Screengrab via video obtained by NBC Sports

Prep school coach’s outburst exposes dark side of international recruiting

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“I control transcripts. I control where you go next. It could be back to Haiti, motherf*****. That’s how easy it is for me.”

That sentence is a brief snippet of a 3:27 recording of a conversation between Mike Woodbury, the CEO of Nation Christian Academy in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and a Haitian basketball player from the school named Marvens Petion. The audio was leaked on Tuesday night before spreading like wildfire through the basketball community.

“Now I control everything,” Woodbury later said, continuing a tirade that he claims lasted 35 minutes. “I just want you to really know that. I’m going to f*** you in your a** next time you talk out of line. I’m going to take everything from you. I’m going to end everything you’ve ever had.”

According to Woodbury, Petion had been a problem, skipping class, getting caught with alcohol, theft and even an attempt to extort people within the school all while living with Woodbury and his family. Petion denied the allegations to Stadium, saying that Woodbury’s outburst was the result of the player finding a damaging conversation between Woodbury and another woman, which he took to the Head of School.

Either way, Petion transferred out of Nation Christian Academy last week — two days after the conversation was recorded — and headed to West Oaks, where he found that he had a 1.4 GPA on his transcript.

“He changed everything,” Petion told Stadium. He declined to comment further when reached by NBC Sports.

“I’m the one thing you don’t want to cross,” Woodbury said in the video, “because I’m dirtiest, baddest motherf***** on this earth.”



The story here isn’t Mike Woodbury.

He is, to say the least, not a nice person, according to every single source that I’ve spoken with in the last 24 hours that has come in contact with him at some point in time.

“He treats people in a way no one should be treated,” one coach from the prep school ranks said.

“Definition of a Napolean’s complex,” said a small college coach in New England that recruited players from Woodbury’s MBNation (Maine) AAU program in the past. He left that program to head to the prep ranks in Florida a couple of years ago. “Least surprising thing in the world that something like this finally emerged on him.”

The reason, according to a third source, that Woodbury had to make the move to Florida to run a prep school was that he was “essentially removed from every AAU tournament in New England” because of the way that he behaved with his players, with their parents, with tournament organizers and basically everyone that he came into contact with.

There are bad people in every walk of life, and Woodbury might just be one of those people.

So the story here isn’t that a morally-inept person threatened a kid that was tired of putting up with his abusive behavior. That happens more than you care to realize. The story is how that person managed to gain this much control over the future of a high schooler just looking to make his way in American basketball.

And it starts with an I-20.

Because those are the “golden ticket” for prep schools, according to a source intimately familiar with the inner workings of how these pop-up schools take advantage of international athletes. NBC Sports granted him anonymity in exchange for full transparency.

“Form I-20” is a certificate of eligibility for non-immigrant student status. Put another way, it is what allows a foreign exchange students to study at a school in the United States. There are only certain schools that have the ability to get I-20s — known as Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified schools — so what prep school coaches will do is target small, private (non-taxpayer funded) SEVP-certified schools that are already NCAA-certified and, oftentimes, struggling financially.

That’s when the negotiating starts.

These prep school teams often aren’t all that different from AAU teams, but because NCAA rules dictate that a player can only be recruited between September and March if he is a member of a scholastic team, they need to be associated with a school. Regardless of what the teams then end up getting called, as long as all of the members of the basketball team attend the same school, it is considered scholastic.

That’s when the deals are struck.

In exchange for access to classes that will be approved in the NCAA portal and the ability to be considered a scholastic entity, the person behind the basketball program will find some way to ensure that money is coming into the school.

Sometimes, it’s in exchange for a cut-rate on the tuition for the members of the basketball program. Sometimes, it’s for a piece of the shoe company money that the prep school coach can bring in. Sometimes, the coach will get, say, eight scholarship players — the guys that are actually good — while enrolling the same number of players that pay full tuition — the kids who have family money and think they’re good enough to matter. Sometimes it results in players staying in actual dorm rooms with coaches that are truly there to help the kids, but all too often you hear the horror stories about players that are left in houses with no food, no heat and no way out. (You don’t want to hear the stories if it turns out the kid is not as good as people thought they would be.) Sometimes these kids actually spend time in a classroom, other times they — or someone using their login — are taking those classes online.

As the saying goes, bad basketball is a billion-dollar business.

What the coach will then do is turnaround and sell a program rate well above what he’ll be paying out of pocket. If the school is charging, saying, $5,000 per player for tuition, room and board, the coach will sell a package to the handlers for these international players for $15,000, pocketing the profits that are leftover.

“Buy low, sell high,” the source said.

Some might call that business.

“Some call it corruption,” he said. Or visa fraud and human trafficking.

“These schools exist because the kids can’t pass the material in brick and mortar schools, traditional schools where everything happens on campus, where the dorms are on campus and they play for the name of the school.

“The truth is these kids aren’t taking classes, they’re paying for NCAA eligibility. These schools started because they place higher emphasis on athletic training and less emphasis on academics. If someone is having a hard time passing classes everyday, [this is where they go.] They’re going to advertise 6-to-1 teacher ratio and talk about how everyone graduates, but the reality is everyone is in on it.”

And this is where someone like Woodbury can gain total control over international kids, particularly if they own the school; Woodbury claims he is the CEO and owns Nation Christian Academy, which, according to their website, was known as Barnabas Christian Academy until this year.

For starters, the school will control the I-20. If that I-20 is cancelled, Homeland Security can deport them. If this happens, it’s unlikely that kid will ever get an I-20 again.

“All the kids know the I-20 is their ticket,” the source said.

The school also controls the player’s transcript, and it’s far from unheard of in the coaching industry for prep school coaches to threaten to make a player ineligible if that player doesn’t end up where the prep coach wants him to go.

So when Petion tells Woodbury that he wants to transfer out of the program, he knows the risk he’s taking.

Woodbury can change his grades. He can cancel the I-20 and make Petion’s presence in this country illegal.

Does Woodbury sound like the kind of person that would do something so spiteful and heinous, ruin a kid’s life because the kid didn’t want to play for him?


In a statement released after Woodbury’s tantrum went viral, the CEO of Nation Christian Academy claimed that he did not coach the basketball team.

Videos obtained by NBC Sports show that as of Dec. 2017, Woodbury was on the sidelines coaching this team. He is listed as the head coach of the program on MaxPreps.

I bring that up because Woodbury is precisely who the NCAA has decided deserves the power in the world of recruiting. The changes to the recruiting calendar that were implemented with the specific intention of putting more power in the hands of high school coaches.

There are a lot of good, honest, hardworking high school coaches that are in this business for the strict betterment of the kids in their program, just like many of the men running AAU programs around the country are doing it for the love of the game and because they want to help kids in their community better their station in life.

There are also bad AAU coaches who want nothing more than to profit off of the kids under their control.

The same can be said about Woodbury.

And he is exactly who the NCAA wants to give more power to.

At least AAU coaches aren’t threatening to deport teenagers.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.