‘Up in the air’: Basketball team at Kanye West’s school still practicing
Kimberly Hicks, a probation officer in Miami, woke up Thursday with little choice but to monitor the controversy over antisemitic remarks made by Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West.
Her son, Justin Johnson, is a starting forward on the elite prep basketball team at Donda Academy, the private school in Simi Valley, California, started by Ye.
In the past two days, four major prep tournaments rescinded invitations to Donda Academy. This followed Adidas, which sponsors Donda Academy’s basketball program, which joined the likes of talent agency CAA and design house Balenciaga in severing ties with Ye – all of which took place after his recent antisemitic remarks Monday.
For Hicks, the tumult continued Thursday morning.
While many people were learning of reports that Donda Academy had been shut down for the rest of the school year, Hicks said, she learned from her son that Donda’s basketball team was headed to practice. TMZ since has reported the school has reopened.
“Imagine us as parents,’’ Hicks told USA TODAY Sports. “We just have to go on what our kids tell us.’’
Later in the morning, Hicks said, the team’s head coach, Dorell Wright, told her the basketball team is preparing for the season, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 3. At the same time, coaches from other schools were trying to recruit Donda’s top players, according to Hicks.
The team’s roster includes Robert Dillingham, a five-star point guard committed to Kentucky; Javonte “JJ” Taylor, a four-star forward; and Johnson, a three-star forward.
“Coaches trying to get my son to their school,’’ said Hicks, adding that she fielded several phone calls Thursday morning. “A lot of schools here in Florida and some prep schools in North Carolina. And (her son) says people have been hitting him up.
“They (the players) see people calling them and people sending them stuff. So they’re like all up in the air too as kids.
“But until we hear differently we’re going to stay.’’
She said she did not receive an email that the school was closing effective immediately, sent Wednesday to parents of Donda Academy students according to reports from TMZ, ESPN and other outlets.
Braeden Moore, a power forward who played for Donda Academy last season and is now at BYU, told USA TODAY via a Twitter message that no changes had been made to the Donda Academy basketball program.
“The basketball prep school is fine as of right now,’’ he said.
Players live in apartments off campus, practice at the Sports Academy – formerly Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Academy – and take classes online.
Wright, Donda’s head coach who played in the NBA for 11 years, did not return a request for comment left on his phone. Shayla Scott, athletics director at Donda Academy, also did not return a request for comment left on her phone.
Chuck Bailey III, a three-star guard who was a reserve for Donda Academy last season, told USA TODAY Sports he left the school last week but declined to provide further comment.
His grandfather, Charles Sr., said Chuck Bailey left in part because of the controversy over Ye’s antisemitic comments and a lack of playing time.
“We tried to get him to stay to see what the outcome would be,’’ Charles Bailey said, “but he’s able to make his own decision.’’
Within the past two days, four major prep tournaments have rescinded invitations to Donda Academy. Those included the John Wall Holiday Invitational in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts, run by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The first tournament to boot them was Scholastic Play-By-Play Classics, with Donda Academy having been scheduled to play in Louisville.
The trend continued Thursday morning, when the City of Palms Classic removed Donda Academy from its field in Fort Myers, Florida, a day after the tournament said the team would be allowed to compete.
Donnie Wilkie, the tournament director, said he informed Donda Academy of the decision Thursday morning in a phone call with Scott, the school’s athletic director.
“In a situation like this, there is clearly some regrouping that has to be done, and I would much prefer that they would be left at arm’s length to do the work that they have to do at their end,’’ Wilkie said. “And I’m certain that at some point down the line that they will be much better situated to be shown off at an event like this.’’
The team is still scheduled to open the regular season Nov. 3 against Minnesota Prep Academy at the Minnesota Shorty Classic at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
The Grind Session, an elite winter prep basketball circuit, did not respond to requests for comment.
Lucas Olson-Patterson, the basketball coach at Minnesota Prep Academy, said he is waiting to hear from Donda Academy officials.
‘Everything was a go two days ago,” he said. ‘I’m just going to keep going as business as usual.’