This is the first of a two-part series about Advanced Prep International. Part 2 will be posted Thursday.
DALLAS – Ray Forsett is so sure he knows what’s coming that he bets he can almost recite the questions verbatim before they’re asked.
How did the newly formed Advanced Prep International become an instant high school basketball power? And, is API the “new” Prime Prep?
The latter prompts an immediate blank stare/head-shaking reaction from Forsett.
“I’m happy to clear this up,” Forsett says while watching his team run through drills from the sideline at the Mark Cuban Center. “Man, I hear this stuff all the time.”
It makes sense.
Forsett coached at Prime Prep in Dallas for three years until the charter school, which was co-founded by ex-NFL star Deion Sanders, closed Jan. 30 amid allegations of theft and the mishandling of funds to eligibility questions about its students.
“It’s hard to hear because it couldn’t be further from the truth,” Forsett says of the association with Prime Prep. “There is absolutely no tie to that situation and API. The only thing that we’re trying to do is help kids do well academically and stay eligible as well as all of the intense preparation we’ll do with them on the court. We just want to put things in place so they can be successful on and off the court.”
Just four of API’s 15 players were with Prime Prep last season. Two of them are ranked in the top 10 in their respective classes, Terrance Ferguson and Billy Preston.
Trevon Duval transferred earlier this month from St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J., giving the school three top 10 players, something no other school in the country can claim.
API, which was founded by local educators in Dallas, opened Sept. 8 to more than 50 students, not just athletes, and Forsett says they’re “in the process” of getting the school through the NCAA’s Clearinghouse, a potentially lengthy process that involves loads of paperwork and site visits from NCAA reps. That process is not expected to impact the current players.
Students at API attend classes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and follow the Accelerated Christian Education program, a collegiately accepted curriculum that’s also accepted by the Texas Education Association. The school says its graduation requirements are aligned with the state’s.
According to the school’s website, it is recognized as an educational institution and as a non-profit organization and is accredited by the National Association of Private Schools.
The Bulldogs are a member of the Texas Christian Athletic League.
“This isn’t a basketball factory or anything like that. API is absolutely a school,” TCAL executive director Darryl Crain says. “You can’t just join our organization, you have to meet the requirements. We’ve hired someone to make sure all of our schools are NCAA compliant. They literally work with the schools and students, often times on a daily basis, to make sure they’re compliant. We do above and beyond what most organizations do.”
API has plans to expand and even add a girls’ basketball team this season.
Ferguson has played for Forsett for four years and said he’s never been more confident with books and basketball than he is this year at API.
“I’m a loyal guy, and I know that Coach Ray has my best interest at heart,” says Ferguson, a senior shooting guard who is ranked No. 10 overall in the ESPN 100 and is committed to Alabama. “My parents are all over the academic side of things. They checked in to everything with the new school and everything is fine. People try and hate on the new situation saying players won’t be eligible, but we know the truth. People said E-Man (Emmanuel Mudiay) wasn’t eligible at SMU because he ended up overseas, but he was.”
SMU coach Larry Brown confirmed to the Dallas Morning News that Mudiay was eligible to play for the Mustangs, but opted to play in China on a one-year $1.2 million dollar deal to help his family financially. Mudiay was drafted with the seventh overall pick by the Denver Nuggets in June.
In 2013, the NCAA Clearinghouse initially ruled Prime Prep’s Jordan Mickey ineligible at LSU and Karviar Shepherd ineligible at TCU. Both rulings were quickly overturned following an appeal.
“You hear a lot of crazy stuff out there, but I’d challenge anyone to come to classes with us,” says senior forward Mark Vital, a Baylor commit. “The classrooms are a lot smaller so we get a lot of one-on-one attention from the teachers. That’s what I like. You’re always gonna have people being negative and trying to compare us to Prime Prep and all the stuff that happened there, but this is different. It hasn’t slowed us down at all.”
It certainly seems that way.
Preston, a 6-foot-10 all-everything forward who is ranked No. 6 overall in the ESPN 60, transferred from Redondo Union in Redondo Beach, Calif., to play for Forsett at the height of the Prime Prep debacle in January.
Before Duval, who is ranked No. 4 overall in the ESPN 60, decided to transfer he says he and his parents had lengthy conversations with Forsett about the differences between Prime Prep and API.
“My parents checked in to everything and we felt like this was a great situation for me,” Duval says. “We aren’t worried about the NCAA eligibility or anything like that. Of course, I wanted to come here and play with great players and for a great coach, too. It feels good to be a part of something that’s brand new.”
Still, Forsett says he’s fully aware that, despite his best attempts to prove otherwise, there will be skeptics and naysayers who will ultimately link the Bulldogs to Prime Prep. He’s confident the correlation will change with time.
“I know a lot of people have a lot of things to say, but we’re on top of everything and we’re very transparent about everything,” Forsett says. “The fact is that this is not ‘the new Prime Prep’ this is API and we’re gonna do things the right way here. I learned a lot from that situation, and I have a great team on the academic side that is handling everything very meticulously. People will see that we’re doing things above board, especially in the eyes of the NCAA.
“At the end of the day, my passion is kids and we’re gonna do all we can to have them in the best position possible, academically and athletically.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY