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Blackboards and Backboards
Phil Taylor
March 09, 1992
The lure of higher SAT scores has made a prep school in frigid Maine a hotbed of college basketball talent
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March 09, 1992

Blackboards And Backboards

The lure of higher SAT scores has made a prep school in frigid Maine a hotbed of college basketball talent

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"I told the other schools that Mario was off-limits, and I told Mario that if he really wanted to be recruited again, I wouldn't stand in his way as long as he picked up the phone and told the people at Old Dominion that," says Good. "Loyalty is important to me. I tell coaches all the time, 'If I let you talk to a player another school has sent here, would you ever feel comfortable sending me a player yourself?' "

Fortunately for those recruiters, not every player at MCI is already spoken for. Some, like 6'1" guard Billy Butler from Greenwood, Ind., come to MCI to improve their games and get greater exposure. Butler is one of five players who went to MCI for the 1991-92 season with SAT scores above 700. He and two others, 6'3" guard Torrey Mills of Romulus, Mich., the brother of the New Jersey Nets' Terry Mills, and Pax Whitehead of Fort Lauderdale, are being recruited by Ivy League schools, according to Good.

MCI doesn't claim to make Renaissance men out of its postgraduates; it sticks to the basics that are necessary for the college boards. The players take a double period of English, two math classes and an elective in addition to an SAT course, and all students have mandatory study halls from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. "The 700 will get them into college," says Good. "We also want to help them develop the study habits and skills that will allow them to stay in college."

But there's no question that the SAT course is the one that gets the players' full attention. It is a subzero night in January, and 10 MCI basketball and football players are gathered in a dormitory lounge with teacher Lynn Nuñez to get in some late cramming for the SAT coming up the following Saturday. Nuñez is drilling them on antonyms in the verbal section when the word endorse comes up. One player isn't sure of the meaning.

"If any of you gets to be a great sports star," Nuñez says, "and they come to you with big contracts to endorse sneakers...." Ah, yes. Endorse.

Nuñez takes a practical approach to preparing the postgraduates for the SAT. She teaches them, among other things, how to beat the test. The players learn what Nunez calls the law of thirds, which holds that on each section of the SAT, the first third has the easiest questions and the last third the most difficult. Therefore Nuñez recommends that the players not answer the last few questions of each section unless they are certain about them.

The SAT presents passages in its reading-comprehension sections, one of which involves an ethnic group or issue. Nuñez instructs the players to answer all the questions on that passage, because "the answers are so predictable, you could almost answer them without reading the passage," she says. "The answers that reflect most positively on the ethnic group are the right ones, almost without fail.

"I hate that test, I hate it," Nuñez says. "The SAT, especially the verbal part, is a test that's designed to trick students. I teach them how to avoid those tricks. We approach it almost like a video game that we're trying to beat. Find the trick and, boom, blow it up."

Does learning how to beat the SAT leave the players any more prepared to handle college work? "No," says Nuñez. "I'd like to be able to tell you I'm teaching these great problem-solving skills, but I'm really teaching them how to meet what is essentially a meaningless requirement. I'd love to know what it is they think they're measuring with the verbal section. I've taken a kid with a 410 and brought him up to a 780 in two months. If it's a valid test, I shouldn't be able to do that."

Drastic improvements in SAT scores aren't unusual at MCI. Bohannon, a bright 18-year-old with a quick wit and wide smile, improved from the 650 he scored his sophomore year in high school in San Bernardino, Calif., to an 840 after less than a semester at MCI. (Although he played on the postgraduate team, Bohannon is actually completing his senior year of high school and has signed with Arizona.) "This whole setup is such a good idea, I'm surprised the NCAA hasn't said something yet," he says.

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