In Philadelphia, a ghost was born.
In the late ‘90s, whispers of a new prep school hoops program began to circulate around the AAU scene, one that didn’t look much like the traditional powerhouses of New England or the rural south. Instead of landing 5-star recruits, this program was taking on Philadelphia Public League kids with a particular emphasis on those from disadvantaged situations—tough home lives, impoverishment, juvie records—none uncommon in the underfunded and underserved Philadelphia public school system.
The ghost’s first iteration was Philadelphia Christian. Even at AAU tournaments where the team was registered to arrive, opposing players and coaches would speculate as to whether they would even show. When they did, it was nearly a foregone conclusion that they would win the tournament, overwhelming opponents with length, size, and run-and-gun offense. The whispers became a gentle roar after Philadelphia Christian beat Crispus Attucks, the charter school program located in York, Pa., that had built a previously unstoppable team of kids from Baltimore.
Philadelphia Christian disappeared quickly. In its place stepped Philadelphia Lutheran, structured the same way, by the same man. The program took on the kids that had been overlooked in the crowded Philadelphia high school hoops scene and gave them an opportunity to play and become eligible for Division I scholarships. Within a year or two, Philadelphia Lutheran became Lutheran Christian Academy.
Between 2003 and 2007, Lutheran Christian Academy sent dozens of students to D1 programs across the country: UTEP, East Carolina, Xavier, Temple, and Mississippi State were among their prominent destinations. Maureece Rice, who broke Wilt Chamberlain’s Philly scoring record, and Conference USA second all-time leading scorer Stefon Jackson of UTEP were alumni of the program. The program’s finest season came in 2004–05, when they were ranked top-5 nationally. They lost to the Oak Hill behemoth that year, but gave Laurinburg their closest game of the season. Twenty-seven kids who played at Lutheran that year alone, spread across A and B teams, moved on to D1 schools.
Lutheran had become a full-blown poltergeist, terrorizing the traditional powers of prep hoops and attracting kids from up and down the east coast who sought eligibility and a chance to shine in front of gyms full of NBA scouts and college coaches. Lutheran’s practices had become circuses, with standing-room-only availability for the myriad college coaches seeking their next diamonds in the rough.
Then, in 2007, it all disappeared, exorcised like the specter it had first seemed to be. Amid NCAA probes and one fateful New York Times investigation, Lutheran’s fall was as abrupt as its rise, and those same coaches who had been clamoring for Lutheran players scattered once the NCAA flicked on the lights. The school’s administrator and head coach Darryl Schofield was left with no program, no players, and a new role as a scapegoat for a system desperate to keep apart its haves and have-nots.
“That’s how it goes,” Schofield says now. “If you don’t play the political game or do favors for certain people, all of the sudden they’re at your doorstep to shut you down.”
And there begins the real story of Lutheran Christian Academy, and the NCAA’s pathological need to decide who gets a shot at a better life, and who must be forced to give up the ghost.
The eighth largest school district in the country, the School District of Philadelphia serves over 200,000 children and is in a seemingly annual fight over budget issues that continue to result in an overcrowded and underserved student population. In 2001, the state government instituted a full takeover of the schools due to budget management concerns, which only further heightened tensions between Philadelphia Mayor John Street—who in 1998 had filed a civil suit against the state alleging racial bias in how the state funded Philadelphia’s public schools—and Pennsylvania’s state legislature. Combine this local battle with the larger federal war being waged on education in America by the Bush administration—No Child Left Behind would go into law in 2002—and you have all the ingredients for a disaster for the children of Philadelphia’s working classes. This being America, it is likely understood but should still be made clear: These students and their families were and are disproportionately black.
Students in the most desperate schools, like Olney High or Martin Luther King, were pushed forward regardless of their progress made in class, lest the schools jeopardize their federal funding. The lucky ones could keep up with the pace despite the budget-mandated dearth of support and make it out. The unlucky ones made up the majority.
The problem is systemic and there is no easy solution. But, in the late ‘90s, Darryl Schofield thought he could at least help a handful of kids make it out via the avenue he was most familiar with: using basketball to get an education.
“When I was young, I had a pastor pull me aside,” Schofield says. “As a youngster, there wasn’t any kind of trouble I didn’t get in. Luckily, I didn’t get locked up or in any big kind of trouble. Harold Gray [the pastor], he pulled us off the corners and he showed us how to be better … He showed me basketball was a way to stay off of that.”
The stories about Darryl Schofield in Philadelphia are legendary, and repeating them feels almost as though you are passing along urban legends. There was the time he met Kevin Garnett at an AAU tournament in Virginia and, at Garnett’s request, nearly orchestrated a transfer for the young man to Simon Gratz High in Philly to play with Rasheed Wallace. Gratz coach Bill Ellerbee declined, saying he didn’t accept transfers, and would later express monumental regret once he realized what he’d missed out on.
Then there’s the time Schofield offhandedly mentioned he’s friends with Sonny Vaccaro. Vaccaro is a legend, having organized or invented nearly every modern facet of sneaker marketing and the high school basketball showcase system, and everyone who has coached AAU or had a modicum of success on the scene loves to pretend they know him. So, I dialed the number Schofield gave me, expecting it to be out of service. Fifteen seconds later, I was on the phone with Sonny.
“Oh, Darryl, of course,” Vaccaro enthused. “Great guy.”
Schofield’s immersion in the scene led him to the conclusion that he could use his knowledge and his connections to help the kids who needed the biggest boost—the ones who weren’t going to be eligible for college any other way. He began scouring playgrounds and high school gyms in the area, seeking out the kids that he knew had talent but just needed a little bit more time to develop—whether that be their game or their grades, often both.
Not satisfied with simply mentoring them or putting them in touch with the right people, Schofield started a school. It was the only way he could ensure that the kids he took on received the attention that he felt they needed. He hired tutors and teachers to help get the kids caught up as quickly as possible, and used a curriculum certified by the NCAA.
The mother of one of his players, John Phillips, owned a building that had a computer lab and an open room where they could create individual workstations for the kids to do their schoolwork. Schofield toured the building and on the spot asked permission to use it. Lutheran set up shop on North 17th Street in the Nicetown-Tioga section of North Philly.
“Bang, we had our schoolhouse,” Schofield says. “There were computers where the kids could do their work. The workstations were separated so they could do their own thing. It was perfect.”
The “dormitories” consisted of four rowhouses a few blocks from the schoolhouse. The kids lived there on their own, with the idea being that if this was truly meant to prepare them for college, then they should be given a level of independence and expected to conduct themselves as adults. The fridges were filled for them, and Schofield’s wife at the time would cook for the team to make sure they stayed properly fed through the weekends.
Schofield hired one teacher to supervise the players’ progress through the curriculum, which was based around its PACE packets provided by Accelerated Christian Education, an organization that primarily serves homeschooled children). Students were required to finish their packets and take tests on the material. If they scored an 80 or above, they’d get their next packet. If they scored below an 80, Schofield handed them the packet and told them to start over, as per guidelines from the curriculum provider.
“It was all about memorization,” Schofield remembers. “Most of these kids, especially the kids I had, they don’t read. So, you don’t read the packet, you can’t pass the test. But, if you did the reading, it was designed so that you’d know the answers when it comes test time, because you’re just going to recognize it and remember it. They didn’t want to read it, but I made them. Or their ass wasn’t playing.”
Some kids required more attention than others. At least two of the kids who came to play for Schofield could not read; Schofield spent extra money to get them tutoring offsite. While they were away, he pleaded with the other kids to stop making fun of them. He wanted to create a space where everyone could succeed, he says.
“[One kid] I took aside, he was getting frustrated. He was a class clown,” Schofield says. “I took him and I said, ‘Look, man, you’re smart. You make all those jokes. You make these people laugh. You can’t make jokes if you aren’t smart. You just gotta learn.’” The kid not only learned to read, but six years later graduated from a Atlantic 10 university with his bachelor’s degree.
Schofield had his own interests to attend to, of course. The prominence that came with his program was beneficial to his national reputation, which gave him opportunities to bring in even more talent. But the tournament fees paid to Lutheran as its hoops teams began winning were directed back into the program; he wasn’t doing this to get rich.
“He was taking on the bottom-of-the-barrel kids, for lack of a better term,” says Sam Rines, a prominent figure in Philadelphia basketball. Rines has run a successful program for over two decades now, having coached Kobe Bryant and dozens of other big names in the area. “These kids couldn’t pay. They had tough lives at home. I mean, they weren’t going anywhere without Scho. That’s just what it was.”
Lutheran operated on a shoestring budget, largely out of necessity. Schofield was not taking on kids from families that could afford tuition. Those kids had plenty of options for programs that would get them eligibility. Instead he was taking on kids who were struggling to pay even the relatively low $3,000-per-year tuition he had set. Most kids, according to sources who helped Schofield manage the books, were paying $1,000 at most for a year. Schofield didn’t enforce the tuition policy closely, largely because he was afraid of how the kids might try to get the money if they didn’t have it.
One player, a 6-foot-7 forward, was literally pulled off a corner by Schofield to come to Lutheran. Schofield spotted him on the street and recognized him from summer league play, stopping his car in front of him. He scolded the kid for being stupid enough to deal drugs at his size, since the cops could pick him out of a crowd immediately. Schofield told him to get in the car and come to the gym so that they could see if he could play. He could, and two years later he had a college scholarship.
“I know that you may never be a great student,” Schofield says he told his students, “but I need you to be a good-enough student. You’re going to leave here one day and go to a college campus. You need to be able to read and do the work, or else they’re sending you home.”
He had a simple way to make sure: Do the work, or you don’t get to play. While it’s easy to scoff at the “work” the kids were doing, the fact is they still had to do it. In some cases, this was more work than they’d ever been asked to do in their entire high school careers up to that point. The students could do the work throughout the week in the classroom, or they could do it at night, or the weekend before, or whenever was most convenient. But, by Thursday at 3 p.m., the packets had to be done.
“I was the first person that would take it away from them,” Schofield says. “Everybody else, their whole lives, they made excuses for them. With me, they knew: You don’t do the packets, you don’t travel or play that weekend. Period.”
To prove his point, Schofield enforced the policy regardless of talent level. Star guard Stefon Jackson sat out the first 11 games of the season in 2004–05 for refusing to do his packets. Jackson had gained a significant rep after the previous season and his play on the AAU circuit the summer before, and believed himself to be above the rules the rest of the team had to follow. He protested when Schofield told him he wouldn’t play, cursed the team, and told Schofield he would regret not having him in the lineup.
“He sat me down a bunch of games,” Jackson says today. “Like, he wasn’t messing around with that, didn’t matter how good I was.” After the team started 11-0 and was clearly fine without Jackson, the scoring dynamo changed his tune.
“He came to me to apologize,” Schofield says. “I told him, ‘You don’t have to say shit to me. You need to talk to your teammates.’ That day at practice, I brought the kids to center court, and told them their teammate has something to say to them. DJ [Jackson’s nickname] said he was sorry, and asked if the’d have him back. Of course they would, we all loved DJ. He turned to me after they all hugged or whatever, and I just said, ‘Don’t say a word. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.’”
The education that the kids were receiving was not a high standard. After all, it was designed to help kids essentially complete three or four years of high school work in about 18 months. But, it was effective and, perhaps most importantly to the story of Lutheran, it was within the rules.
And it helped dozens of kids go to college, even if it was a bit of a backdoor. Who was it harming?
The boys’ prep scene wasn’t especially complicated before Lutheran came along. There were schools in the south, like Oak Hill Academy in Virginia or Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, and there were older schools in New England, like St. Andrew’s in Rhode Island or Winchendon School in Massachusetts. These were traditional, largely rural prep schools that had post-graduate basketball programs where kids could go and finish the one or two classes required for them to gain eligibility for a Division I scholarship. Often, the kids didn’t even need help with their grades—they just needed an extra year of development and exposure for recruiting purposes.
The tuitions were in line with what you would expect from a private school: Winchendon School lists a tuition of $35,000 per year, for example. These programs are designed to serve two specific classes of people: either the ones who can afford it outright, or the ones who are so good at their respective sport they earn a full scholarship. This leaves a significant group of kids out in the cold, namely the ones that are potentially good enough to develop into D1 players, but don’t have the money for tuition or the pure skill to pay the bill.
The formula meant that these prep powerhouses had teams that consisted of one or two true studs, another couple of reasonably good players, and the remainder of the roster filled out with teenagers from affluent families willing to pay for their kid to keep chasing a delusion.
Lutheran, by comparison, was stacked. They may not have had the future first-round picks, but they also didn’t have rich scrubs filling out roster spots 4–10. And they started running people out of the gym.
“There really wasn’t a lot like it then,” says Mike Procopio. Procopio ran prep invitational tournaments in New England at the time, before moving on to work in player development for the Dallas Mavericks. He recently left the Mavs to do brand ambassador work for BSN Sports. “Not like today where you have an abundance of prep schools. Most of those schools that would pop up, they’d be in the south somewhere you hadn’t heard of, they’d have like one or two great players. There wasn’t one that would pop up in a big city [like Philly].”
Lutheran didn’t look or play like the other teams. Their style was run-and-gun, similar to the majority of Philly Public League teams, and the players were well aware of their underdog status.
“We played with that chip on our shoulder,” says Marvin Kilgore, an Olney High guard who prepped at Lutheran before accepting a scholarship to Eastern Carolina. “Philly basketball is already tough, and we were the ones that got overlooked, which lit a fire.”
“He told me to shoot every time I touched it,” says Dionte Christmas, who played at Lutheran during the 2004–05 season before heading to Temple to play for John Chaney. “Scho was good like that, he knew what you could do, and he’d just tell you to do it, let everyone else focus on what they’re doing.”
“He would even get out there with us,” remembers Paul Graham, who spent two years at Lutheran before accepting a scholarship to Florida Atlantic under Matt Doherty. Graham giggles a bit when he says it, because Schofield was also notorious for his size at the time—easily nearing 400 pounds, weight that he has mostly lost since then. “I mean, he moved at his own pace, you know. Scho had a very, uh, deliberate way of moving. But he would get out there and show us, like, you gotta come off a pick like this or get into your move like this.”
“He would’ve given his left arm for those kids,” says Sean Murphy. Murphy worked as a coach and player liaison with both Schofield and Sam Rines, as well as other AAU programs in the Philadelphia and New Jersey area at the time. “But he was a great coach, too. It gets lost in the other stuff.”
“You’ve gotta remember,” says Rines, “there wasn’t anybody who heard of Stefon Jackson or Maurice Thomas even in Philly before they went to Lutheran. Stefon became UTEP’s all-time leading scorer and [at the time] the all-time leading scorer in Conference USA history. He didn’t have a rep in high school, he got that from Scho.”
Word got around. And, of course, questions arose about how these kids could possibly be getting eligible for scholarships, assuming that something must be amiss. Schofield was so used to being interrogated that he began carrying around players’ academic information in a wheeled briefcase so he could whip it out when his kids’ bona fides were challenged.
Marvin Kilgore got eligible and went to East Carolina, along with teammate Charles Bronson. Stanley Branch, who was a high-flying enigma on the AAU circuit and was rumored to have been homeless in Atlantic City for two years as a teenager, got eligible and went to UTEP. More players made it, so more coaches started showing up. Omar Williams got to George Washington. Omar Thomas got to UTEP.
“It got out of hand,” Schofield says. “It got beyond where we could control it. At its peak, I’d say [there were] at least 30 college coaches or scouts in practices at a time.”
One of the reasons for the abundance of eyes from the Division I level was a deliberate strategy by Schofield to gather as much height as possible. Even the most uncoordinated scrub will, at 6-foot-10 or taller, draw the attention of major D1 coaches. Schofield prioritized big men that would bring the coaches to the gym, letting the guards and wings from Philly show out.
“Every coach wants a big man,” says Mike Scott, a guard from Franklin Learning Center who played at Lutheran for two years and is now an assistant coach at CSU Bakersfield. “Scho would get them and like, for real, everyone would be there. Like every coach you can think of from the time, they were in Lutheran’s gym at least once ... Rahim had a lot to do with that, too.”
Rahim Thompson, who now runs the Chosen League, one of the country’s most prestigious summer leagues and talent showcases, was the showman and the marketing brains behind the Lutheran. He was also a mentor to the kids, usually providing the tough love to complement Schofield’s more paternal vibes. (“That’s big bro,” Kilgore says of Thompson. “That’s my man. He looked out for us Philly kids. Still does.”)
“He was like the ultimate salesman,” Scott says. “You give him a good product, something that people will like, Rahim’s gonna sell it. He got people in the gym, man, and then Scho would just be telling us like, ‘You guys go out there and just play, don’t worry about who’s watching. You play well, they’ll see you.’”
It was Thompson who helped them get a feature in SLAM Magazine, a piece that would come in handy just a few months later when two vans filled with players tried to cross into Canada for a prep invitational tournament. None of the kids had passports, and most of them didn’t even have state ID. Thompson, driving one of the vans, took out the copy of SLAM. That was enough for customs officials to wave them across the border—but not before asking the players for autographs.
The first big name at Lutheran had been a Philadelphia kid who had initially gone to Laurinburg to play for Chris Chaney before quickly realizing that rural North Carolina was hell for him. The kid was Maureece Rice, who had broken Wilt Chamberlain’s longstanding Philadelphia high school scoring record the year before at Strawberry Mansion.
Rice was a headache. Many of the coaches and players speak fondly of him, but Schofield can’t help roll his eyes. “I can never say no to helping a kid,” Schofield sighs. “He thought he was in Strawberry Mansion, with some of the things he’s doing on the court. Shooting from halfcourt. Going 1-on-5.” Still, it worked out, and Rice got a scholarship to George Washington University.
After Maureece Rice made it, the floodgates opened, setting Lutheran up for its legendary 2004–05 season. Former Milford Academy big man Vernon Goodridge, a Brooklyn native and one of the few kids from outside of Philadelphia that was accepted by the local kids, arrived at Lutheran and almost immediately garnered buzz as a potential college one-and-done. In the gym, scouting Goodridge alongside many D1 coaches, was Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics.
Then came Theo Davis, who was a top-5 recruit nationally. Gonzaga was already the frontrunner for securing a commitment when Davis arrived at Lutheran, and the fact that he chose Lutheran over the dozens of other prep suitors was a shock to the rest of the country. “Nobody cared when it was just the Philly guys,” says Mike Scott. “When it was just Philly kids, and they were going to mid-majors, whatever, it was fine. It’s when we started getting the big names that people felt threatened.”
Stefon Jackson was a Martin Luther King player who was an extraordinary midrange scorer and future UTEP standout. Dionte Christmas, a Sonny Hill League force who often became an afterthought during the high school season because he went to Fels, spent a year at Lutheran to build his profile. Tom Crean, Jim Calhoun, and Phil Martelli pursued him aggressively before he decided to go to Temple University.
Paul Graham, Mike Scott, Chris Matthews (now one of the most sought-after NBA shooting coaches in the world), Calvin O’Neil, and Khalil Hartwell rounded out the other major D1 players on the roster. With more than a dozen other prospects filling out the rest of the A and B teams, practices at the gym were a full-on scouting showcase. Eugene Myatt, a 6-foot-5 athletic wing, couldn’t get minutes for Lutheran, but still received a scholarship to Howard University based on his practice performances alone.
Maurice “Grease” Thomas, a former Olney player, quickly became one of the more dominant big men in prep basketball. Thomas was a hard-nosed rebounder who would often step out and shoot from distance (back in 2004, before it was quite so fashionable). One of the more infamous legends circulating at the time was that Grease hung up on the one and only Rick Pitino during a recruiting call. Louisville was looking for a big man who could fit Pitino’s full-court pressure style, and Pitino himself allegedly called to express interest before Thomas interrupted, saying, “Man, y’all ain’t showing me enough love at all, I’m out.”
“Yeah, I mean, I didn’t really know there were levels to it,” Thomas sheepishly admits now. “Like, at the time, I just kind of thought all the coaches who recruit you were the same. I didn’t know who Pitino really was, like I just thought he was another assistant or something.”
Lutheran’s days were already numbered. In 2007, the NCAA announced that it would no longer accept transcripts from Lutheran and a handful of other schools. The move was part of the notorious “diploma mill” investigation that began the year before, which sought to crack down on programs that were “schools” in name only.
One of the NCAA’s rule changes seemed particularly targeted at Lutheran: the manner in which “core courses” must be completed. At the time, Lutheran was able to stuff years of high school requirements into a short period using PACE packets. The NCAA changed that, ruling that 10 of 16 core courses needed to be completed by the end of a student athlete’s junior year, and the grades of those 10 courses would be locked in, meaning students could not retake courses for better grades later.
Underfunded, predominantly black, predominantly inner-city schools that struggle to keep kids on the proper timelines for their education—or only enroll those students after they’ve already fallen behind—were quite clearly the most impacted by these rule changes. They gave a pretty clear advantage to the traditional prep and private schools that could afford offer full scholarships to the most talented players and get them in the door early. It also left all the kids Lutheran might’ve helped out in the cold.
“Let’s be perfectly clear about this, there was a racial component,” says Don Jackson. Jackson is an attorney based in Montgomery, Ala., who has battled the NCAA and its enforcement of eligibility policies for decades. He provided friendly advice to Schofield during his fight, and represented other schools during the diploma mill investigation. “They went after schools with kids in ‘revenue sports,’ so football, basketball—mostly basketball. The majority of the kids impacted during this investigation were African-American.”
Jackson argues that the sudden decision by the NCAA in 2007 was utterly arbitrary. The secondary schools impacted were following the course schedules and structures recommended by the states they operated in, and were using coursework that was certified and accredited. Yet the NCAA ultimately decided that its new guidelines should supersede the states’.
“There is nobody, past or present, on the NCAA staff that has the competence to evaluate course offerings at secondary schools all over the world,” Jackson says.
What bothers Jackson most of all was that the enforcement of these new rules appeared arbitrary at best and selective at worst. The schools that were ultimately shut down were generally smaller schools with limited financial means. Traditional prep schools largely avoided scrutiny, despite the fact that they were also feeding kids to major D1 programs with histories of recruiting improprieties. It comes down to two simple concepts, Jackson believes: the NCAA’s natural inclination to avoid lengthy, costly fights, and the fact that whiter schools are traditionally viewed as more trustworthy by the NCAA.
“If you operate from the baseline that African-American students are academically deficient, or less trustworthy, then your enforcement of your academic or amateurism rules will be shaped by that baseline assumption,” Jackson says, citing 30 years of experience litigating cases in this field. “I’ve seen African-American students asked to produce coursework from ninth grade. You see kids who score a 20 on the ACT, and the NCAA red-flags that and basically says to the ACT, ‘We don’t think this kid is smart enough to score that,’ and then the ACT investigates and cancels the score or makes the kid retake the test.”
However, getting lost in the NCAA’s biases runs the risk of missing the forest for the trees: Why is the NCAA enforcing academic rigor in any capacity? It’s an athletic organization, with nobody on staff with appropriate credentials to assess coursework from each school that students may apply from.
“No one gives a damn about education except the kids and the families who want their kids educated,” says Sonny Vaccaro. “If we’re talking about education and the NCAA as the sword of Damocles here, that’s the most horrible example you can give.”
Vaccaro cites the University of North Carolina academic tutoring scandal as a relatively recent example of selective enforcement, and brings up the rise of individual brands and shoe companies entering the amateur hoops ecosystem. There are no longer third parties that advocate for companies behind the scenes but ultimately just run camps and tournaments for kids to play. Instead, the brands are just running them themselves.
“The only difference between those schools then and these schools now are what?” Vaccaro asks. “They’ve got better names, or they’ve got better facilities. But it’s very interesting to me that the kids that are going to these same highfalutin schools are the same ones that we’re seeing go one-and-dones. They give the kids everything, where Schofield didn’t even have a cellar to give them. What, all those [Lutheran] kids lived in a house? Okay, Findley Prep, they all lived in a house, nobody said anything [for years]. Why? Because it’s corporate-run today.”
It’s possible to make enemies even more powerful than the NCAA. In 2006, according to Jackson, traditional powers like Oak Hill Academy were included on the NCAA’s initial list of schools that would be investigated, before quickly being removed. The same is true of Laurinburg Institute and Paterson School, two programs run by Chris Chaney, one of the most powerful and decorated coaches in prep basketball history.
Lutheran only surfaced on the NCAA’s radar after a piece published by Pete Thamel (now with Yahoo Sports) in 2006 for the New York Times. Lutheran was one of a handful of schools highlighted, and the implication of the piece was that it wasn’t a “real school,” that the kids were simply there to play basketball. This was of course partly true, but ignored the broader context of why schools like Lutheran were necessary in the first place.
“That always felt like a hatchet job,” says Mike Procopio, clearly irritated by the memory. “I mean, Schofield and those guys, come on. Why include them? I’ve seen 10,000 worse schools and worse guys in this business than what those guys were doing.”
Notably absent in the piece was any scrutiny of the programs run by Chris Chaney, despite the fact that he was frequently taking on the same kinds of kids who ended up at Lutheran. In fact, two of the former Lutheran players featured in the piece criticizing its academic standards had moved on at programs associated with Chaney. Chaney’s absence from the piece doesn’t appear to be a coincidence.
“Pete [Thamel] invited me to dinner to get my perspective on the piece he was working on,” Chaney says.“[He] sat down with me to get as much information as they could ... I gave my two cents.”
Chaney said he could not recall whether he gave Thamel specific intel on Lutheran, but the fact remains that a major source for the story was Lutheran’s direct competition. (Thamel did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.)
“I think they just had a preference for those traditional schools,” Chaney says, when I ask him why the Times came to him, despite his conflict of interest. “It is what it is, when you’re friends with people and they know you’re running things the right way, nobody’s gonna say anything.”
In the story, former Lutheran players Jamual Warren and Roosevelt Lee were quoted as saying that there had been no classes, no teachers, no schoolhouse. This conflicts with the accounts from many former players—given more than a decade later, by adults with nothing to lose by telling the truth. Multiple players, including Marvin Kilgore, Vernon Goodridge, Mike Scott, and Calvin O’Neal say they were interviewed for the Times story and told the reporters things that would have conflicted with Warren’s and Lee’s accounts, but were left out of the final piece.
“They found me and Charles [Bronson] out in the middle of nowhere in Texas at a JuCo,” says Kilgore. “I told them, I did my work. We did our work, otherwise we didn’t play. Period.” (Bronson was quoted in the piece, which side-eyes his GPA for rising significantly over his two years at Lutheran.)
Roosevelt Lee and Jamual Warren now say they didn’t want or expect to be included in the piece. Lee claims he was told anything he said would be off the record.
“He said that what we told them wouldn’t get used,” Lee says. “That they just wanted to see like if we had similar experiences they heard about other kids.”
Warren tells me he loved his time at Lutheran and felt taken care of. When asked what he would say today for the record, if he knew that it would be published, he says, “I was straight at Lutheran. It was cool. I had no problems at all.”
And then there’s Phil Martelli. Martelli, then the coach at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, was quoted in the piece as saying he had no idea where Lutheran was located, and had never been there. Multiple sources told me that this was absolutely untrue, and that Martelli had not only been to the gym to see Lutheran multiple times, but that he was actively recruiting star player Dionte Christmas, who eventually chose to attend Temple.
“Phil was pissed at me,” Schofield says. “He was convinced that I was the one that told Dionte to go to Temple instead of St. Joe’s. I didn’t say shit, that was all John Hartnett [a coach and advisor to Dionte since he was young]. Hartnett had the relationship with John Chaney.”
According to Schofield, other players at Lutheran, and even Christmas himself, the issue was that Martelli believed Christmas had provided a verbal commitment to St. Joe’s before backing out. That began a feud between the two, and Martelli came to believe that Schofield was steering players away from the St. Joe’s program.
“I didn’t even want him to go to Temple!” Schofield says. “UConn and Marquette wanted him, and I told him, Dionte, you go to play for Crean or Calhoun, you’re a first-round pick. That’s what I wanted for him!”
“It was a miscommunication,” Christmas says today. “It got blown out of proportion.”
Following the story and the NCAA’s move to disallow transcripts from Lutheran, Schofield went on hiatus in 2007, and the school officially closed the following year.
“I couldn’t do it anymore. They came after me and, I just ...” here Schofield trails off for a moment. “I mean, I didn’t make any money off this shit. I lost my first wife over this shit.”
“For them to go after Schofield, it’s just ridiculous,” Procopio says. “Like, he wasn’t selling players, he wasn’t taking cuts of the money like some of these other guys. He just wanted to help kids out. That was it. It wasn’t right.”
Eventually, Lutheran was able to exact some measure of revenge, albeit quietly and unknown to anyone who didn’t know to watch for it. Bobby Maze, a former Lutheran player who was included in Thamel’s piece speaking about his negative experiences at the school, came back to Philadelphia in 2008 as a member of the Tennessee Volunteers to face Dionte Christmas and Temple. UT had to hire extra security for the game, as Maze had received threats from Philadelphia kids and families who had been hoping to attend Lutheran.
The game went off without a hitch, but Christmas scored a career-high 35 points, including 30 in the second half, and Temple embarrassed the eighth-ranked Vols on national television.
“He dogged us when he left,” Christmas says. “That night, that was my chance to hold it down for Lutheran.”
There was one piece of the story that outsiders could never understand: Why was Schofield so terrifying to the prep basketball community at large? He was not after a job or a cushy retirement. He wasn’t taking bribes, and he wasn’t doing favors for the traditional powers in D1 coaching. That, ultimately, might have been his undoing.
“They came after him because he kept the circle small,” says Vernon Goodridge. “He didn’t let nobody in, except for us. They hated that shit.”
All Schofield wanted to do was coach basketball and get Philly kids onto college teams, kids who wouldn’t have had the chance otherwise. And nearly all of the Lutheran students he helped go to college received their bachelor’s degrees.
“I would drop everything right now if Scho told me he needed some help,” says Goodridge. He continues to play professional basketball in Barbados after a few stints on two-way deals with NBA teams and stops in Turkey and Spain. “He made us family. All of us.”
The community aspect is important, and rare in prep and college basketball. Goodridge knows firsthand. One of the reasons he left Mississippi State to come back to Philadelphia and finish his career at La Salle was because of how he had been treated.
“Once you sign that letter of intent, they’re fucking done talking nice to you,” Goodridge says. He went on to tell a story about a coach at Mississippi State who, upon learning that Goodridge’s best friend had died and he wanted to return home to attend the funeral, said, “He’s dead, what the fuck are you gonna do for him now?”
“Scho just taught us about life stuff,” Mike Scott says. “I mean, I was going through a lot personally. Like, I was there [at Lutheran], but I wasn’t really there. We couldn’t keep the lights on at home, I had to get money ... Scho took me aside, would ask if me and my mom needed cash for the light bill, whatever.”
“I was headed down the wrong path,” says Khalil Hartwell. Hartwell was a forward who started at Lutheran in 2003 before accepting a scholarship to UT-Chattanooga. He graduated and lives in Tennessee with his wife and children, the oldest a 10-year-old who is already 5-foot-9 and dominating boys his age in youth leagues. “I was at CEP [Community Education Partners, a for-profit disciplinary school] in Philly,” Hartwell says. “Everyone in Philly knows how you end up in CEP, that’s for kids who are on the way to jail. They got me out of that ... With Scho, it was just genuine. He wasn’t there worrying about just me playing ball.”
“He showed me that there was a life outside of Northeast Philly,” says Maurice “Grease” Thomas. Thomas now lives back in Philadelphia with his girlfriend and two children. He graduated from college and does contracting and construction work. “Like, without Scho, I don’t know, man. Like, I didn’t know that world existed ... that kind of gave me that energy to find something better.”
“Scho saved my life,” says Stefon Jackson today. Jackson lives in Philadelphia now and is starting to get into coaching basketball after a long career playing overseas in Germany, Belgium, and Greece. “He saved a bunch of kids, man. I don’t wanna rehash what was going on for me, but he definitely saved mine. Could’ve saved a bunch more, too. It’s a shame.”
Today, Darryl Schofield lives in Delaware with his second wife, Michelle. He no longer runs a school, but he does help operate an AAU program, Achieve More Sports, which went national after he got involved in 2017. He’s in Philadelphia often, catching up with old players or spotting young ones that he thinks could use some guidance. Schofield struggles with kidney disease, getting dialysis three times a week. The mission is still the same.
“They thought they could hurt me,” he says. “They wanted to take me down. But they couldn’t. I wasn’t in this to make money, or become a college coach. I wanted to help kids. And guess, what? I’m still fucking helping kids today. I’m gonna be doing it tomorrow, too.”
In the summers, the humidity in Philadelphia causes flash storms that last 20 minutes before clearing out. Uneven patches in the worn blacktop courts fill with water that remains long after the rest of the court dries, exploding like landmines as players stomp through them on fast breaks or cuts to the basket. These kids could be the next era of Philly’s storied hoops legacy, if only they get the chance. Since 1968, the Sonny Hill League has taken over the courts and playgrounds of the city on its hottest days. The league was explicitly founded as a way to give players an alternative to gangs or drugs, but it can’t do that year-round, and it can’t guarantee them that they’ll take the next steps. Darryl Schofield tried to bridge that gap, but powers that be made sure he failed. And so, this summer and every summer since 2007, the next Stefon Jacksons and Maurice Thomases and Dionte Christmases have toiled away on these courts, waiting for someone to decide that they deserve the same opportunity at something better.
Casey Taylor is a writer living and working in Pittsburgh. If you’d like to praise him, yell at him, or offer him an unfathomably lucrative writing opportunity, you can email him here or follow him on Twitter.