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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.

Sunday’s Three Things To Know: Michigan rolls, Gafford shines, Virginia Tech beats Purdue

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Some believe that Sunday is fun day.

Others think of Sunday as a day for football and nothing else. 

But Sundays are also for college hoops, as Michigan, Daniel Gafford and Virginia Tech showed us.

Here are the three things you need to know:

1. NO. 18 MICHIGAN CONTINUED TO DOMINATE

Fresh off of a 27 point blowout win at Villanova, the Wolverines went to the Mohegan Sun casino and rolled over both George Washington and Providence. The win over the Friars came on Sunday, as Iggy Brazdeikis scored 20 points and Jon Teske added 17. Providence shot just 28 percent from the floor in the loss, as a late first half surge from the Wolverines more or less put this one out of reach before the second half started.

I’m not sure what else there is to say about Michigan at this point in time. The Wolverines are already one of college basketball’s elite defensive teams, and given the new look they can run out this year — playing Brazdeikis and Isaiah Livers, both of whom are strong, 6-foot-8 athletic combo-forwards, at the four and the five — makes them all-the-more versatile. There are still kinks to work out on the offensive end, but if there is anyone that I would want to give four months to figure out how to make offense work, it is John Beilein.

2. NO. 16 VIRGINIA TECH LANDED A COME-FROM-BEHIND WIN OVER NO. 23 PURDUE

The best game of the night was Virginia Tech’s win over Purdue in the title game of the Charleston Classic.

Purdue jumped out to a 12-point lead thanks to a hot start from Carsen Edwards and some timely play-making by Evan Boudreaux, but the Hokies came roaring back in the second half. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was terrific while Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill made big play after big play in the second half.

There is a lot to like about Tech this season, and it looks like Buzz Williams has them lined up for their third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

3. ARKANSAS CENTER DANIEL GAFFORD WAS DOMINANT

Gafford looked every bit the part of a future lottery pick, as he went for 27 points, 12 boards and three blocks in a win over Indiana in Fayetteville on Sunday evening. This is exactly the kind of performance that Arkansas fans were expecting out of their star center when he announced that he would be returning to school for his sophomore season. It is also the kind of performance that could end up getting Arkansas on the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.

There is still so much time left this season, but Indiana has looked good at times this year. This result had quite a bit to do with a young Indiana team missing two starters while playing on the road for the first time this season. That ended up being a great combination for the Hogs, and it earned them a win that is going to look better two or three months from now than it does today.

VIDEO: Purdue’s Carsen Edwards with a Dunk of the Year candidate

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Carsen Edwards entered the season as an all-american and has played like one over the course of the first two weeks of the season.

While No. 23 Purdue did not get a win over No. 16 Virginia Tech on Sunday night, Edwards did find a way to make a highlight that is going to be on every reel this season:

The best part of this dunk?

Purdue was playing 4-on-5 at the time. Evan Boudreaux, their power forward grad transfer from Dartmouth, was at the other end trying to get his shoe put back on.

No. 16 Virginia Tech rallies past No. 23 Purdue

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Justin Robinson saw his Virginia Tech teammate Ahmed Hill coming off the floor after a disappointing first half.

“We’re going to need you to win,” Robinson told him.

Hill certainly listened and was instrumental in the 16th-ranked Hokies’ first in-season tournament title in coach Buzz Williams’ five seasons with an 89-83 victory over No. 23 Purdue at the Charleston Classic on Sunday night.

Hill scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half and had the three-point play that put the Hokies (4-0) ahead for good at 80-77 with 3:50 remaining.

Hill followed with a 3-pointer to extend the margin. The Boilermakers (4-1) could not respond.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 25 points to lead Virginia Tech. He was named tournament MVP.

Robinson also had 23 points as the Hokies came from 50-38 down in the second half to win.

The Hokies jumped around in celebration when the horn sounded, giddy about the championship.

“It’s an experience that money can’t buy,” Alexander-Walker said.

Purdue’s dynamic guard Carsen Edwards finished with 26 points, the fifth time this season he’s had 23 or more points in a game.

The 6-foot-1 junior rose high for a left-armed jam and tied things a final time at 77 with his layup after stealing the ball from Robinson.

But he said there were too many late breakdowns that cost the Boilermakers.

“The good thing is that it’s early and we can work on this before we get into (Big Ten) conference play,”

It didn’t look like Purdue would have much to work on early on.

Edwards jumper late in the first half put his team ahead 41-29 while the Hokies struggled to find shots.

But, as Virginia Tech did in earlier Charleston wins over Ball State and Northeastern, the team roared back.

The Hokies held Purdue to 1-of-8 shooting in a six-minute stretch as they went from 12 points behind to 58-56 ahead on Alexander-Walker’s 3-pointer.

Williams said the Hokies began to put pressure on Purdue’s inside players and make sure when Edwards shot, it was not an easy, open attempt.

Edwards was 9 of 21 overall and made only three of his 11 attempts from beyond the three-point line.

The game’s pace the final 12 minutes after Virginia Tech’s rally was frenetic, a high-level display of basketball typically on display in a later postseason tournament in March.

It’s way too early for that kind of talk, Alexander-Walker said.

“We try not to get ahead of ourselves,” he said. But “we’re happy to see our work come to light.”

Williams was happy for his players and staffers Virginia Tech could taste some early success after the word the team had done in the offseason.

“I’m thankful for our kids, I’m thankful for their parents who believed in us and allowed us to have an opportunity like this,” he said.

No. 10 Kentucky survives persistent VMI 92-82

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — These early weeks haven’t been easy for No. 10 Kentucky, but coach John Calipari sees an upside in how his team is working through growing pains to win.

Perimeter defense will no doubt be a focal point for improvement after Bubba Parham nearly shot VMI past the Wildcats.

Quade Green came off the bench to score a season-high 17 points, including five in the final 90 seconds, to help Kentucky hold off the Keydets 92-82 on Sunday night.

Statistically, the Wildcats (3-1) appeared to do a lot right against VMI (3-2). They controlled the boards (43-22), the paint (42-14) and missed just 6 of 35 free throws, numbers that should’ve added up to a solid victory.

Instead, they ended up being just enough to offset VMI and sophomore guard Bubba Parham. He scored a career-high 35 points and made 10 of the team’s 19 3-pointers, the most ever against the Wildcats. Parham also created late-game anxiety for Kentucky.

Leading by 19 midway through the second half, the Wildcats had to work to put away the stubborn Keydets, who made 12 second-half 3-pointers and got within 85-79 with 1:49 remaining.

“They made five, six, seven shots that you’re like, ‘dude, that’s almost at half court,'” Calipari said of VMI and Parham. “But we had hands down, and we’re talking at every huddle, you have to have your hands up on the guy. But hands were down and the kid was feeling it.”

Green answered with a 3-pointer 19 seconds later and Ashton Hagans made a free throw for a 10-point edge.

Tyler Creammer responded with the Keydets’ final 3 to get within 89-82 before Green made two free throws with 33 seconds left. PJ Washington (19 points, career-high 18 rebounds) made a free throw with 17 seconds left to seal Kentucky’s third consecutive win.

“We’ve always got to find a way to win,” Green said. “They came out on fire tonight because we’re Kentucky. However, we came back with some fire as well.”

Reid Travis matched a season high with 22 points for the Wildcats, who won their second game of the Ohio Valley Hardwood Showcase. That total included 10 in the second half while playing with protective glasses after being poked in the eye in the first.

Parham finished 10 of 16 from long range to double his previous high of five 3s last December against Western Carolina. He also surpassed his previous scoring best of 26 points in January at Chattanooga. Garrett Gilkeson and Creammer each added 13 for the Keydets with three 3s.

“It helps that (Parham) kind of went crazy and made a bunch of shots,” VMI coach Dan Earl said. “I thought we really spread the ball and got some open shots in the second half.”

The matchup was the first between the schools since the Keydets upset the Wildcats 111-103 in the 2008-09 season opener.

THE BUBBA SHOW

Parham seemingly couldn’t miss from where he launched deep shots, to the point that even Kentucky players and fans reacted in amazement. Of the 10 he made, one from near the UK insignia at half court and a high, arcing attempt from the right corner seemed to stand out.

“I’ve been shooting like that for a while now,” Parham said. “Some people call it a rainbow shot, but I practice that each and every day, so it’s my form now.”

Parham scored the most points against Kentucky and in Rupp Arena since Texas A&M’s Elston Turner dropped 40 on Jan. 12, 2013.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Kentucky should maintain its spot in the top 10 despite a win that was closer than expected.

BIG PICTURE

VMI: The Keydets entered the contest having made 25 of 51 3-pointers the past two outings and started hot with 6-of-9 shooting from long range. They couldn’t match Kentucky in the paint or on the boards, and sure couldn’t keep the Wildcats off the foul line. And yet, they were within seven in the final minute before missing the final three from behind the arc.

Kentucky: The Wildcats shot 49 percent and converted frequent chances at the line. They also dominated rebounding and paint and bench points, all of which were needed to offset the Keydets’ perimeter game and Parham.

Gafford’s career high lifts Arkansas over Indiana 73-72

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — An overtime loss in the season opener might have proved instrumental for Arkansas in a narrow win against Indiana.

The Razorbacks squandered a late lead in a 73-71 overtime loss to Texas, and the same fate loomed large again Sunday as the Hoosiers erased a double-digit Arkansas lead in the second half.

This time, the Razorbacks (2-1) found a way to hang on as Mason Jones’ free throw with 2.5 seconds left provided Arkansas a 73-72 win in the Hardwood Showcase.

Daniel Gafford scored a career-high 27 points for Arkansas, but it was Mason who delivered the big rebound and free throw that secured the win. It was a little redemption for Mason, who missed the front end of a one-and one with 1:01 left and Arkansas clinging to a 72-69 lead.

“I knew I was going to make that free throw,” Mason said. “I like the pressure.”

In a similar situation against Texas, Mason missed a late shot and Texas rallied to tie and force overtime. Mason said Arkansas coach Mike Anderson told him he’d get another chance, and Sunday it presented itself.

“We learned a lot from that Texas game,” Jones said. “I just knew to be ready when the chance came again and I was ready this time.”

Indiana (3-1) had a chance to take the lead with under 15 seconds left, but two shots under the Hoosiers’ basket would not fall and Jones rebounded the second miss and was fouled by De’Ron Davis with 2.5 seconds left. It was a foul Indiana coach Archie Miller did not totally agree with.

“We had a shot to win the game, had a tap to win the game and had an unfortunate call that put them on the line,” Miller said. “It was a 50-50 play. I don’t know if he fouled him or not, but I know it was a tough call.”

Jones hauled in the key rebound, but Gafford did not let Jones take all the credit in the post-game interviews.

“I tipped that rebound out, by the way,” Gafford laughed.

Jones made the first free throw to give Arkansas a 73-72 lead. Indiana called a time out after Jones’ free throw, and Anderson instructed Jones to deliberately miss the second free throw.

“I have been harping on guys to make free throws, so asking him to miss one, I don’t remember asking a player to miss a free throw in a while,” Anderson said. “It was a perfect miss.”

Indiana only had time for a desperation heave as the buzzer sounded.

Arkansas rode the second half play of Gafford, who also grabbed 11 rebounds. At one stretch in the second half, Gafford scored 10 straight Arkansas points to help the Razorbacks hold on against a furious Indiana rally.

“I wasn’t playing weak like I usually do,” Gafford, who passed up entering the NBA Draft to return to Arkansas for his sophomore season, said. “Today I let the game come to me instead of trying to just go and take it. Letting the game come to you, it comes more smooth.”

Anderson said Gafford was a force at both ends, as his blocked shot just seconds after the opening tip set an early tone.

Miller said his team would benefit from playing against Gafford later in the season.

“He’s a very good player,” Miller said. “He was a really tough handle for us today. He pretty much neutralized the game. He was dominant. That is something that is going to help us moving forward and defending the caliber of big like that.”

Arkansas led 38-35 at halftime on Gabe Osabuohien’s 3-pointer from the right perimeter. Then Isaiah Joe, who finished with 13 points, opened the second half with a 3-pointer for a 41-35 lead. The Razorbacks would stretch the lead to 10 points twice — 45-35 with 17:08 left on Gafford’s dunk, and 51-41.

Indiana rallied with an 11-2 run fueled by freshman Romeo Langford, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and eventually took a 58-57 lead on Juwan Morgan’s layup with 8:58 left.

Arkansas recaptured a five-point lead at 63-58 on Gafford’s inside shot, before Indiana surged again to twice tie the game late.

BIG PICTURE

Indiana: The Hoosiers played just eight players as they have battled some early season injuries. Six of the eight logged more than 20 minutes including Langford, who played 38 minutes.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks had all nine players reach the scoring column Sunday, getting contributions off the bench to help the scoring. Jones also delivered a huge performance with 11 points and seven assists without a turnover.

TURNING POINT

Arkansas appeared to be rolling to a big win when Jones completed a three-point play to give the Razorbacks a 10-point lead at 51-41 with 14:16 left. But the Hoosiers rallied by outscoring Arkansas 17-6 over the next five-plus minutes to take a 58-57 lead.

Juwan Morgan and Langford fueled the run, scoring nine of the Hoosiers’ 17 points with Morgan’s inside bucket giving Indiana the lead.

HIGHLIGHT REEL

Langford is projected to be a high lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and he lived up to that lofty status Sunday. Langford a 6-foot-6 guard in just his fourth college basketball game, showed off a variety of skills with slashing drives and long range. His back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half helped Indiana erase a 10-point deficit.

TIP-INS

This was just the third meeting between the two teams, and first since 2008 when Arkansas defeated Indiana in an NCAA Tournament game. . Arkansas is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its 1994 national championship under former coach Nolan Richardson. Anderson was a longtime assistant coach and former player for Richardson.