LJ returned to Serbia within a month of arriving in Miami. "It was a disaster," Vidovic says. "The thing that surprises me the most is that somehow these guys were allowed to run a school."

That the international ballplayers lived in a house together was an open secret. Charles Jackson — the semihomeless ex-Raider — says he recalls Jerome Smith shuttling the kids to and from school. Sheldon Brown remembers they had a "special van" for the purpose. Derrick Williams says he heard about the house but was willfully ignorant: "I didn't want nothing to do with any of that."


Alvaro Diaz-Rubio
Bernard Wright (standing) with the 2000 FIU team.
Steve Satterwhite
Bernard Wright (standing) with the 2000 FIU team.

Before his international dream team hit the court in fall 2008, Bernard Wright took CLA "independent." While the squad would still be under FHSAA rule, it couldn't participate in the playoffs. This might have signaled Wright's shifting priorities: Cleaning up in profile-building regional and national tournaments was more important than making the local playoffs. CLA had become a big-time talent funnel to Division 1 colleges.

The team won the prestigious A-Rod Basketball Classic that December and the 20-team South Florida MLK Classic the next month. CLA finished with a 12-8 record that year.

But that summer, Wright's reign finally succumbed to CLA's signature anarchy. In August 2009, Christopher Sweeting filed suit against Derrick Williams and registrar Sophia Roberts. He claimed the pair was sabotaging the school, making strategic "derogatory comments" about the Sweetings, and stealing information in order to start their own outfit, called Global Academy.

The suit was eventually settled out of court. Williams admits they were planning on opening a school in the Little Haiti Cultural Center. He says Wright was in on the idea, which fell through when a principal investor, who "it turns out was a crackhead," didn't come through with start-up cash.

Wright wasn't named in the lawsuit. But the Sweetings terminated him in early August 2009 as the suit was filed. "Ey Coach B really messed up," star guard Tony Mitchell wrote on his Facebook page August 3. "He got fired from CLA."

In the aftermath, Wright's former phenoms have fanned out to top high school and college programs across the nation, where they've been haunted by dubious transcripts and eligibility concerns. Bahamian native Brian Delancy ended up playing for Krop High under Shakey Rodriguez. The team — subsequently discovered by this publication to have several students, including Delancy, registered at bogus addresses — was ranked first in the state but disqualified due to problems with Delancy's immigration paperwork.

NBA hopeful Mitchell, committed to Kansas State and then the University of Missouri, was deemed ineligible by the NCAA due to problems stemming from his CLA transcripts. He's a member of the University of North Texas Mean Green, which plays in a more lenient conference. Mitchell, who ignored an interview request, has made his feelings clear on Facebook: "CLA messed all us up for real."

African big men Willy Kouassi and Bernard Morena ended up at Central Park Christian High in Birmingham, Alabama, and both plan to play for Auburn University next year. According to a July 2010 Birmingham News article, they now live with a youth basketball coach named Darien Knox.

A News reporter attempted to reach Wright for that story. Wright, via text message, claimed he was in Afghanistan with the National Guard and declined to comment.

But if Wright was in the Middle East, he bought his own plane ticket. According to his Army personnel file, he received an honorable discharge in July 2009, a full year earlier.


On a recent visit to Center of Life Academy, New Times is greeted by Rushae Sweeting, who giggles vacantly when asked about Bernard Wright. "You've done your research!" she says several times and deflects questions to current athletic director Caryl Buchannan.

"The school's changed a lot," Buchannan says. "They are now students first and athletes second."

Christopher Sweeting, who is now listed on the school's website as executive director, ignored emails and calls to his cell phone for comment. He also didn't respond to a note left on the door of the Sweetings' Miami Gardens home.

In December 2010, Wright and a Goulds pastor, Mark Coats, filed papers incorporating Grace Christian Preparatory Inc. The address given — 11000 SW 216th St. — is that of Coats's church, Grace of God Baptist Church. One of the few pages set up on the school's website ("Home of the Lions," one banner announces) tells parents how to apply for a McKay Scholarship.

On a recent weekday, small children wearing loose-fitting neckties mill about the tiny church building with little supervision while munching sandwiches. In a back office, Sophia Roberts — formerly of CLA — says Wright isn't there and she doesn't know when he'll be back. Wide-eyed and narrow-faced, she seems miserably eager to return to her microwaved lunch.

Pastor Coats later explains Grace Christian has 50 kids in grades one through 12, but he hopes that number will expand. He's unconcerned with Wright's past. "I find him to be a reputable young man," the 48-year-old Coats says. "He's a product of the inner city who went off to college and made something of himself."

The school doesn't have sports yet, says Coats. "I'm sure we'll get to that down the line."

But basketball hoop posts stand in the church parking lot, with backboards stashed near the door for quick access. It appears Wright has been getting his games in.

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10 comments
zhenglishu
zhenglishu

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JJFLOJ
JJFLOJ

HOW DOES MIAMI AND THE FSHSL PUT UP WITH THIS?IT IS A DISGRACE TO FLORIDA AND BASKETBALL!!!!

Beware6876
Beware6876

The Times should do more investigation of President Of Global Academy " Jeffrey L. Wells", thats the crack head in the story

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Ttsturrup
Ttsturrup

bernard wright used to be asst. at carol city high with coach bell.coach bell was my teacher at carol city middle.

Goober
Goober

I must say this is one of the greatest stories I have ever read. What pure insanity

MNT Fan
MNT Fan

This is the Miami New Times I know and love.

Awesome hit piece!

Ttsturrup
Ttsturrup

fhsaa and everyknows bernard wright got the players for shakey and frank martin since the 90''s.

 
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