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Basketball Prep Schools: A World Of Their Own, And Recruiting Worldwide


With the Final Four happening this weekend, there's a lot of attention on young basketball players and the high schools that produced them. Some of the best athletes emerge from schools that never win state championships because they operate outside of state athletic associations. In the basketball world they are called prep schools.

Alexandra Starr takes us to one such school, Our Savior New American on Long Island.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: Watch Our Savior's basketball team play and you will quickly realize these are not your typical high school athletes. For one thing, they're decked out in Nike gear because the company sponsors the team. Most of them stand about six and a half feet tall. Six of the 10 are from Africa, and almost all of them can dunk seemingly effortlessly.

BRIAN STELZER: Guard the shooter.

STARR: That's Our Savior's coach, Brian Stelzer.

STELZER: My philosophy is, it's not whether you win or lose. It's just whether you have fun. But then I found out it's more fun to win.

STARR: The team mostly wins against other schools that don't belong to state associations. Our Savior flies across the country to play those games. That's something the team wouldn't be able to do if it were part of a traditional high school athletic organization. Those groups often limit the distances teams can travel. They also regulate recruiting. Operating outside of the association means Our Savior can look internationally for players. The six-foot-seven Nigerian Michael Nzei is a senior.

MICHAEL NZEI: Back in Africa, we look up to Americans. We watch them on TV. They are so good. And our dreams is, like, to come here and see how far we can be the best in.

STARR: If the past is any indication, Nzei and his fellow teammates could go far. Our Savior players have ended up on elite teams like the University of Kentucky and St. Johns. George Dohrmann is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He says prep schools tend to attract top talent.

GEORGE DOHRMANN: It's just sort of accepted now that these kids use that route to get better and to get to college.

STARR: The placement record of some of these basketball prep schools is really impressive. Take Findlay Prep in Los Vegas. Since opening its doors in 2006, all of its graduates have gone on to Division I programs. At the same time, prep school basketball programs are largely unregulated. And historically, some have not been up to snuff academically.

DOHRMANN: You go back like a decade and there were many scandals with these schools that were just popping up all over the place, that were just pure diploma mills.

STARR: Dohrmann says things have gotten better since then. Our Savior is approved by New York state. Michael Warner teaches several of the African students at the school.

MICHAEL WARNER: They're not just here for the sports. They see this as a true opportunity for learning and advancement.

STARR: The boys do seem grateful to get an education in the States. Make no mistake about it, though, they dream of playing professional basketball. Chieck Diallo is a junior from Mali. He stands six-foot-nine.

CHIECK DIALLO: I love here because NBA. My goal is to go to NBA. That was the only one thing I'm looking for is the NBA.

STARR: Diallo is one of the top recruiting prospects of the 2015 class. He might make it to the NBA. Two of Our Savior's former students played in the league. The vast majority, though, finish their basketball careers in college. For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Starr in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alexandra Starr