They were young hoops shooters who paid more than $25,000 a year to attend what they thought was an elite basketball academy that would prep them for the NBA. What they got instead, per a deep dive at Fusion, was ripped off. It's a close look by Luke Cyphers and Teri Thompson at what they call "America's newest venue for athlete exploitation—the bootleg prep school." In this case, the school was the 22ft Academy in Anderson, SC, run by a fast-talking Brit named Mike Rawson, though per the yearlong Fusion probe, it was just one of many similar schools across the country. These schools are being scrutinized for allegations of taking tens of thousands of dollars from their students for "exposure" to recruiters, but delivering little more than poor living conditions and food, subpar education, and, in some cases, homelessness, jail time, and deportation for international students over visa issues.
The article notes the "severely disrupted" model of extracurricular sports, which the authors write has warped into a commercialized system that will do almost anything to attract top talent—even if that means fixing grades or otherwise gaming the system. Students with big dreams, especially those from abroad, may fall prey to prep schools like 22ft, which aren't regulated. In 22ft's case, one ex-student said the food was so terrible the kids would buy their meals out of pocket; meanwhile, players were stuffed into a vermin- and insect-infested barn on Rawson's property, replete with other health hazards, per documentation seen by Fusion. "When you put a kid in a house with 20 other kids, you put that kid at risk of sexual abuse, you put him at risk of malnutrition," an immigration lawyer tells Fusion. "You simply don't care about that kid, you care about what he can get you. That's human trafficking." Click here for more on the students' horror stories and what's happened since to Rawson. (Read more Longform stories.)