Prep Stars Caught Off Guard By New Academic Timeframe

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 12, 2007

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Sitting in the Dean Smith Center, Terrance Joyner, a junior at Genesis One Christian School in Mendenhall, Miss., scrolled through his Sidekick 3 to find an e-mail from a college basketball coach. The e-mail explained a new NCAA rule that will prohibit players from attending prep schools for a year to improve academic deficiencies following four years of high school.

"I'm happy a lot of college coaches put me on to it," Joyner said after reading a portion of the note aloud. "A lot of people don't know about it."

In the month since the NCAA moved to address abuses in prep basketball, some prominent college coaches have called for the rule to be changed and several AAU coaches have looked for loopholes in it. But the rule is a mystery to many of those who could be most directly affected: high school players who need to improve their grades to become eligible to play in college.

"Nobody is talking about it," said Lance Stephenson, one of the nation's top sophomores from Lincoln High in Brooklyn and one of hundreds of players who competed in a high-profile AAU tournament in North Carolina last weekend.

The new NCAA rule states that upon entering ninth grade, athletes have four years to meet the eligibility standards in core academic courses to participate in college athletics; following those four years, they may take only one additional core course at any high school recognized by the NCAA. Beginning in 2008, recruits also will need to complete 16 core courses instead of 14, which will make it harder for players to become academically eligible after four years of high school.

The rule was introduced following reports in The Washington Post and the New York Times last year that highlighted the proliferation of so-called diploma mills, fraudulent schools operating with little or no oversight that players use to correct deficiencies in their academic transcripts compiled at traditional high schools.

The NCAA announced earlier this year that it would not accept transcripts from 15 nontraditional schools because of academic irregularities. Seven other schools, including Genesis One Christian, are still under review.

The problem, according to some involved in youth basketball, is that with so many high school players unaware of the change, many potential college recruits assume that they still have a fifth year to correct their academic problems when they now are limited to one course. This could have severe implications on their eligibility to play in college.

"They will understand in a year or two when one of their friends get messed over because the rule affected them," said Clark Francis, editor of Hoop Scoop, a basketball recruiting publication. "Suddenly people who aren't educated about it become educated real quick. We're going to throw away a class or two of players."

Gerald Stokes, the coach of the 16-Under Baltimore Stars, said he first learned about the rule in an e-mail sent by an AAU organization more than a month ago. Stokes said he and other Stars coaches have informed those on the team who could be affected.

When asked who -- players, parents or coaches -- is responsible for players not knowing about the rule, Stokes said: "All of the above. They are not being educated about it."

Kevin Lennon, the NCAA vice president for membership services, said informing high school players about the rule is a "shared responsibility," and that college coaches who are recruiting players often are in the best position to do so. "It does take time to get the word out," Lennon said, adding, "It would surprise me if kids being recruited were not aware of it."

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