Top high school players choosing controversial basketball 'prep' schools

Posted: Updated:
'Prep schools' that are tailored toward basketball players are growing in popularity. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) 'Prep schools' that are tailored toward basketball players are growing in popularity. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Inside a north Phoenix gymnasium last month, some of the top high school basketball players in the country gathered for the "Grind Session World Championship Tournament."

But the high schools these students play for are likely to be a far cry from the high school you attended. These are "prep schools," basketball prep schools to be precise.

"You won't see a prep team that has all five players from the same city, or even the same state, or even the country," said Logan Stout, who is the announcer at the "Grind Session" games. "At this one event, we have players from 30 different countries. Seventy-two projected future (NCAA) Division I players are here. So, the best of the best," said Stout.

The promise of competing against top high school talent is the major draw for student-athletes, and their parents, who often pay five-figure tuition bills.

"I sent my son to prep school because I felt steel sharpens steel," said Gary Trent, who's son, Gary Trent, Jr. plays for a prep school in California. Senior played college basketball and in the NBA. Junior is headed to Duke next year.

"Playing on the Grind Session, playing in these tournaments, going to that prep school was the best thing I could do as far as preparation for going to the next level," said Trent.

Prep school basketball tournaments don't always see fans fill the seats in the stands. But college coaches and their scouts are a regular fixture. At one Grind Session event last year, coaches from 30 different colleges were in the stands.

Dan Hudson, one of the event organizers, said players at the World Championship event were headed to Arizona, Duke, Xavier and Oregon, all top-tier college basketball programs.

"It's a different experience, very much a different experience," said Hudson.

One of the players is DeAndre Ayton, who is considered the top-ranked high school player in the country. He is headed to Arizona next year. Ayton attends Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix.

"We were seen by hundreds of college coaches. We played on ESPN. The kids, they play against the top players in the nation and the exposure is just incredible. You don't get that in your local traditional school," said Matt Allen, who is the director of Hillcrest Prep.

All that exposure is not cheap. Tuition and board at Hillcrest Prep are $35,000 per year, although scholarships can cover some of the price tag.

Hillcrest partners with several public charter schools in the Valley. The students live on campus at one charter school, practice and play games at another and take online classes through a third.

Not everyone believes the results are good for every student.

"They're basically live-in camps for basketball that include education as a component," said Jim Hall, who is a retired public school principal and founder of a watchdog group called "Arizonans for Charter School Accountability."

"While it says they are going to a prep school, they're really going to an online charter school that any child in Arizona can go to while sitting in their living room," said Hall.

Hall and other critics worry that prep schools aren't preparing student-athletes for the challenges they will face in college and in life. And Hall says he's concerned that Hillcrest charges parents tuition worthy of a top private school while delivering the classes of a free online charter school.

"Their academics, I think, are an afterthought," said Hall.

Matt Allen from Hillcrest disagrees.

"You can't go and play Division I basketball if you don't have the grades. You have to have 16 core classes and they have to be a certain GPA with your SAT," said Allen, who told CBS 5 Investigates that Hillcrest also has an arrangement with an in-person charter school for students who need tutoring or additional academic help.

While there are some well-established prep schools in other parts of the country, others have popped up and disappeared. One common problem for failing schools is that their academics do not meet NCAA standards.

"There are absolutely bad apples," said Stout. "There are some really good private schools out there that overlook the academic side and focus on other things," he said.

While the debate over prep schools rages on, it appears the popularity of these schools is growing.

In the stands of the Grind Session Wold Championship, we found a man named Peter Dixon.

"My son is the point guard for Liberty Heights," said Dixon, who came all the way from Charlotte, North Carolina to watch his son, Davier.

Dixon said it's a financial challenge to send Davier to prep school and to travel with him. But he hopes his gamble pays off with a scholarship to a top-tier college program.

"I'm a North Carolina fan. But he likes Kentucky. So wherever it leads him, wherever his talent lands him and he can enjoy himself, I hope he gets there," said Dixon.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

  • Social Connect

  • Contact

    AZ Family

Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards , two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. Last fall, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle, in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is a graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

Hide bio