And indeed, MCI might have to be vigilant to avoid giving the NCAA reason to become involved. There's no question that the prep school system is at least open to abuse from shady college programs. At MCI, a school of 380 day students and 90 boarding students, annual tuition and boarding costs are $14,200 for postgraduates. Need-based financial aid can cover as much as $9,200 of that, which means that every member of the team must pay at least $5,000 for a year at the school. According to director of admissions Jonathan Alden, six of the 13 players who began this year on the basketball team qualified for the maximum amount of financial aid, meaning they demonstrated some economic need.
So where do the players come up with at least $5,000? That's where the answers tend to become vague. Good, who exerts tight control over every other aspect of the program, says he makes it a point to steer clear of the financial arrangements. Bohannon, who is paying $5,650 to attend MCI, said his grandmother and father came up with the money with help from Elvert Perry, the coach of his summer AAU traveling team.
At St. Thomas More, 6'2" guard Steve Frazier, who averaged 39.6 points per game last year for Andrew Jackson High in Queens, N.Y., has $4,000 of the school's $12,000 cost paid for by a work-study scholarship. His parents pay another $6,000, and according to St. Thomas More coach Jere Quinn, the other $2,000 comes from alums of the school and from Quinn's friends.
There's no rule against friends or even summer-league coaches helping to pay prep school fees. Still, the potential for violations is obvious. It wouldn't be difficult for a college to steer a potential recruit to a prep school and pay the player's tuition through intermediaries, and it is certainly in the college's interest to have its players eligible for an extra year.
But if the prep school route can lead to possible abuses, it can also lead players who have long been frustrated in the classroom to develop greater self-confidence. George Butler, who played for the Huskies in 1990-91 and now plays for Lamar, went from a 560 on the SAT to a 710. "He came to me and said, 'Coach, I found out for the first time that I'm not stupid,' " says Good. "That is a scathing indictment of high school academics, that for the first time some of these kids are discovering that they are just as intelligent as anyone else."
Rhodes also lacked confidence when he faced the test for the first time, in high school. "There was a lot of worry and frustration," he says. "You know so much is riding on it that you make it even harder than it is." But after being at MCI, Rhodes improved his score 100 points and is close to the 700 mark.
"It's not a matter of if I get the 700, it's a matter of when," he says. "Before, I wondered if I could do it. Now I know I can do it."
That kind of rise in self-esteem is hard to quantify, but when it happens, it's as easy to see as blackboards and backboards.