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.

All the travel and the winning and the free shoes makes the school even more attractive to the best young players from Dade and beyond. The field, according to FHSAA commissioner Ron Davis, is no longer level.

"You asked what's wrong with one team being so good," says Davis from his Gainesville office. "I ask you this: What's right? What's right about a team that has all the talent playing against a school that can't necessarily entice a young man or a young lady to come to their school? The team has an unfair advantage."

And the FHSAA has less power than ever to enforce its own rules. Changes urged by the Florida legislature have made it harder to restrict the movements of students from one school to another. Before this academic year, an athlete and his parents or his legal guardians had to have lived at a new address for a full year before the student could play sports at a different school. A new rule allows a player to move as often as he likes, and to live with whomever he pleases, as long as he and his parents are living within the school's attendance boundaries at the start of the school year. The new rule was added to accommodate kids who endure chaotic home lives, those who might shuttle between various locations for perfectly valid reasons -- if, for example, a parent or guardian is arrested.

It's pretty much up to the each school principal to make sure that every one of his or her students is legitimately enrolled, and the FHSAA provides firm rules to guide them. Basically, if kids have relocated into the district at the beginning of the year, their parents must have moved with them. They have to bring everything they own -- all their frying pans and televisions and sofas -- to the new house. And they have to sell their old house to someone outside the family, or at least put it up for long-term lease. "Maintaining multiple addresses in order to circumvent the rules is expressly forbidden," states the FHSAA handbook. The penalty is severe. The student must forfeit a year of athletic eligibility.

The association continues to "expressly forbid" recruiting, which it deems to be "a gross violation of the spirit and philosophy" of the association. To combat recruiting, the rules prohibit players to live with anyone associated with their school. Parents can't receive free or reduced rent. Academic magnet programs "cannot be used as a subterfuge for recruiting students for athletic purposes.

"A student who allows himself to be recruited," the FHSAA handbook continues, "... will be declared permanently ineligible for athletics at that school." The student could also be barred from playing for any other Florida public school.

Frank Martin adamantly denies that Miami High recruits basketball players. "That comment about [Miami High] recruiting comes from all the people, all the coaches at other schools who are sitting on their rear ends and don't want to work," he huffs. "It's unbelievable all the crazy stories I hear about recruiting. It's ridiculous. It's absolutely absurd. At the high school level, there really is no recruiting. It's not like you see me out at the fifteen-and-under league palming kids over."

No, you don't. Athletic directors at rival schools agree that Martin's program is so attractive -- with its shoes and trips and track record of success -- that prospective players approach him. But they also insist, vehemently, that there are people who steer players Miami High's way.

"We feel that in a year or two we'll be able to compete with Miami High, and maybe even knock them off," says the athletic director of one Dade school, who asked not to be identified. "It all depends on whether we can keep our team together, though. And already the kids are being talked to.... It's not necessarily a coach or a player [who does the recruiting]. It's often someone who's on the fringe of the team and who wants to contribute and feel like he's a part of the success of the team."

To quote FHSAA rules again: "Schools are responsible for any violation committed by any person associated with the school, including principals, athletic directors, coaches, teachers, any other staff members or employees, students, parents, or any organization, such as booster clubs, having connection to the school ... [including] anyone acting at the direction of the school or anyone associated with the school."

When New Times began its investigation in early February, the address in the school district computer system for both Udonis Haslem and Antonio Latimer matched a woebegone two-bedroom bungalow due southeast of Miami High. New Times visited on a Saturday afternoon. A young child's colorful plastic play furniture lay strewn about the property. The child herself jogged around the front yard as her father hacked at some bushes with a machete. The father said he lived at the address.

And what about Udonis Haslem?
"Udonis Haslem?" he said. "Who? I've never heard of an Adonis before." Shown the unique name printed on a piece of paper, the man still indicated no recognition. Nor did he know of anyone named Antonio Latimer.

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