NIA Prep Parts Ways With Coach But Marches On

Alif Muhammad, the fiery, controversial head of the Alif Muhammad NIA School in Newark, N.J., parted ways Tuesday with head basketball coach Rudy King, but insists the program will carry on and continue to attempt to to be a national prep power.

A year ago, NIA Prep was rated the No. 1 prep team in New Jersey and No. 6 nationally.

But Muhammad said he was especially upset that NIA had recently lost to Bridgton (Maine) Academy “by 40 points” and then lost to ASA, a junior college, last Saturday. He said he initially suspended King, and then accepted his resignation, even though King was 6-2 on the season.

“I wanted to make a temporary change with Rudy,” Muhammad told SNY.tv by phone.

“I can’t lose. I’m a national program. I’ve got to compete with South Kent. I gotta compete with St. Thomas More.”

Muhammad said King, the former Brooklyn Bishop Loughlin coach, had been replaced by Tyquann Goode, a former Brooklyn Grady and Fairfield University guard who had coached NIA’s International team. Goode is the program’s fifth coach in three-plus years.

“First, I never wanted to resign from the job because the student-athletes NIA Prep is servicing need the help and for the record, Alif Muhammad is providing a lifeline that is needed in our community,” King wrote in an email to SNY.tv. “Let’s be honest, kids are dying every day in these streets and his school has saved a lot of lives and provided opportunity and that’s the only reason I coached at NIA in the first place.”

He added: “The problem is Alif Muhammad is a super micro-manager who never played and never coached and wants to tell us how to get it done.  Can the team there now win on the national level? Yes!  Tyquan Goode will do a good job.”

(The full text of King’s email is at the end of this story.)

NIA drew national attention in September when six athletes — including four basketball players — were declared academically ineligible. The story was first reported by SNY.tv.

Among them, was Shaquille Thomas, a 6-7 forward who had his initial eligibility waiver approved by the NCAA last month and has been granted a full financial scholarship to Cincinnati. He will be permitted to begin practicing in mid-December.

Another one of the four, Kelvin Amayo, recently said he would attend Marshall as a prop student after initially committing to Towson. He hopes to be eligible in December 2012.

As for his relationship with the NCAA, Muhammad said it hasn’t changed since the school was first put on review in 2006. He said the NCAA has accepted 122 courses from 28 Division 1 football and basketball players that have come out of NIA Prep.

He said he has six or seven letters from NCAA officials telling him they will review his athletes on a “case-by-case basis.”

“They should live with the status that they gave me,” Muhammad said. “The status is each athlete is treated individually.”

Muhammad said all the negative attention associated with the four ineligible players has hurt his program.

Former Rutgers signee Mike Taylor of Boys & Girls High, for example, was considering playing for NIA, but opted to attend Midland (Texas) College instead after the NIA news broke.

Jordan Washington,a 6-7 forward, is now at Pathways, a small prep school school in Queens, instead of NIA. But Muhammad said the NCAA doesn’t accept coursework from Pathways.

“Yeah, the publicity hurt me,” Muhammad said. “But it hurt a lot of people. It’s just that I got a lot more publicity.”

Muhammad is not afraid to point out that three St. John’s players who had no connection to NIA (Norvel Pelle, JaKarr Sampson and Amir Garrett), two Kansas freshmen (Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor) and Seton Hall freshman big man Kevin Johnson were all declared ineligible.

He also noted that former Burlington (N.J.) Life Center wing LaQuinton Ross is not playing for Ohio State because he was deemed ineligible.

“Amir Garrett was not a qualifier at Findlay,” Muhammad said, referring to Garrett’s previous school. “JaKarr was not a qualifier at Brewster.”

Garrett and Bridgton coach Whit Lesure both said they expect him to be at St. John’s at the semester break, while Sampson, who has re-opened his recruitment, plans to enroll in college in the fall of 2012 after doing a postgrad year at Brewster (N.H.) Academy.

His AAU coach, Don Anderson, has said Sampson did very well in the fall trimester at Brewster.

Another 2012 St. John’s commit, Darrick Wood, is also at Bridgton after spending last year at NIA.

Muhammad said Wood’s father recently came in to obtain his transcript and diploma, paperwork he needed to move toward qualifying, and Muhammad said he gave the Woods what they needed.

“I’m not as bad as people think,” he said.

As for Seton Hall’s Johnson, the school has applied to the NCAA for a waiver but has not yet announced the ruling.

In the case of Ross, the Ohio State commit, sources told SNY.tv that the NCAA was looking into his grades from his first two years of high school in Mississippi.

“According to the NCAA rules, we are working within the guidelines to get him reinstated within the next 2-3 weeks,” former Life Center coach Wilson Arroyo told SNY.tv.

Muhammad points out that many kids who attend prep schools like NIA are “at-risk,” and have academic issues to begin with.

“Rarely in the preps do you see a guy like [St. John’s freshman] Maurice Harkless,” he said, referring to Harkless’ prep year at South Kent (Conn.). “He had good grades, he’s a good kid. You don’t get that [in preps].”

NIA’s talent base has been depleted, but Muhammad said he still expects to compete with the big prep boys like Brewster, Bridgton, South Kent and St. Thomas More.

That’s why he felt the need to change coaches after just eight games, a la George Steinbrenner.

“It’s just competitive,” Muhammad said of the level of play, “and almost as competitive as college.”

RUDY KING’S COMMENTS ON PARTING WAYS WITH NIA PREP

First, I never wanted to resign from the job because the student-athletes NIA Prep is servicing need the help and for the record, Alif Muhammad is providing a lifeline that is needed in our community. Let’s be honest, kids are dying every day in these streets and his school has saved a lot of lives and provided opportunity and that’s the only reason I coached at NIA in the first place.

For those that know me and genuinely understand that I pride myself in making kids better with the attributes they have no gimmicks.  Ask around, I make kids better on and off the court.  Some may not like my swag but I am consistent and true. I am a student of the game and not into selling dreams at all or putting Band-Aids on cuts that need stitches these kids hear enough garbage.

The current state of the urban athlete in our region is boarder-lining disaster because its coming down to just winning instead of teaching the life lessons to make better men and teaching fundamental athletics.  My definition of a coach is to get your kids safely from point A to point B and along way teaching them to respect themselves and others, think about who they are, where they are going, why they want to go, playing the game intellectually, understanding the fundamentals of the trade, being the best they can be, handling adversity and being able to think and produce.  I think I have done a damn good job saving a few lives out here in these unforgivable streets. I too lived in these same streets, went to prep school when it was not popular and had my life saved at Laurinburg Institute (N.C.).  I got shot at the age of 16 the day before mother’s day in the wrong place wrong time so I’m not faking this coaching business this is my life I totally get it. Helping young men realize their dreams is real and I have sacrificed many years of my own family time to do it. So do not come at me with “We got blown out” and you were not prepared so I am suspending you.  The school record under my tenure is (32-9), 2010-11, #6 national ranking and Prep Team of the year “Star-Ledger”, National tournament qualifier.  Over the past three years as a head coach at the toughest levels in American amateur men’s high school / prep basketball, my record is (50-19) so the coaching part is not the issue in any capacity.  Before I got to NIA people heard the name, but when I took over and provided the structure that demanded respect, the media and the best coach in High School history “Bob Hurley Sr., called us a “Powerhouse”.  Do I make mistakes yes, is it rough to sleep at night after being dismantled by a team by 38 yes. Do I take full responsibility yes.  Do I deserve to be suspended for two weeks?

The problem is Alif Muhammad is a super micro-manager who never played and never coached and wants to tell us how to get it done.  Can the team there now win on the national level yes!  Tyquan Goode will do a good job.

(Photo: Star-Ledger)

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