Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013 | 2 a.m.
It’s the only Las Vegas high school sports event that television commercials promote.
Bishop Gorman High and Findlay Prep — the powerhouses of local high school basketball — meet for their annual game at 8 p.m. Monday at the South Point Arena.
The highly anticipated matchup has been touted in commercials — including during breaks in NFL games — over the past two weeks.
The teams, which are two of high school basketball’s most respected programs nationwide, always have rosters loaded with blue-chip college recruits, including several prospects hometown UNLV is courting. That combination creates an annual buzz similar to winter nights in high school basketball-rich states such as Indiana and Kentucky.
And although this year’s timing isn’t ideal for organizers because it conflicts with the BCS championship game between Alabama and Notre Dame, they are optimistic the madness of past seasons will be duplicated.
Remember last year?
Tickets sold out for the 2,500-seat Cox Pavilion, broker Stubhub.com had seats available for $200 the night before the game, and coaches and players from both teams were flooded with ticket requests.
There was so much interest in last year’s game — when Gorman was led by senior Shabazz Muhammad, the nation’s top-rated recruit and eventually the national player of the year — that several local dignitaries attended. Sitting courtside were U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, UFC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, former NFL great Randall Cunningham, UNLV coaching legend Jerry Tarkanian and race car owner Sam Schmidt.
“This game is like no other,” said Nigel Williams-Goss, Findlay’s fourth-year senior guard who is one of a few players on either team to have logged significant minutes in the rivalry.
“The rivalry has built up over the last four or five years,” he continued. “Every year it is real competitive. When you have a legacy of being competitive every time two teams step on the floor, everyone wants to go. It’s definitely one of our biggest games of the year because of the buildup.”
The game was moved to the bigger 3,500-seat South Point Arena (it can be easily expanded, too) to accommodate the expected rush of fans. And, more important, the venue allows students from both schools and the Gorman band — groups previously underrepresented because they couldn’t get tickets — to enjoy the pageantry of the night.
“I tell you what, this is a tribute to the community really getting behind this thing,” Findlay coach Todd Simon said.
Two years ago, the game went back and forth before Findlay prevailed on a buzzer-beater in double-overtime at the Cox Pavilion. The game is typically televised by ESPN, and several college coaches from top programs fly into town just to be spotted by the recruits they are courting.
Organizers hope the trend will continue this year.
Last year’s game had something of a perfect storm of intrigue. In addition to Muhammad, Gorman’s starting lineup had three other top-150 recruits, while Findlay’s roster each year is packed with All-Americans and college-ready players.
This year, Monday was the only day that worked for both teams’ schedules, so they’ll play on a weeknight — the same night as the national championship football game. To try to capitalize on the timing, officials are hosting a viewing party free to the public near the arena for the national championship game, which starts about two hours before Gorman-Findlay.
ESPN is not televising the game as it has the past two years — it will be shown locally on Cox cable channel 96 — and organizers aren’t certain how the crowd will be.
“The date certainly bums us out. We hate the date,” said Steve Stallworth, the South Point Arena’s director.
Last year’s game “could have been an anomaly with Shabazz and all of the Division I recruits Gorman had,” he added.
Next year, Stallworth said the game is scheduled at the South Point on a Saturday at the end of January. He thinks hype and pregame buildup in future seasons will mirror that of last year.
“It was unbelievable, man,” he said. “Those tickets were going for crazy money.”
Findlay, which is in Henderson, takes top players from around the world and plays a national schedule. It has lost just eight games the past six years in winning three ESPN Rise national titles in the past four years. It doesn’t compete for a Nevada state championship.
Williams-Goss and UNLV signee Christian Wood are the only players to have suited up against Gorman, but the No. 1-ranked Pilots (9-0) have reloaded. Indiana signee Stanford Robinson and UCLA commit Allerik Freeman, for instance, are in their first year at Findlay and are considered two of the nation’s top 50 recruits for the class of 2013.
Gorman’s two defeats this year have come in competitive games against perennial national powers Mater Dei of California and Whitney of Chicago, both top-10 ranked teams. The defending state champion Gaels have mostly on younger players still getting varsity experience.
Gorman’s sophomore trio of Stephen Zimmerman, Chase Jeter and Nick Blair — each with multiple scholarship offers, including the 6-foot-10 Zimmerman and Jeter by UNLV — are ranked as top-50 recruits for the class of 2015. In two years, when they are seniors, and 6-foot-6 freshman standout Chase Noma’aea is a junior, Gorman will have arguably its best chance to beat Findlay.
For as heated as the rivalry is, Gorman is winless in five attempts against Findlay.
“We’ll be a young team all year, but I’m excited about how we are developing and where we are at, Gorman coach Grant Rice said.
Despite Gorman’s youth and inexperience, Simon knows the team is talented and capable of an upset. And, if years past are any indication, Simon knows to expect the unexpected when Findlay and Gorman share the spotlight.
“They have plenty of Division I players through and through their roster,” Simon said. “Granted, some of them are young, but it is a good mix. There are a lot of players we are going to have to account for.”
Tickets are $12 for adults and $7 for students. Adults can receive $5 off their ticket if they purchase them at Findlay Toyota, the event’s sponsor.
Gorman and Findlay Prep are also participating Saturday at the South Point Arena in the Las Vegas Prep Showcase, which is a one-day, six-game event where local schools participating will each receive $500, said Jorge Gonzalez, the event’s organizer.
Findlay Prep at 3 p.m. plays Redemption Christian of New York. At 5 p.m., Gorman will take on Legacy in a Southwest League contest that will count in the standings — Gorman agreed to give up its home game against Legacy next Thursday to play in the showcase. At 1 p.m., Clark will play Eldorado, and at 7 p.m. in the last game of the day, Chaparral takes on Palo Verde.
The event begins at 10 a.m. with a pair of lower-level games featuring the freshman and junior varsity teams at Gorman and Chaparral.