For Beasley, It's a Jumping Point

Notre Dame Prep's Michael Beasley takes part in conditioning drills near the sideline of the rundown gymnasium in Fitchburg, Mass. He plans to play at Kansas State  --  for one season.
Notre Dame Prep's Michael Beasley takes part in conditioning drills near the sideline of the rundown gymnasium in Fitchburg, Mass. He plans to play at Kansas State -- for one season. (By Ellen Harasimowicz -- Worcester Telegram & Gazette Via Associated Press)
By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 12, 2007

FITCHBURG, Mass. -- Michael Beasley waits for his NBA fortune in a drafty room on the third floor of a crumbling house. He sleeps on a battered mattress with no sheets. The smell of sewage wafts from a communal bathroom down the hall. Cold air leaks through cracks in the walls and windows, so Beasley warms his room by keeping an open toaster oven turned to 450 degrees at the foot of his bed.

How one of the country's best high school basketball players ended up spending his senior season here at Notre Dame Prep, in a small city 50 miles west of Boston, confounds even Beasley. His high school career -- a six-school, five-state odyssey -- stopped making sense long ago, he said. "I just go from one place to the next," said Beasley, who is from Gaithersburg. "I hardly even think about it."

Since he entered the eighth grade, Beasley's career has followed the same cyclical pattern: He's dismissed from one school for misbehavior and immaturity; then he's wooed to another school for the smooth left-handed jumper and forceful first step that make him a projected lottery pick in a future NBA draft.

At Notre Dame Prep, Beasley treats high school less like a destination than an obstacle he must bypass in order to reach the NBA. He counts down the days until he leaves for his freshman year at Kansas State, until he turns 19 next January and finally becomes eligible for the NBA draft.

"I'm just killing time here," said Beasley, who averages 28 points and 16 rebounds from the forward position. "Sometimes it seems like high school lasts forever."

Beasley had never seen Notre Dame Prep before he arrived at the school in early September. Based simply on the school's name and basketball reputation, he expected a stately campus with rolling green hills and striking dormitories. When he arrived at the actual campus, he briefly considered turning around and going back to the airport.

Notre Dame Prep opened in 1952, and its three-story school building has steadily deteriorated since. The front door is broken, so students come and go through a screechy side entrance. The nationally ranked boys' and girls' basketball teams play on a court with chipped blue paint and rounded backboards. Two nights each week, the court doubles as a venue for the town bingo game. Notre Dame Prep stopped resurfacing its basketball court almost a decade ago because elderly bingo players complained about the potential for slipping on a waxed floor.

As part of the financial aid package that pays most of his $17,000 tuition, Beasley helps set up and remove the bingo tables two nights each week. He has only two other responsibilities at Notre Dame: to help the basketball team retain its status as the best prep program in the country; and to attain the grades and SAT score necessary for college eligibility.

Practice becomes a centerpiece of the Notre Dame schedule, because half of the school's 60 students are basketball players recruited from out of state. Ten foreign exchange students from South Korea and a handful of locals make up the rest of the student population. Beasley practices for two hours in the afternoon, takes a nap and then practices again at night. "The basketball team is pretty much the only thing this school's got," Beasley said.

Beasley remains confident that he will gain NCAA eligibility despite his nontraditional high school education. He needs to score at least a 920 on the SAT later this year, he said. His grades at Notre Dame are mostly Bs and Cs. His favorite class is English -- taught by Bill Barton, the basketball coach.

During the summer, as part of its probe into prep schools with questionable academic practices, the NCAA sent an investigator to Notre Dame Prep and about 20 other nontraditional private schools, said NCAA Vice President Kevin Lennon. The investigator showed up unannounced, Barton said, and spent a full day observing classes at the school.

"With Notre Dame Prep, we were sufficiently satisfied that it was a high school where learning was going on," Lennon said. "We saw teachers. We saw a curriculum. We saw the things you'd want to see at a high school."

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