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.

That interview took place on a Friday afternoon. Frank Martin made another unsolicited call to New Times the next day.

"I'm aware of the majority of things that happen with the program," he said, noting that he was aware of the interview with Debra Haslem. "If something is wrong with the system, it is my responsibility. I am the one that makes the final call when I know that there's a kid transferring to school. About Udonis and Latimer and Blake having addresses in the homes of boosters, I don't know what to say. I will say that when I was in grade school, my parents used a different address because they didn't want me going to the school in our district. That happens all the time."

When asked why Latimer and Haslem both used the same address at Corella's efficiency, Martin breathed deeply, then sighed. "There is a reason for things," he said slowly, sounding tired. "That is not a coincidence. Behind all this is the fact that certain rules are made. People find out the rules and do whatever they can to abide by them. Sometimes they use loopholes. Loopholes, as you now know, can be tough."

A couple of other things that can be tough:
Damion Fray is 6'7", 205 pounds, and just a sophomore. In other words, he is a born basketball player. Fray lives with Roma Nicholas, a 58-year-old woman who, according to the school district computer system, is his mother. "Oh, no, I'm not his mother," says Nicholas when reached by telephone at her townhouse, which lies inside the Miami High attendance zone. "I'm a friend. A friend of the mother." Damion's mother, says Nicholas, remains in Jamaica, from which Damion moved to play basketball. Nicholas does have a son named Malcolm, however, who lives with her and Fray. Malcolm is an assistant coach of the Miami High basketball team on which Fray plays.

Barbara Inskeep, age 58, has lived for the past 25 years in a large house on a shady street in Coral Gables. She works as a college assistance program counselor at Miami High, helping students navigate admissions and scholarships. She also attends every Miami High basketball game unless there is a conflict with her beloved University of Miami, at which point the Hurricanes pull rank.

According to school district records, Miami High guard Thaddeus Ambrose, a senior, lives at her house. "He doesn't really live with me," says Inskeep. "He did for a while. He's really been living with his mom in Overtown. He did live with me for a few years. I had helped other basketball players in their studies and given them support and mentoring and he sort of tagged along with them to begin with. I guess I tried to help him, too."

The other athletes Inskeep is referring to are former Miami High players Steve and Allen Edwards, two of the best basketball players in the history of Dade County. Steve Edwards played for UM. Allen is currently the captain of the Kentucky Wildcats. Inskeep says she provided housing for both of them, too. While Inskeep is no doubt trying to help these student athletes, her provision of housing appears to jeopardize their eligibility under the "undue influence" clause in the FHSAA rules.

The Edwards brothers both played on Miami High teams that won state championships, Steve in 1991 and Allen in 1993. Blue nylon banners commemorating those victories hang from the rafters in Miami High's home gymnasium. On game night, the overhead lights glow a hazy caramel color that nearly matches the trim on the team's custom-made white, navy, and gold Nike uniforms. Tonight's opponent is Coral Gables, whose players nervously watch from their end of the court as the Stingarees robotically rehearse dunk shots. Compared to Miami's big men -- Haslem, Latimer, and Sylbrin Robinson -- the Gables players look like, well, like high school kids.

"Be Like Mike," the theme song of Nike spokesman Michael Jordan, rings from the public address system as students gather on the pine bleachers. A cheer group known as the Stingarettes wave blue-and-gold placards that read, "Just Do It Stings," an homage to the Nike marketing slogan. On the south windows of the gym hangs a wooden stingray, painted yellow and blue. Flanking the mascot on both sides are large black flags emblazoned with the white Nike logo. When the referee announces that the game is about to begin, Stings equipment manager Big Ed Peguero gathers up a dozen Nike basketballs, provided free by the company.

Frank Martin steps onto the sideline. His hair is slicked back, a la Heat coach Pat Riley, and he sports a collarless shirt under his black suit. Pinned to his lapel is a shiny Nike swoosh, just like college coaches wear.

Martin, who is 31 years old, played for Miami High under legendary coach Shakey Rodriguez. After graduating he coached the junior varsity. For two years, starting in 1993, he was the head coach at North Miami High, immediately turning around that moribund program with his work ethic and discipline. When Rodriguez accepted a job at Florida International University three years ago, Martin returned to Miami High as the new head coach. He's won a state title every year since.

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