Players, parents say Phoenix HS basketball powerhouse let them down

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Student-athletes were promised dorms with mattresses but ended up sleeping on the floor. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Student-athletes were promised dorms with mattresses but ended up sleeping on the floor. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Players and parents say Hillcrest Prep let them down. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Players and parents say Hillcrest Prep let them down. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Hillcrest Prep charges as much as $35,000 per year in tuition. That makes it one of the most expensive high schools in Arizona. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Hillcrest Prep charges as much as $35,000 per year in tuition. That makes it one of the most expensive high schools in Arizona. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Update: Matt Allen, Director of Hillcrest Prep, emailed CBS 5 Investigates after this story aired to dispute some of what the parents and students allege. Allen wrote that some of the students who spoke out had been dismissed from Hillcrest for disciplinary reasons and he stated that students slept in beds and were not given food from the food bank.

It was the first week of school last September and the players and coaches at Phoenix's Hillcrest Prep should have been focusing on a potential championship season.

The basketball prep high school had one of the country's two best players on its roster, as well as a handful of other young athletes who would undoubtedly go on to play NCAA Division I basketball.

But instead of practicing, focusing and studying, the Hillcrest program was dealing with a catastrophe. According to court paperwork obtained by CBS 5 Investigates, five Hillcrest players were implicated in an armed robbery.

Two of the players were charged with felonies, after they allegedly bought BB guns, and used them to rob a man, who thought he was buying a cell phone.

"That was the day my mom left and something clicked in my head, like, 'This is not what I thought it was,'" said Malik White, who was not involved in the robbery.

Like most of the other players, White is not from the Valley. He had come from Portland, Maine to take part in the Hillcrest post-grad program. It was billed as one year of basketball coaching and SAT preparation with the goal of landing a college scholarship offer.

"I was expecting competition, actual dorms, going to school, retaking my SAT, which I needed to take," said White.

White's mother says it was an expensive mistake.

"Absolutely none of those things happened. There were no SATs. There were no classes. They did not play in any type of tournaments," said Barbara White.

CBS 5 Investigates spoke to other former players and their parents, who all had similar complaints. They allege that Hillcrest officials did not fulfill their promises with regard to schooling, living accommodations, meals and college scholarship offers.

Hillcrest Prep charges as much as $35,000 per year in tuition. That makes it one of the most expensive high schools in Arizona. But there are no classrooms, no dorms, and no teachers on staff. Most of the players take classes through a free online charter school.

"They had mattresses on the floor. My son was sleeping on a couch," said Karen Stevenson, whose son, Shamiel, was a highly-recruited senior when he enrolled at Hillcrest.

Stevenson says the students lived in rental houses, instead of dorms. They were fed pizza and junk food instead of well-balanced meals. And she alleges that the people running Hillcrest did not have the skills necessary to be taking care of high school athletes.

"I had sleepless nights. I cried. I mean, my boy is big, but I'm thinking about it now, just him, being there by himself and not having anybody to fend for him hurt me so bad," said Stevenson.

"We were promised in a contract that we signed that we would eat nice meals three times per day," said Kevin Roberts, who came from Cleveland. "My father would sometimes use his whole check just for me to stay out there and play and go to school, which I didn't," said Roberts.

Roberts alleges that school officials made his parents believe ASU was interested in him as a player. Now, he doesn't think that was ever true.

"I came to Hillcrest to get better as a student and a ball player. But I didn't. I wish for all my money back. Now I'm back in Cleveland, broke," said Roberts.

"These guys are all about the money," said Nico Schumann, who came from Germany to play at Hillcrest. "They tell you lies to get you there and if you arrive you get to know that nothing of that was true," he said.

Hillcrest ended up winning a prep school national championship this past season, despite the rocky beginning to the school year. That was largely due to senior DeAndre Ayton, who is set to play at the University of Arizona next school year. 

Shamiel Stevenson is set to play for the University of Pittsburgh in the fall, but his mother says that is in spite of his experience at Hillcrest, not as a result of it.

"They never met one of my expectations. Not one of them," said Karen Stevenson.

Hillcrest officials sent the following statement to CBS 5 Investigates:

"Thank you for giving us the heads up on this and the opportunity to respond to these baseless accusations. Since our inception, we have had the pleasure of working with over 300 student-athletes and their families. We have it on good authority that those who have approached you with these allegations make up only a few individuals, most of whom were excused from the program for disciplinary reasons. In school, as in sports, as in life, as in business, it is difficult to please everyone, all the time.  I am sure journalism/reporting is no different, so you can sympathize. However, the numbers above would translate to a 99% satisfaction rate! An incredible number for any organization! Much less a startup, in its infancy, such as we are. 

Through our hard work and genuine honesty, we have been fortunate enough to create meaningful relationships with the most talented student-athletes in the country and even enjoyed a national championship this past year. We understand this makes us a target for news and negativity as everyone wants to take a shot at #1. Our accommodations, meal plans, and academics have been continuously scrutinized on a national level by everyone you can imagine, and have been proven time and again, to be beyond reproach. Common sense renders the accusations ridiculous, as a program that operated as they claim would never attract top talent and certainly never win a national championship. Frankly, a few disgruntled student athletes taking unsubstantiated pot shots at our success is yesterday's news and I'm surprised you want to run it.

A much more interesting and verifiably positive story to run would be about how a start-up organization, the lifetime dream of two young men with average means, built themselves from nothing to a national powerhouse in just a few years time. How they resurrected students’ academic careers, gave kids hope and a reason to achieve academically. How they changed and molded young men’s lives for the better through discipline, encouragement, and positive reinforcement. How they helped repair the psyche of those from broken homes by promoting a culture of family and unity. How they helped students and families achieve scholarships and opportunity for college education they never thought possible. We have included and forwarded to you some letters directly from these student athletes. The truth is, the vast majority of our student-athletes enjoy an incredibly positive experience with our organization and their lives are changed for the better. These verifiable facts positively overwhelm the sour grapes smears rumored by our amazingly few detractors.That’s our response to the allegations. And that should be the real story you run with."

Hillcrest also directed former students to send emails to CBS 5, detailing the positive experiences they enjoyed at the school. Here are a couple of those emails:

"Hillcrest has lived up to everything they had promised as far as training, living/boarding, game play and education. The players that didn't make it here simply didn't follow the rules of the team or the house."

"Hillcrest provided me with the opportunity to showcase my talents nationally and allowed me to compete against some of the top upcoming and current collegiate athletes. Hillcrest, in my opinion, is not made for everyone though. You have to be willing to sacrifice and give your all each time you step on the court. Throughout the year our gym was constantly filled with college scouts. After graduating from Mira Costa High School in California, I was only recruited locally. Thanks to Hillcrest, I was nationally recruited and will be attending the College of Central Florida on scholarship to further my academic and athletic career."

"Despite my short time at Hillcrest Prep the experience and opportunities I was given was amazing. As a team, we all worked out, trained every day, went to school and were fed and housed as promised. Hillcrest put me in front of plenty of scouts and college coaches as it was up to us to prove ourselves on the court. Because of that, I received a college scholarship to Gannon University."

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

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 Joe 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. In October 2016, 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 graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School at Purdue University Global. 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.

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