For the first time, the man who founded that group, called A-HOPE, is explaining and defending the African program.
The first that many people heard of this A-HOPE organization, African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education, was last month. Four students it had placed at Mooseheart Academy in Kane County were declared ineligible to play sports by the Illinois High School Association.
IHSA board ruled A-HOPE is no longer welcome to place African student athletes in Illinois, something A-HOPE's director calls a personal foul.
"There have been 26 kids who have come through the program," Mark Adams said.
Beginning in 2003, when Adams, an Indiana native, says he helped a coaching friend in Nigeria bring several African teenagers to the U.S. to fulfill their dreams. Adams then set up A-HOPE Foundation to assist others.
"You see how it changed their lives and where they came from and where they hope to go, and it's hard to say no after that, if you've been around them you'll," Adams said.
Last month the ITeam broke news that three very tall basketball players and a runner for Mooseheart Academy, brought in by A-HOPE from South Sudan, had been declared ineligible by the IHSA.
"The greatest weight was given to the fact that they had a connection to the A-HOPE Foundation," said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman. "It's undisputed, that's how they got here."
As we first reported the decision followed a secret, six-month IHSA investigation that the association claimed found those students had been coerced into coming to Mooseheart to play basketball.
"The students were taken advantage of by the A-HOPE Foundation and people related to that organization," said ISHA Board of Directors President Dan Klett.
Mark Adams\a-hope founder "I don't understand where that's coming from," Adams said. "It's really troublesome that they're going to make accusations or statements without calling me to ask me anything about it."
IHSA officials refused to answer the ITeam's questions about why Adams wasn't interviewed. Officials have cited this critical espn.com story last year about forceful recruiting of African players questionable association finances.
"Nobody offers a finder's fee," Adams said. "I mean, this is not a recruiting organization."
Adams and his A-HOPE Foundation are headquartered in Bloomington, Indiana, the home of the University of Indiana. Critics of Adams and his association say that is no coincidence.
A-HOPE opponents say Adams is merely trying to stock his alma mater with African talent.
But only two A-HOPE players have attended Indiana and they just returned in this game Saturday from a long NCAA suspension for their connections to A-HOPE.
Northwestern's A-HOPE student, 7-foot-2 freshman Chier Ajou, has been cleared to play because Adams had no connections to the wildcats.
"Nobody is trying to do anything illegal here," said Adams. "I've not made one dollar in this and since it started in 2003 i don't even know how you would make a dollar in this."
How is it paid for?
State records show more than $360,000 has been spent on travel and expenses; most Adams says was his life savings from a logistics job at this U.S. Navy facility in Indiana.
"If you can find a vehicle for them to get an education, get a college education and ultimately go back to their country to help, I don't see anything wrong with that," he said.
The IHSA found something wrong with A-HOPE. Even after reversing the Mooseheart player's suspension, IHSA has banned all future A-HOPE students.
Adams says he is considering legal action against the state organization and its leaders for defamation.
May 2011 ESPN story on A-HOPE
Illinois High School Association