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The Growing Prep School Problem

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post ran a great story on Philadelphia's Lutheran Christian Academy:

The school does not have its own building or formal classrooms, and it operates out of a community center in a ragged North Philadelphia neighborhood. It has just one full-time employee: the basketball coach, a former sanitation worker who founded the school. One former student, who attended the school for three months, said it did not use traditional textbooks and that the coach, Darryl Schofield, was the only teacher.

Yet Lutheran Christian graduates remain a hot commodity for college recruiters.

"Prep schools are the biggest problem in our sport today, and Lutheran Christian Academy is one of the worst," said one college head coach, who has visited the school. Said an assistant coach, who recruits from schools in the Philadelphia area: "We don't recruit players from Lutheran. Lutheran's players aren't prepared academically to attend college, and we don't need those headaches."

No ACC schools are mentioned in connection with Lutheran Christian, though one of NC State's non-conference opponents (George Washington) does recruit players from the prep school:

Among the Lutheran Christian products currently in college, George Washington guard Maureece Rice, one of the No. 8 Colonials' top reserve players, spent one year at the school after he failed to graduate from a public school in Philadelphia and abruptly left a more established preparatory school in North Carolina.

The article includes a comment from GW coach Karl Hobbs regarding Rice, but Hobbs dances around the academics issue. The last few paragraphs of the article discuss the transcript of a Lutheran player who left high school with a 1.33 core GPA after his junior year. According to Lutheran's basketball coach, Rice's academic record was similar.

Hobbs says that while he was evaluating Rice, he wondered why the kid wasn't getting more attention. See, "it must be academics" would be the first thing to occur to me, but apparently not so Karl Hobbs.

The other schools mentioned in the article: UTEP, Washington State, Georgetown, Mississippi State, UMass, Temple, Michigan, Gonzaga, Rice, Columbia, Jacksonville.

Yesterday, the New York Times also examined the issue (HT: YoCo Hoops), taking a more general approach. There's plenty more on Lutheran Christian Academy...

The red-brick community center that houses Lutheran has become a running joke in recruiting circles. Interviews with 10 current or former players revealed that all of Lutheran's more than 30 students are college basketball prospects. They have classes in one community center, a converted grocery store on North 17th Street, and practice in another.

Three former Lutheran students — Roosevelt Lee, Jamual Warren and Bobby Maze — echoed Phil Jones in saying that they were not required to attend classes and that Coach Schofield was their only instructor. Maze said he did no work when he did attend class.

Warren said his mother took him home to Springfield, Mass., after a month because he told her there was no school building.

"I like to get by easy," Warren said, "but not that easy."

Jones, a Brooklyn native, is a senior at Laurinburg Prep in North Carolina. He said he was glad he left Lutheran because universities like Kansas, Virginia Tech and Kentucky indicated that they could not recruit him there.

Lee and Warren did not qualify for Division I scholarships out of high school; they now attend Globe Institute of Technology, a junior college in Manhattan. Lee said that in one month at Lutheran, he received credit for five courses, earning all B's, although he never took a test, attended a class or received instruction.

"There were no classes," Lee said. "We went to basketball practice every single day. What we were told when we first went there was: How you perform on the court, that's what you do for your grades."

Schools mentioned in the NYT article (not necessarily in conjunction with Lutheran Christian): ECU, Xavier, UTC, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic (that's Matt Doherty's team), Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Alabama.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury talked about the recruitment of Jamont Gordon from Lutheran Christian Academy (see also: this article):

Jamont Gordon went to Lutheran after withdrawing from Oak Hill last April. Coach Smith said Gordon would have been a borderline prospect to qualify for college academically if he had completed the final quarter of his senior year at Oak Hill.

Gordon now leads Mississippi State in scoring as a freshman. Bulldogs Coach Rick Stansbury said Gordon had gone to Lutheran to "finish one class." Told that Gordon had left Oak Hill needing to complete all his classes, Coach Stansbury said: "He went there to finish. That's all. He did what he had to do to finish his academics."

Coach Stansbury, who refused several requests to allow Gordon to comment for this article, said he had no reason to check whether Lutheran, which has been open in various forms for eight years, was accredited. Despite Gordon's tenuous academic situation and the fact that Mississippi State's top recruit, Vernon Goodridge, also went there, Coach Stansbury said he neither visited Lutheran nor talked to teachers or guidance counselors. He did, however, go to the gym.

"We don't talk to teachers when we're recruiting kids," he said. "Everyone does it differently."

I also liked this bit:

Sam Rines Jr., who opened Rise as a basketball academy, said a student could get credit for as many as eight core courses in a year. He said that if students finished their senior year and did not meet the N.C.A.A.'s eligibility standards, he encouraged them not to graduate, then to retake classes to raise their averages.

"Graduation," Mr. Rines said, "is a horrible thing."

I was looking at some profiles at Scout.com and noticed that Wake Forest had some interest in (but didn't offer) Lutheran Christian forward Maurice Thomas.

Another Philly Lutheran product, Vernon Goodridge, had offers from Clemson, FSU and Virginia Tech according to his profile. Georgia Tech recruited but didn't offer.

Bobby Maze, who was mentioned in my first excerpt of the NYT article, is being recruited by Virginia Tech and Clemson. These days he is attending The Patterson School in Patterson, NC (i.e., the middle of nowhere). Interesting but unrelated: I noticed that Patterson's soccer team is composed almost entirely of South Koreans.