Just two weeks ago Emmanuel Academy in Durham, N.C., had one of the best schoolboy basketball teams in the country. Never mind that unaccredited Emmanuel had a mere 20 students and held classes in the basement of a day-care center. Never mind, either, that the school had yet to play a single game in the three years it had been around. What mattered was that among those 20 students were 11 Division I basketball prospects.
The hoops juggernaut got rolling last spring when Greater Emmanuel House of Refuge pastor Artis Plummer and Mike White, an assistant coach at Durham's Mount Zion Christian Academy, a well known basketball factory, agreed to develop a program at Emmanuel. White's involvement attracted four Mount Zion players to the school, including six-foot senior Jonathan Hargett, considered the nation's best high school point guard, and other young stars from around the South. There was just one little problem: As the school year started, Plummer and White had yet to secure financing for the team, whose ambitious schedule included tournaments in Alabama, Louisiana and Nevada. "They knew they were walking into a situation where there wasn't a whole lot of funding," Plummer says of the players. "It was one of those visions that went bad." Indeed. On Oct. 13, White told the players to return home: Plummer's application for $65,000 in grants from "private parties" had been denied, leaving the players scrambling to find schools quickly or lose their high school eligibility and endanger their college prospects.
The quick rise and fall of a basketball factory isn't unique in high school sports. What sets Emmanuel's circumstances apart is the quality of the team the school had built in so short a time and the tenuousness of the institution. "The whole thing was unbelievably ill-conceived," says Bob Gibbons, basketball recruiting analyst and publisher of the All Star Sports Report. "The school had no faculty [until this year]. How did anyone in his wildest dreams fantasize that these kids would be eligible for college? These schools are using kids to create an illusion that they are a basketball power."