LOS ANGELES, JUNE 25 -- The NCAA is investigating recruiting practices at the University of Texas-El Paso that involve a star high school basketball player who was brought into UTEP's program without a diploma.

In his senior year at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, John Staggers was considered one of the top 50 college prospects in the nation. However, he had so many unexcused absences from school that he failed to graduate.

In a statement to NCAA investigators, he said that UTEP coaches arranged free housing, meals and transportation for him, and he participated in a federally funded General Education Diploma program that was meant for migrant worker families.

A 6-foot-5 swingman, he signed a letter of intent to attend UTEP, even though other schools looked at his transcript and shied away.

"We just took a chance on a guy," said UTEP Coach Don Haskins, who did not respond to requests for an interview in the Los Angeles Times article about Staggers.

Staggers said UTEP coaches endorsed a plan that brought him to El Paso and called for him to get his GED certificate, then enroll in the school.

He said he was met at the El Paso airport by assistant coach Rus Bradburd, who took him to an off-campus, three-bedroom apartmentwhere he lived rent-free. Staggers said meals often were bought for him by Bradburd, who has since moved to Ball State, and G. Ray Johnson, another assistant coach.

"I came out to {El Paso} with money, but I never spent my money because . . . I didn't have to pay for anything," Staggers told the newspaper.

Johnson denied buying meals or giving rides to Staggers and said: "John's deal is a funny deal. He didn't graduate from high school. He was down here in that free {GED} program. He wasn't going to pass, and he pulled out on us."

Staggers said he became upset when UTEP coaches failed to get him a job and claimed he overheard of plans to get rid of him if he didn't get his GED. He contacted a friend playing for Salt Lake Community College in Utah, enrolled for the fall quarter, but failed again to get his GED certificate.

Arrangements were made for someone else to take parts of the test for him. A dramatic jump in scores resulted in an investigation by National Junior College Athletic Association. Staggers had to leave Salt Lake and the school was placed on probation.

Staggers now attends Columbia Community College in California's Calaveras County.