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Subjects are basketball, books at prep schools

Students work on their games and grades, which draws attention from the NCAA.

December 04, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

The letters on the players' black warm-up shirts were in Old English script, but the athletes weren't students at any historic New England prep school.

Their school, Boys to Men Academy in Chicago, has existed for less than two years. It consists of 25 students, all of them basketball players.

"Our whole concept is you come in a boy, you leave a man," said Coach Loren Jackson, the former coach at Chicago Julian High who runs the program, as he picked up empty water bottles Sunday at Calabasas High after a 3-0 sweep of other prep schools in the first Stoneridge Holiday Prep Classic.

At 19, some of Jackson's players already seem like men. Four are in what amounts to a fifth year of high school as they try to shore up either their academics or their games.

They attend class in rooms connected to Chicago's Morgan Park Baptist Church, and play their road games as far away as California, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico.

Illinois Coach Bruce Weber, sitting in the stands among about 50 onlookers a day after his team played Arizona in Phoenix, said Jackson "really means well" and "cares about the kids and works them hard." But he also compared Boys to Men to "home-schooling," and it wasn't necessarily a cheap shot: Boys to Men's accreditation is through Keystone National High School in Pennsylvania, which partners with home-schooling families.

Such is the tangle of unconventional situations the NCAA must deal with as it tries to crack down on so-called "diploma mills," where players attend schools that some deride as basketball factories.

Boys to Men is not among the two dozen or so prep schools that have been cited as unacceptable by the NCAA. But Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for member services, said it was among the schools the organization was continuing to examine.

Some others, including Stoneridge School in Simi Valley -- whose roster includes seven-footers from Senegal, Mali and France -- faced scrutiny, but have resolved it.

Stoneridge handled its situation by providing information on its accreditation and by taking measures to resolve abuses under a previous coach.

The current coach, Babacar Sy, has close ties to USC, after working as an assistant to USC assistant Gib Arnold when Arnold was coach at the College of Southern Idaho, a junior college in Pocatello.

"There was some guilt by association just with the name of Stoneridge," said Mike Mahoney, a retired venture capitalist who has contributed some $250,000 to the Stoneridge program. "We welcomed the NCAA getting involved, because there is no place for academic fraud."

In the prep school world, there is a place for almost everyone.

Stoneridge's Troy Gillenwater, originally from Boston, was one of six players declared ineligible at Los Angeles Fremont last season for violating transfer rules, causing the school to forfeit all its victories and be removed from the City Section playoffs.

Boys to Men's Nyal "Mac" Koshwal, who lives with Jackson's family, played for Jackson at Julian before he was declared ineligible because of questions about his age.

Indeed, the nature of prep school rosters is that everybody seems to have come from somewhere else.

Craig Brackins, a forward for Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, played for Boys to Men last year after playing at Palmdale and Lancaster highs. He has signed with Iowa State.

He had nothing bad to say about Boys to Men, though he wondered how it would look on a diploma because "everybody thinks it's funded" by the Boyz II Men singing group.

"It was legit," he said. "We practiced from 6 to 8:30 in the morning, went to school from 9 to 12:30, went home and ate lunch, and went back to school from 2:30 to 6:30."

But at Brewster, he said, he found a more traditional prep school.

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robyn.norwood@latimes.com

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