“Ticket to the Top”

San Antonio Express-News  
June 23, 2017


St. Anthony Catholic High School was a respectable, century-old educational institution run by nuns that compromised its principles in a quest for glory on the basketball court. In “Ticket to the Top,” The San Antonio Express-News documented the school’s swift descent into a moral swamp. How it flouted rules by allying with a wealthy booster for an affiliated college to import top-shelf foreign talent. How it hired a coach who had gained custody of a superstar 16-year-old Nigerian from his illiterate father. And how Adidas backed the coach, the school team and his AAU squad with cash and equipment, betting that it would gain the allegiance of a future NBA star.

Naturally, nobody involved wanted to talk about anything but the team’s success barnstorming around the country and the astonishing play of young Charles Bassey, considered the best prep big man in his class. The original, stunning story – and its unstinting look at the seamy side of youth basketball – was the product of months of diligent reporting and had immediate consequences. Within weeks, the coach was gone and so was the star player and other international teammates who were boarding at the school at a cost of $40,000 apiece per year. They decamped to a “basketball academy” in Louisville, Ky. that plays a national schedule.

“Ticket to the Top” appeared three months before a top Adidas executive was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of steering a top recruit to the University of Louisville in return for promised six-figure payments to his family. The landscape of the basketball subculture outlined in the indictment bore unmistakable similarity to what the Express-News described.

“Your antenna has to go up any time something seems amiss: A kid from Nigeria ends up in San Antonio, then ends up in Louisville,” ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla told the Express-News. “Given the connection to Adidas, it makes too much sense for there not to be a connection, knowing what we’ve known in the past and learned very recently about the close connections shoe companies have to high school and AAU programs and tying it into major universities.”

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Submitted by Jamie Stockwell.

Headliners Foundation