Top-ranked Findlay Prep was down to Montverde Academy by 16 with less than 3 minutes to go in the game as their National High School Invitational championship hopes were slipping away. The turning point, something Findlay Prep Head Coach Mike Peck said in the last media timeout.
"He was like is this the way you guys want to go out on your senior year," Winston Shepard said. "Is this the way you want to leave by being embarrassed on national T.V."
From that moment on the Pilots flipped the switch in their favor as the team was quicker to loose balls, got inside the lane creating easy buckets and forced the Eagles into turnover after turnover. It took a massive collapse by Montverde but Findlay Prep showed a resilience and fight that no other school in the country was capable of.
Findlay Prep (32-1) overcame an 18-point second half deficit to defeat Montverde Academy (23-3) in overtime, 86-83, to capture the 2012 NHSI championship. The win gave the Pilots their third NHSI title and an overall record of (9-1) in the short four-year history of the tournament.
It was Arizona commit Brandon Ashley who led the charge for the Pilots by making key buckets down the stretch, totaling for 31 points.
"Brandon really turned his game up today at the right time and gave us a big boost. He was hot so we rode him until the end," Shepard said.
The San Diego State commit didn't have his best game statistically, dealing with foul trouble throughout, as he finished with an unofficial 10 points and 4 rebounds. That being said he came through late in the game with a couple inside shots, timely rebounds and clutch free throws.
"I didn't really have that good of game but that's why I'm glad I have great teammates to pick me up and get the win," Shepard said. "At the end of the day we got the win I could care less about my personal stat line."
Even when Shepard struggles offensively his presence can still be felt on the defensive end. This season he has locked down the likes of Shabazz Muhammad and Jabari Parker. Nothing changed while at the NHSI tournament as he put Melvin Johnson and Michael Frazier on Shepard Island.
"Defense is just pride and to me to be the best player you can be you have to be good on both sides of the court," Shepard said. "It's one thing to score points but if you can score points and stop your man from scoring you're one step closer to being great. I pride myself everyday striving to be great so I have to play both sides of the ball."
Plain and simple Shepard is a winner. Shepard's record in the past three seasons at Findlay Prep is (92-7) including 2 NHSI titles. That being said, important would be an understatement on how much it meant for him to come out on top in the last high school game of his career.
"One thing Coach Peck told me was that regardless of what you have done, all the records you broke, if you lose this game this is what you're going to remembered for." Shepard said. "I didn't want to be remembered for losing in the national championship."
When Findlay Prep raised another NHSI championship trophy the initial thought of the basketball community was that we have a controversy on our hands. In the latest FAB50 poll it was Oak Hill Academy (44-0) at the top of the rankings. Oak Hill who didn't play in the NHSI tournament chose rather to finish their season in China, keeping their season record unblemished. Shepard doesn't think there should be any discussion.
"We are hands down the best team in the country. As long as I have been here, at Findlay Prep, we haven't ran from, avoided or not scheduled any tough opponents," Shepard said. "This tournament is kind of like the NCAA tournament of high school basketball. If Kentucky decided we are not going to the NCAA tournament this year. I don't think they should be involved in the discussion for the top spot."
The future Aztec plans on taking a couple days off to heal from a couple nicks and bruises before he heads back to the gym. Shepard seems excited to step on campus this summer and truly appreciates the support he has been receiving from Aztec Nation.
"I haven't even played a game on campus or I'm not even on campus yet and everyone knows me," Shepard said. "It's just a glimpse into the future on things to come and I'm the type of player that feeds off of that type of stuff. It's just great to know that I have that type of fan base."
Shepard talks national championship
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