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

Screengrab via video obtained by NBC Sports
0 Comments

“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.