Prep star who left amid controversy lands in Maine

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Prep star who left amid controversy lands in Maine

CIF accepts Maranatha forfeits, adds three years of probation but clears player of certain violations

Chen Cai averaged 25.7 points and 16.6 rebounds per game last season at Maranatha.

Chinese high school basketball star Chen Cai has enrolled at a prep school in Maine after leaving Maranatha Christian Schools amid controversy.

Chen declined comment when reached at his new private boarding school, the Lee Academy, whose basketball program is known for its many Division I college prospects and “ties to the NBA.”

In the season opener Friday, Chen scored 15 points. School officials said his grades so far are A’s or B’s.

“It’s a place you can excel on and off the floor,” Lee coach Andrew Papaefthemiou said. “It is a place where they get exposure. We play a pretty good schedule and so forth. That’s sort of been our calling card.”

The Lee Academy’s website describes itself as a program “designed to assist students with the academic transition to a two- or four-year school.” It says its basketball program has “developed ties with major scouting services, Big East, Big 12, America East schools and the NBA.”

Chen played at Maranatha the previous three years but was declared ineligible amid an investigation into the boys basketball program. As a result of the investigation, the school offered to forfeit every game in which Chen played. The San Diego Section of the California Interscholastic Federation accepted those penalties in a letter dated Oct. 22 while also adding three years of probation through 2012-13. Chen’s coach at Maranatha, Rle Nichols, resigned under pressure.

Chen referred questions to his counsel in Oakland, Philip Boyle, an immigration attorney who has promoted professional soccer in China. Boyle declined to answer questions about documents obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune in which a sports marketer based in China stated in an e-mail that he and his business partner “spent more than $30,000 on this kid (Chen), not to mention paying his living bills, paying the training, paying the parents to come to the U.S. three times.” The statement came from an e-mail sent to Chen’s local host family from Frank Sha of China-based Zou Marketing, a sports marketing company that has promoted American sports in China.

The e-mail does not state Chen received anything directly, only that money was spent on him as if it were an investment. The Union-Tribune previously reported it wasn’t known how much, if at all, Chen was aware of any such expenditures on his behalf. Terry Rhoads, marketing director at Zou in Shanghai, said there was “no need to explain” the e-mail referencing the $30,000. He only said it was a “long story,” a “misunderstanding” and that Sha was not a native English speaker.

The Oct. 22 CIF letter said it concluded Chen did not violate bylaws involving wearing his team uniform while appearing in an advertisement. It also said he did not violate bylaws that forbid accepting financial rewards for his athletic performance or the receipt of financial inducement to attend a CIF school. Boyle released statements he said were from Chen and his mother saying they were “grateful” and “relieved” Chen was cleared of those violations. Nichols also sent a statement that said he was pleased Chen was cleared of those violations.

Boyle declined to answer questions about the marketers’ involvement with Chen. Boyle said in an e-mail that Chen’s ineligibility at Maranatha “is based on the conduct of (Maranatha) adults.” Chen was ruled ineligible because Maranatha was found to have violated rules involving impermissible recruiting and the failure to disclose pre-enrollment contact with Chen or his representatives.

A message left for Maranatha was not returned.

“Recent circumstances have been difficult for all involved,” Nichols’ statement said. “I continue to love both the mission and people of Maranatha Chapel and Maranatha Christian schools.”

The marketers, both former Nike employees in China, have represented Chinese athletes. Rhoads scouted current Chinese NBA star Yao Ming from an early age. Sha helped Yao move to the United States to play in the NBA.

In this case, Rhoads said he and Sha were “big brother” figures to Chen and said he knew him since Chen was 11.

The statement said to be from Chen stated that Chen was “sad that people close to me created a lot of unnecessary drama and hurt feelings.”

“I cherished the opportunity to be a student at Maranatha and despite all the sadness of the last two months, I can never forget the many happy memories of being a student and living in San Diego,” the statement said.

Lee headmaster Bruce Lindberg said the Lee Academy has several Asian and other international students and that Chen came there after he received a call from his family. He called Chen a “perfect citizen.”

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