Once a magic bullet but now a Pandora's box For some players, the loss of the prep school option has forced them to scramble for alternatives.

Posted: June 04, 2007

Ramone Moore remembered the first time he heard the two magic words.

"I was a junior and I was just starting to think about college, but I didn't take school too seriously," the Southern High senior said. "So someone said, 'How about prep school?' "

For Moore, and scores of top-notch athletes who fail to meet NCAA academic requirements, prep school is no longer the magical option that helps pull qualifying grades out of a hat.

Early last month, the NCAA took its most significant step to curtail the abuses of some prep schools by drastically limiting the number of core courses a student can take to improve his or her academic transcripts after high school.

The rule, designed to shut down the "diploma mill" prep schools that acted as basketball factories for non-qualifying players, allows for only one additional core course after a student finishes four years of high school.

Essentially, athletes like Moore, who are looking to meet NCAA eligibility requirements, can no longer use prep school as an alternative. Moore, a standout 6-foot-4 guard, had planned to attend American Christian School in Aston for the 2007-08 school year in the hopes that he could eventually accept a scholarship offer from Temple.

But then the NCAA intervened.

"It was a little bit of a bummer," said Moore, who orally committed to Fran Dunphy's Owls in January. "But I understood why."

So instead of entering a junior college, where his years of eligibility would be cut in half, Moore signed with Temple a few weeks ago and will attend the university next year - as a non-scholarship student.

He will not play basketball and will not practice with the team, but if he succeeds in the classroom, he will join the Owls for the 2008-09 season and remain on track to play all four years of eligibility.

Sean Evans entertained the idea of prep school, but for reasons much different than Moore's. A senior at Northeast High, Evans is on track to graduate with the necessary 14 core courses - plus a high-enough SAT score on the NCAA sliding scale - this month.

But Evans, a 6-7 forward, wanted a year to improve his basketball and learning skills before enrolling in college. It's not that Evans was using the year to attract better scholarship offers, as some prep athletes do.

As a two-sport star, Evans - also a defensive end in football - had more than a dozen offers. He also had free rides to a number of prep schools. But since the NCAA was raising the minimum number of core courses from 14 to 16 for 2007-08, there was no way Evans could attend prep school for the two more classes he would need.

"It kind of came out of nowhere," said Evans, who recently signed a letter of intent with St. John's for basketball. "It's going to mess up a lot of kids, because they were planning to prep and now all of a sudden they can't."

Unlike the core-course increase that was set in motion a few years ago, the new prep-school rule will go into effect right away, on Aug. 1. The NCAA, however, has said it will review certain cases once the new policy begins.

"They're cracking down on prep schools and some of the things people are doing, like failing on purpose or going to prep school for five years," Evans said. "They want to stop all that."

One of the hot trends in youth basketball has been to "reclassify" by repeating a high school grade to either improve one's stature or academic standing. The new rule, which states that athletes have four years to meet eligibility standards, takes dead aim at this practice.

"The problem with [prep schools] is like anything else in life," said Carl Arrigale. "People abuse it."

As the boys' basketball coach at perennial power Neumann-Goretti, Arrigale has had a few players attend prep schools. Most recently, Earl Pettis graduated from the Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C.

"There's a kid that benefited from the experience," Arrigale said. "He was a classic case of when it was a perfect case."

Pettis, a 6-5 guard, enrolled at Neumann-Goretti back when it was St. John Neumann. It took him a while to get adjusted, and by the time colleges came courting, Pettis wasn't making the grade.

"I thought everything was going to work out on its own," Pettis said. "Because everything gets handed to you, you think people are just going to hand you good grades, and that doesn't happen."

Pettis chose Patterson, one of the more established prep schools, even though it was far from home. And because he had already committed to and signed with Rutgers, he was able to focus on the books.

"When you're away, that's all you can do," Pettis said. "It keeps you out of the streets and away from chasing girls."

As a prep school success story, Pettis has developed a reputation as the go-to guy for many of the area's hoopsters who face similar travails.

"They ask what it's like and what [they] should do to get [qualified]," Pettis said. "And I tell them, 'Do your work. Don't wait.' I hope it helps them. I wish I knew what I know now."

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.

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