Bean sprout teenaged basketball players from Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High, all wearing purple tracksuits, filled two rows of wooden pews in a downtown courtroom last Wednesday afternoon. Their parents and girlfriends — along with a few local politicians angling for publicity — filled the rest of the hall.
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) appeared to have only one representative in court: a somber lawyer who spoke in haughty legalese.
Anybody who'd ever watched a Disney movie could've identified the good guys there. And when Judge Spencer Eig ruled that Krop, Florida's number-one-ranked buckets team, should be allowed to participate in the playoffs despite the opposition of the sport's governing body, the crowd burst into hooting applause.
Krop Senior High
Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote had editorialized that the FHSAA had "overreacted with the harshest possible punishment" in disqualifying Bahamian guard Brian Delancy because of his failure to file immigration paperwork, which forced the team to forfeit every game in which he had played. Virtually every local news outlet, from NBC Miami (Channel 6) to WSVN-TV (Channel 7), treated the judge's ruling as a feel-good story.
Except for this one. Because as New Times has discovered, Delancy's immigration paperwork is the least of his eligibility concerns. The boy's coach, Marcos "Shakey" Rodriguez is notorious for skirting recruiting rules. Delancy's legal guardian, Bernard Wright, coached a team stripped of its state championship for rampant cheating. And the 19-year-old, it appears, doesn't even reside in the school's district. His address, as listed in school records before the eligibility scandal broke, doesn't exist. Since then, the records have apparently been changed. And it seems he doesn't live at the new address.
"We tried to get the school to tell us where he lives under oath and it took us asking three times," comments FHSAA executive director Dr. Roger Dearing. "Finally, they said he lives primarily with his mother... There's something going on with this kid."
But local newspapers have reported Delancy's mom lives in the Bahamas. "That's another good question," said Dearing. "Apparently, she was living here, but she moved to the Bahamas. All I can say is it's a good question."
Shakey Rodriguez, who rakes in $76,750 annually to coach winners, isn't interested in clearing the confusion. "I got nothing to say to you, dude," intoned the stocky coach, sporting his trademark look of sunglasses perched above combed-down bangs, when confronted at the court hearing. "Leave it at that."
Krop athletic director Michael Kypriss also shut down questioning. "Come on man, be happy for us!" he boomed when asked about the living situation after the hearing, shrouding Delancy with his large frame and loping away from the courthouse. "We met all the eligibility requirements! Come on man, I thought you'd be happy for us!"
Delancy's guardian Bernard Wright, the most important actor in this drama, is less sanguine. Wright is a notorious youth basketball recruiter with a criminal record who was the assistant coach of the 1998 Miami High team that included Heat stalwart Udonis Haslem and was stripped of a state championship amid recruiting violations. "Don't you ever fucking call this number again," he barks when reached by a reporter. "You're a fucking scumbag, and if I ever fucking catch you near me, you're going to regret it. You better lose this fucking number."
This publication's history with local youth-ball legend Shakey Rodriguez — his high school win-loss record (587-93) is believed to be the best in the county — and his cronies dates back to the mid-'90s. Rodriguez, who earned his nickname, he likes to say, because he "can never stand still," won five championships in 13 years as head coach of the juggernaut Miami High Stingarees, a squad that always seemed stocked with elite ballplayers from around the country. Rodriguez was often accused of breaking recruiting rules, but he was never caught. Wright was his assistant coach.
In 1995, Rodriguez took over Florida International University's basketball team. Frank Martin became the new Miami High coach. Wright stayed on to become Martin's assistant coach.
Three years later, Miami High won the 1998 state championship with perhaps its most formidable team ever, featuring preternaturally-talented teens such as Haslem and current Los Angeles Laker Steve Blake. But the title was tainted.
A New Times investigation, published one week before that year's title game, exposed that five of the team's players — including Haslem and Blake — were registered as living with coaches or boosters, in violation of state recruitment rules. Player residence records in the school district database had bogus addresses, which were mysteriously changed several times when a reporter began sniffing around. Then FHSAA commissioner Ron Davis called Miami High's manipulation of residency records the most "blatant violation of FHSAA rules against recruiting that I have encountered." The association stripped the team of its title and barred it from playing the next year.
What was Bernard Wright's role on the disqualified team? According to two anonymous sources quoted in the New Times investigation, he occupied a position not supposed to exist in high school sports: recruiter.
"He always would come up to me and tell me, 'Got a chance of getting another kid,' " said one source, a former FIU athletics employee. " 'Got a chance of getting this kid for Miami High.' That was his whole thing. That was all he was supposed to do."
The other source told New Times Wright was the guy charged with making trips to other school districts around the country to poach talent.
In the 1998 fallout, Frank Martin was canned. In 2007, he was hired as head coach of the vaunted Kansas State University men's basketball team, where he remains. Bernard Wright left Miami High as well, snagging the assistant coach position under old buddy Shakey Rodriguez at FIU.
In 2000, another New Times investigation revealed chaos on that FIU squad. Future Miami Heat baller Carlos Arroyo had punched a team manager in the face. There were questionable grade changes for student athletes. And Coach Shakey had managed to stock his staff and squad with old faces from the disgraced Miami High team.
The story also detailed Bernard Wright's shady personal history. The co-owner of Three Fingers Lounge, a violence-plagued liquor store and bar in inner Miami, he was charged with a misdemeanor for hiring nude dancers without a license. His criminal history also included driving with a stolen tag. Both charges were ultimately dismissed. In 1998, he left the Miami-Dade Department of Children & Families, where he was a full-time caseworker, after a three-year-old girl assigned to him was left in her parents' care and beaten to death.
Shakey Rodriguez resigned two weeks after that story was published. Bernard Wright was soon released. After taking over the Krop team in 2004, Rodriguez built another dream team. His superstar player, the NBA-potential guard Angel Rodriguez, lived in Puerto Rico until last year, his junior season, and played for the national team there. Angel Rodriguez is now committed to Frank Martin's Kansas State team. Sophomore Trevin Joseph was on a squad that won a Youth Basketball of America state championship in Georgia last year.
And, as evidenced by Brian Delancy's living situation, Shakey Rodriguez clearly hasn't cut ties with Bernard Wright. In recent years, if you believe news reports, Wright has developed a model: Recruit overseas players to high schools not recognized by the FHSAA, act as their legal guardian, and pass them off to officially sanctioned schools.
That's what he did with African basketball players Bernard Morena and Willy Kouassi. In 2009, Wright was the basketball coach at the now-defunct Choice Learning Academy in Miami. Morena and Kouassi lived with him, according to a Birmingham [Alabama] News article. After the school went belly-up, felled by a grading scandal, the two ended up at Birmingham's Division-1 Central Park Christian School, according to the paper.
Brian Delancy's case follows the same pattern. The 19-year-old left his native Bahamas last year and enrolled at Choice, then transferred to Davie's Westlake Prep before coming to Krop at the beginning of this school year.
Now Wright appears to have gone into business for himself. In 2007, he established a corporation, one of eight for which he's filed papers, called Urban Youth Foundation, Inc. That company lists its address as 2025 NW First Ave., the same location as Center of Life Academy, where Wright has been listed as the basketball team's head coach. The foreign-born players on Wright's team have included Puerto Rican star Edvardo Burrows, who recently transferred to California's Renaissance Academy.
According to FHSAA rules, student athletes can't live with any school employee, athletic staff member, or "representative of the school's athletic interests." Does the association's executive director, Dearing, believe Bernard Wright falls into the latter category, given his reputation and relationship with Shakey Rodriguez? "It's certainly suspect," he says. "That's something we'll address at the next hearing."
According to a Sun-Sentinel article, Delancy's parents stayed in the Bahamas when he relocated to Miami. And if he lives with his guardian, Bernard Wright, he's a good ten miles out of Krop High's school zone and should be suiting up to play in American Senior High's red, white, and blue. Wright's been listed for years as living in an apartment on NW 186th Street in Hialeah. When he was pulled over for his most recent traffic infraction, running his black Jaguar through a stop sign in March 2008, that's the address he gave the officer. It's also where he's currently registered to vote.
Or maybe Delancy lives by himself. Earlier this month, school district data listed Delancy's address as 21110 NE Ninth Ave. That sounds like it would be closer to Krop High, which is located on County Line Road near Aventura.
One problem, as confirmed by Miami-Dade property records and a New Times visit to the area: There's no such address. Ninth Avenue doesn't stretch that far north.
Recently, Delancy's address was apparently changed in school department records. It's now listed as 915 NE 213th Terr., a convenient few blocks away from the school. That's the location of a gated apartment complex, and Delancy didn't list a unit number. The security guard at the gate helpfully informed New Times that no Delancys, or anyone named Bernard Wright, is among the building's listed residents. The roll is updated every day, the guard added.
Delancy's eligibility conflicts first surfaced after administrators at a rival school — believed to be Carol City High — brought problems to the FHSAA's attention. They claimed the Bahamian guard hadn't filed required immigration paperwork upon his transfer to Krop. Faced with the prospect of four-digit-per-game fines for Delancy playing after being informed of the lapse, Krop benched him beginning January 27.
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A few days later, the FHSAA ruled Delancy ineligible, retroactively forfeiting the 19 games he had played and dashing Krop's playoff position among the district's top four teams.
(Though New Times has been unable to speak to Delancy, the teen took to Facebook after the initial benching to make his feelings clear: "Big game tonight vs. Carol City," he wrote. "Mad as fuck I can't play now that's some bullshit." He also lamented simply on another day: "Why me?" Later, he didn't respond to a New Times friend request. Go figure.)
Thanks to Judge Eig's ruling Wednesday, Krop High will be able to participate in the playoffs pending a hardship appeal with the FHSAA. North Miami High, meanwhile, which would have played if Krop had been disqualified, is done for the year. "It's just a shame," says executive director Dearing, referring to the district's fifth-ranked team.
On Thursday night, Coach Shakey Rodriguez was back on the sidelines, wearing a slate, short-sleeved button-down and his sunglasses on his head. Delancy — never the team's top player — scored nine points. Angel Rodriguez dropped in 32, and as expected, the Lightning defeated Carol City, by a score of 56 to 53. Last weekend, Krop eliminated Hialeah-Miami Lakes and remains the favorite to win a state championship. "It was very bitter for our young men," says Paul Moore, a longtime coach at Carol City and the de facto voice of the school. "It makes no sense. It's going to be another stripped championship."