Thompson nods and finishes his teammate's thought. "If you want to play basketball at the highest level and make basketball part of your lifestyle and take it as far as you can go, then you come down here."
TOUGH TO SAY GOODBYE
Connie Joseph admits she had her doubts about having her youngest son leave Canada in Grade 11 to play basketball in the United States, outside Las Vegas, no less: "The plane is flying away and you're looking at the palm trees, I was like, 'I can't believe I'm leaving my kid here,' " said Joseph, a project manager with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. "Honestly, it was going through my head, 'What am I doing?' " But as her son blossomed academically and athletically, her fears were eased. "For every kid, it's different," she said. "But this was the right decision. His academics have improved. He got the marks needed on his ACT [American College Testing] and basketball wise, the exposure that came with winning the national championship was really positive for him."
Andrea Thompson put her faith in her oldest son when it came to allowing him to leave home at 16, first for New Jersey, then to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, where he transferred in the middle of last year. "No, it wasn't a hard decision. Tristan isn't a regular kid. Okay, he [was]16, but he's so mature," said Thompson, a schoolbus driver. "He needed a challenge, he needed to go see the tough ones. In the United States, they play tough. Here, they don't play that hard."
A BASKETBALL TEAM LIKE NO OTHER
Findlay Prep is not your average high school basketball program. First of all, it's not named after the school it's attached to - Henderson International - but after Cliff Findlay, a wealthy Las Vegas businessman who established an endowment estimated at $500,000 (all currency U.S.) to fund an elite basketball program in Las Vegas modelled after the tony prep schools in the U.S. Northeast. He funds every aspect of the program, including the 3,000-square-foot house the team lives in with a pair of assistant coaches, each player's $17,000 tuition at Henderson, the salaries of two full-time coaches, and a travel budget that would put most universities to shame. It's unabashedly elitist. "Everything we do is geared toward preparing them for the next level," says Mike Peck, Findlay's head coach. His record over three seasons is a glittering 94-3, and all his graduating students have qualified academically for Division I. "When they go to college, I'm not saying it's not going to be hard, but they're not going to be surprised by anything. Six a.m. conditioning? Individual workouts? Lifting weights? They've done that. Keeping up with classwork? They've done that. Travelling? They travel more than any college team in the country." Is there a payoff? Beyond the gratification of placing every graduating senior on a Division I basketball team, those around the program anticipate that with the growing commercialization of high school basketball, Findlay could be in line for considerable sponsorship dollars to offset the cost of running the team. The question now is where. Henderson International will be closing after this year, it was announced last week, but it's believed the Findlay basketball program will affiliate itself with another Las Vegas-area private school next season.