All afternoon long, the tales of Findlay Prep's morning shoot-around session - complete with dunks from another dimension - began to filter through the local basketball community, and by the time the team ranked No.
2 in the U.S. national rankings took to the floor Saturday evening in the showcase game of the inaugural Tsumura Basketball Invitational, you wondered if their opposition was even going to score a point.
That, of course, was nonsense. But even a focused and determined effort from B.C.'s No. 1-ranked Triple A team, the hometown Walnut Grove Gators, could do little to slow the momentum of a team filled from top to bottom with NCAA Div. 1 college basketball recruits.
Findlay Prep of Las Vegas got some early opposition from the Gators, and its star Grade 11 point guard Jadon Cohee, who never once looked out of place in the surroundings. Still, there's a reason the Pilots have won three of the last four ESPN national high school championships, and they showed it on their way to a more-than-convincing 118-55 victory before a crowd of just under 2,000 at the Langley Events Centre.
From the time they took to the floor for the pre-game warm-up, the Pilots had the crowd's full attention.
And there were more than a few oohs and aahs when future Washington Husky guard Nigel Williams-Goss turned around on the break and directed a two-handed touch pass to future UNLV Rebel forward Christian Wood, who finished with a game-high 21 points, for a slam dunk.
But the Gators did not back down an inch off the opening tip.
In fact, three times they came back to take leads, their last coming midway through the opening frame when Cohee got fouled and stepped up to sink a pair from the charity stripe and put his hometown team on top 10-9.
Other Gators' highlights from the opening stages of the contest?
Senior forward Paul Getz, who topped the Gators with 17, hit a three from the top of the arc for a 3-2 lead, guard Sheldon Derton's first of two first-quarter put Walnut Grove ahead 8-7. While no one expected Walnut Grove to be able to maintain that pace the entire game, they never quit and the intensity to which they played told you that it was never a lack of heart, just a lack of talent in the face of one of the best high school teams in the world.
A big point of interest heading into the game, was how Cohee, attracting heavy NCAA Div. 1 interest as a Grade 11, would fare in one-on-one matchups against the Pilots.
Cohee gave a great indication of his athleticism when he drove the ball straight at Findlay guard Allerik Freeman, forcing the UCLA-bound guard to foul him.
Cohee stepped up and hit both free throws.
"He's a phenomenal talent. I think he's really got a chance," Findlay coach Todd Simon said of Cohee.
He finished with nine points. But alas, you don't lose your dominance just because you're playing the program's first game in Canada.
The Pilots are so brimming with talent that you find yourself wondering which of the players on the court is someday going to be playing in the NBA. After all, four Findlay Prep players have had their names called out on NBA draft night the past three years.
The Pilots, regularly televised on ESPN, treated the LEC crowd to pulse-rattling show to begin the second quarter. After Walnut Grove's Getz scored off a baseline reverse lay in, Findlay Prep scored 14 straight, including four consecutive slam dunks.
Most impressive? Future Indiana Hoosiers' guard Stanford Robinson had three of the dunks, two of which came directly off steals.
The run didn't end until Cohee dropped a trey, but by that time, the visitors were in clear control of their destiny, leading 45-17 on their way to a 60-29 halftime lead.
Walnut Grove, sure to be among the very best three-point shooting teams in the province this season, proved they could hit from downtown regardless of the foe, knocking down six treys in the first half at a healthy 38-percent clip.
By contrast, the Pilots were 0-for-7 from three, but didn't have to rely on their outside shooting. Players like Wood and highly prized but as-yet-unsigned Calvin Schilling, not only took up space in the paint to create huge driving lanes for a host of lightning quick guards, they were more than athletic enough to finish transition breaks at extra-high tempo.
In short, there wasn't anything they couldn't do.
One player a little envious of not being able to take to the court against Findlay Prep was Mindy Minhas, the Grade 11 guard/forward with Vancouver's No. 6-ranked Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs.
Minhas played club basketball with Walnut Grove's Cohee throughout the earlier days of their youth careers.
On Saturday, in the prelim to the main event, Minhas got a little of that spotlight to himself as the Bulldogs topped Port Coquitlam's Terry Fox Ravens 85-55.
Minhas, the 6-foot-4 Grade 11 standout, picked up three first-half fouls and was never able to get his game going. But in the third quarter, which he so dominated that he never returned for the fourth, Minhas went 11-of-19 from the field and scored 20 of his game-high 26 points in a span of eight minutes.
"We wanted to come out in the first five minutes and just build on our lead," said Minhas of a game Churchill led 37-21 at the break."I wasn't looking to drive, my teammates just found me on the break."
(All games at Langley Events Centre)
Sir Winston Churchill 88 Terry Fox 55 Findlay Prep 118, Walnut Grove 55
Brookswood 71, South Kamloops 58
Findlay Prep 108, White Rock Christian Academy 40 Walnut Grove 82, W.J. Mouat 58
-Howard Tsumura Is A Reporter With The Vancouver Province