay Prep of the Henderson International School is a college preparatory program in Henderson, Nevada that began in 2006. Over the past decade, Findlay built a reputation as a national powerhouse. As an elite sponsored Nike program, Findlay boasts a 266-26 record since its inception, including three National High School Championships.
I talked to junior Donnie Tillman to find out more about what it’s like playing for a program that graduated 10 McDonald’s All-Americans, 46 Division I players, and its 10 current NBA players.
“On the court it’s very hard, workouts early in the morning just like a college approach. We live in two team houses just up the street from our school. It’s like a real college experience. We basically have to look after ourselves. It’s like the next step to becoming a man,” Tillman said.
Playing for a program with such high expectations year in and year out demands constant hard work not only during the season, but in the offseason, too. Mixed with classes, a Findlay Prep athlete’s schedule resembles that of a college student-athlete.
“Before the season [we have] 6 a.m. conditioning on the football field. Then we have school [from 8 a.m to 3 p.m.], weights in between at 12:40 before lunch, and then after school we go straight into practice, then go home and do homework. Then at night, at nine, I work out every night with coaches,” Tillman said.
Tillman came to Findlay as a sophomore, a year after a successful season for Cass Tech in his home of Detroit, Michigan. When Tillman received the offer to play at Findlay, it was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse. Given Findlay Prep’s national and international reputation, the chance to play for the No. 1 High School Basketball team in the country doesn’t come easy.
“It’s a very selective few,” Tillman said, referring to Findlay’s recruiting process. “They only select a few and I was thankful to be one of those few. They only select those who want to work hard and can make a name for themselves.”
Despite Findlay’s reputation, Tillman’s offer should not have come with much surprise due to the attention he already received from college scouts. In fact, the interest in Tillman was so high that he already had an offer before his freshman season.
“I had my first offer going into my freshman year from Cleveland State. A couple of D1 schools in the area had already looked at me, things like that,” Tillman said.
Tillman’s DI offers has well surpassed double-digits and continues to grow. The schools with the most interest in him include Memphis, Marquette, Michigan State, Iowa State, San Diego State and Creighton.
Although Tillman is listed as a small forward, he doesn’t think he has a specific position on the court; he just does what it takes to win. Tillman, who is currently averaging a double-double, sees similarities between himself and Draymond Green.
“That’s my biggest comparison, a more athletic Draymond Green,” Tillman said. “I’m a rebounder, I can knock down a mid-range shot, I can step up, hit a three, I can sometimes create for myself and for others, and I can post up, inside and out. And I really love that about [Green’s] game.”
Although Tillman compares himself to Draymond Green, he knows there are still areas of his game that need improvement. Tillman said he needs to concentrate on taking better shots and making them more consistently.
However, both Tillman and Green understand their role in order to succeed. It evidently pays off since they both are on teams playing at incredible levels, as both are currently undefeated. This success comes with big time pressure and targets on their backs.
“It’s big pressure, but it’s what we prepare for,” Tillman said. “They tell us that beforehand and they get us ready for it.”
A part of this preparation includes media training. The players must proceed with caution as they interact online and in front of people because of their national recognition. With a portion of their games televised on ESPN, Findlay tries to play in front of huge crowds early to prepare for those environments.
“When I came here it was difficult,” Tillman said. “I was missing family, friends, and of course, I had to give up a big part of my social life. And that affected me a lot at first. But once the games started, I got used to it. [It was the] best decision of my life.”
Playing in a college-like program will surely make the transition from high school to college smoother than the average high school recruit. Although Tillman still has a year left at Findlay, he believes he’s ready for the next level. Tillman has his sights on a bright future, inspired by the players Findlay has produced over the past decade.
“I take pride in wearing the Findlay Prep jersey. It means every day I have to go out, I have to produce. If they did it, then I can do it, too, because look where it got them.”
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