Dream Team

For years Miami Senior High School has fielded one of the best basketball teams in the nation. But getting into the record books has meant tossing out the rule books.

Miami High athletic director Tiger Nunez responds with bafflement when asked why these players would use addresses that belonged to team boosters. "I can't give an explanation," he says. "This is the first I knew about it." Coach Martin initially agreed to make his players available for interviews with New Times, but when questions about eligibility arose, he referred questions instead to the boys' parents.

Even before parents could be contacted, New Times's scrutiny sparked a frenzy of address changes and relocations. Rather than calling for an internal investigation of the basketball program, school officials and even parents appear to have conspired to cover up any wrongdoing.

Barbara Wooten, Udonis Haslem's stepmother, moved from Jacksonville to Miramar, in the southwest corner of Broward. She lives with her partner, Johnnie Haslem, who is Udonis's father and legal guardian. Udonis's own driver's license bears a Miramar address. When he was in a car accident in July 1996, he told the reporting officer he lived in Miramar. The black Ford Explorer he drives to school every day, the one registered to Barbara Wooten of Miramar, is parked in the driveway every night at the same house in Miramar.

But Wooten insists her stepson lives with his mother in North Miami. "I'm just amazed and appalled at the people who say otherwise," she told New Times. One of those people who say otherwise is Haslem's mother.

A few days after New Times began asking questions about where Haslem lives, the school district records listing his address -- and those of Blake and Latimer -- were mysteriously changed. The district now lists Haslem as living with his mother.

In 1920, long before Michael Jordan became a household name, the principals of 29 state high schools convened in a muggy hall on the campus of the University of Florida, in Gainesville. Rules were needed, the men decreed, to ensure equality in athletic competition. Fair play was mandated. Sports should not exploit a student, they declared, but be used to enhance the student's complete education.

In the 78 years since the founding of the FHSAA, high school sports in Florida and elsewhere have evolved into a major American business. High school athletes now routinely transfer among schools in search of a better coach, more playing time, or anything else that might increase their chances of landing a college scholarship and a shot at the pros.

Miami High basketball players have a better shot than most. This year's varsity roster features nine present and future Division I college prospects. Haslem and 6'10" forward Sylbrin Robinson will play next year for the University of Florida. Latimer signed with DePaul. Coach Martin boasts that even the athletes at the end of his bench have a good shot at a scholarship to some school. "The college guys come in and they all see what's going on with our kids," Martin says. "They see that our kids are being prepared for that next level and they share those sentiments with me. And I see my kids go to college and they're doing well when they get there."

In the past five years, though, high school basketball standouts have begun bypassing college altogether. Kevin Garnett prompted the exodus. The 6'11" forward moved from South Carolina to Chicago specifically to play basketball for Farragut Academy, a high school. Upon graduation he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves, with whom he recently inked a six-year deal worth $126 million, the most lucrative contract in NBA history. Kobe Bryant -- at nineteen the youngest NBA All-Star ever -- leaped straight from a high school gym to the Great Western Forum, where he plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Because of this trend, high schools with strong basketball teams now receive thousands of dollars in cash donations and equipment from shoe companies on the lookout for the next superstar. Such contracts are extraordinarily lucrative at a level of the sport where many high school athletic directors must sell up to 100 dozen glazed doughnuts a day just to field a team. These elite programs -- that's what they're called, programs -- travel the country to play each other in tournaments as they pursue the national championship, awarded annually by USA Today.

Miami High is Florida's elite program. In past years the Stingarees have played in tournaments in Ohio, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Hawaii. Prior to the start of this season, Nike flew Coach Martin to its world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, as a thank-you for switching to the swoosh from the Adidas shoes his kids wore last year. At the end of last season, USA Today ranked the Stings third in the nation. They're currently ranked number six.

"They have so much talent that from a community standpoint it is difficult for them to get a game," says Tom Moore, basketball coach at Southwest High School. "You have to play a perfect game, and you still can get beat by 40 points. Only the mercy rule -- which runs the clock in blowouts -- stops them from scoring 100 points almost every time." Moore is the only visiting coach to have won a game played at Miami High in the past thirteen years.

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