Football-strong Dwyer proves itself in hoops by beating Nevada powerhouse on national TV
Thursday, March 31, 2011
by Jeff Greer
BETHESDA, Md. - It took Dwyer basketball coach Fred Ross a minute to think about it, but he eventually came to a conclusion.
Dwyer's 70-61 win over Nevada basketball powerhouse Findlay Prep in an ESPN nationally televised game Thursday afternoon was the biggest victory in Dwyer program history.
It might have even made up for Dwyer football's devastating - and controversial - loss on ESPN to Cleveland-Glenville back in September.
"Winning a state championship is always good," said Ross, whose team won a Class 5A state title March 5 and has won three crowns since 2004. "But to be on a national level, playing on one of the ESPN channels and beating a team like Findlay Prep, it is our biggest win."
The quarterfinal win in the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational means No. 6 seed Dwyer (33-1) will play Virginia power Oak Hill Academy (28-3) at 5:30 p.m. Friday on ESPN2. Oak Hill, the tournament's No. 2 seed, routed United Faith Christian of Charlotte, N.C., 86-52.
The winner of Friday's semifinal games play on ESPN 2 p.m. Saturday.
Dwyer's powerful football team appeared on ESPN for the first time ever in September, losing after officials refused to give the Panthers what appeared to be two last-second, game-winning touchdowns.
Thursday was the first time Dwyer basketball had ever played on national TV, and the Panthers drew a team that has been on the big stage plenty.
Findlay Prep, which won the past two ESPN Rise Invitationals, was the tournament's No. 3 seed and boasted a roster full of big-name recruits, including McDonald's All-American Myck Kabongo and top-25 prospect Nick Johnson.
None of that mattered in Bethesda-Georgetown Prep's packed-but-small tin box of an arena, nor did the fact that the Panthers had merely a handful of fans in the stands.
Dwyer withstood two second-half runs and pulled away in the fourth quarter. The Panthers were outrebounded, 44-24, and their two star post players - 6-foot-7 Penn-bound forward Greg Louis and 6-10 blue chip center Joel James - played just 30 combined minutes because of foul trouble.
But guard Jacoby Brissett, a football star who played in that September game and who has signed to play quarterback at Florida in the fall, carried his team. Vic Adams added 12 points and guard Montel Williams hit two huge three-pointers, helping both senior guards get some much-needed exposure as the frenzied April recruiting period starts up.
Yet from start to finish, it was the Brissett Show. On a court with Kabongo, Johnson and Findlay Prep's other big names, Brissett was the best.
He had 30 points and five rebounds, scoring in every possible way. His reputation as a big-time football player preceded him, too.
"He's a big kid," said the 6-3 Johnson, who was charged with guarding Brissett for much of the game. "When he gets you on his hip, he keeps you there."
Brissett putting on such a performance wouldn't surprise people in Palm Beach County, but his 30 points caught the attention of the out-of-town media.
The 6-4 senior has leaned heavily toward playing just football in college, but he admitted it's hard to ignore how much he loves basketball, especially after games like Thursday's.
"Coach Ross was just telling me to play basketball (instead of football)," said a smiling Brissett .
But it's football he'll play when he leaves for Gainesville in June. New Gators head coach Will Muschamp even said this week that Brissett will vie for the starting quarterback spot when he arrives.
But Thursday was about basketball and Dwyer entered the game a heavy underdog.
Findlay Prep coach Mike Peck even noted that Dwyer was "a football power." In comparison, his Henderson, Nev., school is literally a basketball player factory.
The Findlay Prep team lives together in one house, and attends school at the nearby Henderson International. It's a place for recruits who want to play big-time college basketball.
That's what made the win so big for the Dwyer team, who proved themselves a basketball power on a national stage.
"They may be more known for their football than their basketball," Peck said, "but those are some tough hombres."