This news story will appear in Wednesday's issue of New Times. It includes reporting that was published last week on our news blog, and which was referenced without attribution in this weekend's Miami Herald.
Beansprout teenage 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's ever watched a Disney movie could identify the good guys here. And when Judge Spencer Eig ruled that Krop, the state's number-one-ranked team, should be allowed to participate in the playoffs despite the opposition of the sport's governing body, the crowd burst into hooting applause.
The Miami Herald had editorialized that the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) had "overreacted with the harshest possible punishment" in disqualifying Bahamian guard Brian Delancy's for his failure to file immigration paperwork, forcing the forfeit of every game he had played. Virtually every news outlet, from NBC Miami to WSVN-TV, 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 regulations. His legal guardian, Bernard Wright, was on the coaching staff of a 1998 Miami High team stripped of its state title for rampant cheating. And it appears that Delancy doesn't even live within the Krop High zone. "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 doesn't Delancy's mom live 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," the stocky coach, sporting his trademark look of sunglasses perched above combed-down bangs, intoned when confronted at the court hearing. "Leave it at that."
Krop athletic director Michael Kypriss also refuses to answer questions. "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 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 that disgraced 1998 Miami High team that included Heat stalwart Udonis Haslem. "Don't you ever fucking call this number again," he barks when reached by a reporter. "You're a fucking scum bag 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-- who has almost 600 high school wins to his credit-- and his cronies dates back to the mid-1990s. Rodriguez, who earned his nickname, he likes to say, because he "can never stand still," won five championships in 13 years as the 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 never caught. Wright was his assistant coach.
In 1995, Rodriguez took over FIU's basketball team. The new Miami High coach was Frank Martin. Wright stayed 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 like 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 led to bogus addresses, and those addresses were mysteriously changed several times as a reporter began sniffing around. FHSAA Commissioner Ron Davis, calling Miami High's manipulation of residency records the most "blatant violation of FHSAA rules against recruiting that I have encountered", stripped the team of its title and barred them from playing the next year.
What was Bernard Wright's true role on the disqualified team? According to two anonymous sources quoted in the New Times investigation, he occupied a position that's not supposed to exist in high school sports: He was a 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."
Another source told New Times that Bernard 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 Florida International.
In 2000, another New Times investigation revealed chaos on that FIU squad. Future NBA baller Carlos Arroyo had punched a team manager in the face. Three were questionable grade changes for student athletes. And Coach Rodriguez 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 package store and bar in inner Miami, he been 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 had been ousted from the Miami-Dade Department of Children & Families, where he was a full-time caseworker, after a three-year-old girl whose case he had handled 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. Since taking over the Krop High team in 2004, Rodriguez has once again built another dubious 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. He's now committed to Frank Martin's Kansas State team. Sophomore Trevin Joseph was on a team that won a state championship in Georgia last year. And ― as evidenced by Brian Delancy's living situation ― Shakey Rodriguez clearly hasn't cut ties with notorious recruiter 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 News article. After the school went belly-up ― felled by a grading scandal, according to the Alabama paper ― the two ended up at Birmingham's Division-1 Central Park Christian School.
And that's also what Wright did with Brian Delancy, who left his native Bahamas three years ago and enrolled at Choice, then transferred 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 etsablished a corporation--one of eight he's filed papers for--called Urban Youth Foundation, Inc., which lists as its address 2025 Northwest 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 that have been on Wright's team include 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 as a recruiter and his 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. But 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 red, white, and blue. Wright's been listed for years as living in an apartment on Northwest 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. According to school district data from earlier this month, Delancy's listed address was 21110 Northeast 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: There's no such address. Ninth Avenue just doesn't stretch that far North.
Recently, Delancy's address was apparently changed. It's now listed as 915 Northeast 213 Terrace, a convenient few blocks away from the school. That's a gated apartment, although Delancy hadn't listed a unit number. The security guard at the gate helpfully informed New Times that no Delancys, or Bernard Wright, are 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 $2000-plus-per-game fines for playing Delancy after being informed of the lapse, Krop benched him starting January 27.
A few days later, the FHSAA ruled that Delancy was ineligible, retroactively forfeiting the 19 games he had played in and dashing Krop's playoff position among the district's top four teams.
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(Though New Times hasn't been able 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. The same board members who initially disqualified the school will hear the appeal. It's highly unlikely they will reverse their own decision. "It's just a shame for North Miami," says executive director Dearing, referring to the district's fifth-ranked team, pushed from the playoffs by Krop High's inclusion.
On Thursday night, Coach Shakey Rodriguez was back on the sidelines, wearing a slate short sleeve button-down and his sunglasses on his head. Delancy―never the team's top player―scored 9 points. Puerto Rican Angel Rodriguez dropped in 32, and as expected, the Lightning defeated Carol City, by a score of 56 to 53. Krop eliminated Hialeah-Miami Lakes this weekend 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."