The Trouble with Triple A Academy

Triple A.jpg

 Let's peruse the Texas High School Basketball Top 10 for a moment. Starting with the 1A Division. Texas smallest classification.


1. Triple A Academy (22-5)


2. Mumford (34-0)


3. Grapeland (29-4)


4. Port Aransas (28-7)


5. Cayuga (24-6)


6. Big Sandy Dallardsville (27-7)


7. Olney (25-5)


8. San Augustine (19-7)


9. Kerens (20-8)


10. Poolville (31-6)


Mumford is a small town just west of Bryan/College Station. Grapeland is north of Huntsville. Everyone's been to Port Aransas at some point. Cayuga, Olney, San Augustine etc, are all small towns. Dots on a map. Then we come to Triple A Academy.   


Triple A Academy is a charter school in Dallas, it's campus is a converted Kroger grocery store. 950 kids attend Triple A. That's K-11. The school doesn't have a senior class, but it does have one of the best basketball teams in the state. In any division. This season the Stallions have lost 5 games. Those loses came to Clear Springs, Clear Lake, Lubbock Estacado, Sugar Land Willowridge, and Cedar Hill. None of those schools compete in the 1A division. Only Estacado is below 5A. Triple A is loaded and they will make the trek to Austin this weekend to compete in the State High School Finals at the Frank Erwin Center. They are heavy favorites. They will also make history.


They will play another charter school, El Paso Harmony Science Academy in the semis on Thursday. Both have benefited from a move by the UIL that allows charter schools to compete with public schools. Now the UIL is attempting to prevent basketball factories, at least in lower classifications, by requiring charter schools to compete in the lowest classification in their attendance zone. Triple A will move to 3A when the rule is implemented in 2014, they'll probably be a dominate power in that classification. Head coach Tim Singleton estimates that 5-6 players on this years roster could be Division I prospects.


Charter schools have become a necessity in many urban areas of the state where public school are failing. Structure, smaller class size, non-testing centric academic programs, and innovation have all helped many of these school flourish. By all accounts Triple A Academy is academically sound. This however is not the case in some instances, Texas charter schools have been dissolved due to misappropriation of funds, been found academically unacceptable or lost their charters for other reasons. This can be a particular issue when athletics start to cloud the academic goals of the institution.  


Subchapter M section 406 of the University Interscholastic League Handbooks states that "Recruiting is not only a violation by the student who has been recruited, but it is also a violation by the school and/or the school district personnel who recruited the student. It is a violation ast all grade levels." The UIL bylaws also state that "A student who has changed schools for athletic purposes may be declared ineligible for more than on calendar year. In other words, if you ever recruit an athlete, even a 3rd grader, for athletic purposes the UIL can hold the school, district personnel, and the player responsible. The question is how? The vageries of "athletic purpose" lead to a litany of interpretation. Is it unreasonable that a kid would want to leave a drop out factory public school for a charter school that promises smaller class size etc? And oh by the way, what if he has a wonderful jump hook?


The vageries of "athletic purpose" lead to a litany of interpretation.


Let me preface all this by saying I'm not anti-charter school. I am anti-blowback and unintended consequences. Triple A is in a district with a couple of public 1A schools and a three other charter schools. Those three other charter schools were not competitive. At all. The bigger issue, at least relating specifically to sports, is how these school acquire their players. In a typical UIL scenario, at Grapeland for example, the school would only be able to draw students from its district or enrollment zone. Grapeland has to find at least 5 guys from Grapeland to play basketball at a high enough level to be competitive. They can't go outside their district for players.


Lebron James went to Miami to play with other great players. Tom Brady took a pay cut to bring in more great players. Great players want to play with other great players. It's instinctive. This is why 5-Star recruits congregate together and recruit each other to various colleges. It's the bell cow theory. King McClure is that bell cow. McClure, who dislocated his knee cap in mid-February, one of those players. He could very well be great, he has offers from Duke, Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina and every school in between. He'll have two more years to mull over his options as he's just a sophomore. He's that good and he's magnetic. Players want to play with him. When Duke comes to watch King, maybe they'll get a glimpse of the other guys too.  


Great players want to play with other great players. It's instinctive.


Recruitment is a gray area however in the charter world. A look at Triple A's roster is somewhat enlightening. King McClure, the 6-3 guard who will be a McDonald's All-American given his talent is the son of Triple A's CEO. Tyler Singleton is the son of the athletic director at Triple A. Gary Breaux another 6-3 guard transferred to Triple A last season. Cameron Cooks came to Triple A from Cedar Hill. Jeremiah Jefferson and Shavarick James both transferred from Hampton Prep. Leading scorer Frank Hollis came from Bishop Lynch High School. Needless to say this influx of talent has raised eyebrows. 


And this could be just the start. CEO Leroy McClure promises that the pipeline is full of talented players. One thing we know is that in big time high school basketball the pipeline is never secure. O.J. Mayo was an 8th grader averaging 23 points a game against high school competition. That was at Rose Hill Christian in Ashland, Kentucky. Mayo then moved in with his club team coach and enrolled in North College Hill High School in Cincinnati. Mayo finished his high school career and Huntington High School in Huntington, West Virginia. Bill Walker another top recruit followed him to his last two stops. OJ was mangetic as well. Top high school talent, particularly when an AAU coach is involved, can take a circuitous route through prep basketball.


The playing field is a bit different for Mumford. The Mustangs are talented, with a young team that will be better next year. They've had a great crop of kids come through their school district. Lightning in a bottle. While there are no assumptions, one would expect that given the makeup of the team, no transfers, no prep school relocation, these kids are local. Magnetic attraction didn't play a role in the teams assembly. 


Mumford and San Augustine, the other 1A Final Four participant will convene at the Drum in the other semi-final. Each hoping to make the final against where they will face a team looking to make history. A few years ago Strake Jesuit out of Houston made a trip to the 5A semi-finals. Strake was 37-0 when they played in Austin in 2009. They had a squad full of talented players. Tim Frazier went to Penn State, Joey Brooks signed with Notre Dame. They were a frightening squad that lost in the finals. They also ruffled feathers along the way because, by definition, Jesuit recruits its athletes. Tuition is steep and financial aid is need based. What's to stop a school like Strake or Triple A or Harmony Science from targeting certain students with special athletic skills? Oversight is minimal and like the NCAA the UIL relies on whistleblowing to determine sanctions.


The thinking is that should Mumford or San Augustine, the other 1A final four participant keep it close in the final against their charter school opponent, the Drum will turn full force against the charter team.


The thinking is that should Mumford or San Augustine, the other 1A final four participant keep it close in the final against their charter school opponent, the Drum will turn full force against the charter team. I've been in the Drum when the underdog gets it going and it's magical. While I don't hope for negative energy against the charter schools, I do hope that the UIL can level the playing field for schools like Mumford and San Augustine and create a distinct title for charter schools.


Perhaps the top 10 will look a bit different then.


Posted on March 5, 2013 and filed under Sports.