The recruitment of Hanner Mosquera-Perea, one of the top commitments in the Tom Crean era at Indiana University, makes for a revealing study in the pulls and tugs on the heart of a young talent. It also sheds light on the off-court dealings and relationships in big-time college basketball.
Perea, a 6-foot-8-inch, 225-pound forward from Bogotá, Colombia, has said he'll join the Hoosiers in the fall of 2012, part of a class that ESPN has ranked as tops in the country. On the court, he's known as a freakishly athletic, above-the-rim player who could immediately impact Indiana's Big Ten fortunes. College basketball followers also know Perea as an unwitting central figure in an ongoing NCAA investigation of Baylor University basketball, a probe that focuses on an assistant coach allegedly sending dozens of impermissible text messages this past July to Perea's AAU and prep coaches.
But a five-month ESPN.com investigation into the Bloomington, Ind.-based African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education (A-HOPE) Foundation, which claims the South American-born Perea as a foundation beneficiary, has found circumstances outside of the Baylor issue that very well might impact his initial NCAA eligibility at Indiana. Treatment afforded him by A-HOPE and its president, Mark Adams, including roundtrip airline tickets to Colombia, appears to put Perea in violation of NCAA preferential treatment and extra benefits bylaws (18.104.22.168.6).
Also at issue are gifts Perea has received from A-HOPE and Adams, whose son served on the IU basketball staff from September 2009 until this month. Perea is a member of an AAU team -- Indiana Elite -- which Adams coaches and whose best players have in the last year begun committing verbally to IU in bunches. The NCAA declined to comment specifically on Perea, but a spokesperson said that generally, "benefits from the prospects' coach other than basic living expenses are considered against NCAA rules."
Perea, who came to America from Colombia in January 2008, could not be reached for comment. The prep school coach responsible for bringing him to this country, Alan Huss, who is also vice president of A-HOPE, declined comment. Adams acknowledges giving Perea certain electronic gadgets and paying for Perea's flights back to Colombia and says Perea came from such meager means that he felt compelled to help him. He accuses ESPN.com of manufacturing a story and choosing not to focus on the positive effects his foundation has on the student-athletes he has helped free from poor backgrounds.
"You really could have no idea of the humanitarian reasons for this foundation, and I honestly believe you do not wish to find out," Adams wrote in an email in response to questions submitted by ESPN.com.
But the two men who discovered the basketball protégé in Colombia suspect Perea's commitment to Indiana might be influenced by gifts and treatment afforded him by Adams and others friendly to the Hoosiers. "They have dazzled him," Mauricio Ducuara, the head of a basketball foundation in Bogotá, told ESPN.com.
He says he learned of changes in Perea's lifestyle after the teenager returned home for Christmas this past December, saying through a translator: "People with whom I have spoken said he has received lots of gifts [and] things. If you knew how Hanner grew up the people don't even have shoes. Hanner came home at Christmas with iPods, iPhones, [Bose] headphones digital cameras. Things that for a kid are impossible."
Tomas Diaz, a Colombian basketball coach and Perea's legal guardian, says Perea also brought with him gray T-shirts -- with "Indiana" printed in red on the front and his last name on the back -- to hand out in his old neighborhood.
Adams acknowledged having played a role.
"Hanner got here with one pair of old shoes and 2 to 3 changes of clothing!!" Adams wrote to ESPN.com in response to questions. "I am sure there have been times with all the A-HOPE kids while at school either a roommate or friend that had a much better financial background would get something new and just give the old item to one of these kids.
"Hanner was here for 2 years with no cell phone, there were times that his family tried to call but couldn't reach him so last August I bought him the cheapest cell phone my cell provider offered and he shares my minutes. I don't really know where he got the iPod, I may have given him one of my kids' old ones. You can get iPods for next to nothing anymore. The only two kids at La Lumiere [Perea's current school] that didn't have a laptop was Obij [7-foot Obij Aget from Sudan] and Hanner. A-HOPE bought the cheapest $400 laptop Best Buy offered for Obij and Hanner to share."
Adams, a 1980 graduate of Indiana and a logistics management specialist for the Department of Defense, also says his foundation paid the initial travel cost for Perea to leave Colombia, as well as round-trips last summer and a few months later for Christmas. The A-HOPE founder suggested that similar treatment has been afforded other players, though at least two A-HOPE players told ESPN.com that they'd never been flown home and were unaware of that being a common practice.
"That's the only way Hanner can see his family," Adams wrote. "These Prep schools coaches don't offer to help, and neither do his National Coaches."
A former NCAA enforcement director told ESPN.com that the key question officials will want answered is whether Adams does "the same for all the kids?''
Contacted by ESPN.com, Indiana University athletics officials declined to answer questions pertaining to Perea because he has not yet signed an official letter of intent. They also declined to discuss whether they were aware of other A-HOPE players being treated in like fashion, as well as whether they knew how many A-HOPE players had been provided airfare to return home over the past 12 months.
The university issued a statement through its sports publicity department, saying: "We can say that it is standard procedure for our compliance staff to work collaboratively with the Big Ten, the NCAA National Office and the NCAA Eligibility Center to confirm both the academic and amateurism eligibility of every IU student-athlete."
A tall protege picked out at a young age
Even before flying from Colombia to Chicago three years ago, Perea experienced a nomadic basketball lifestyle, having been discovered by academy basketball officials at age 12 in the dirt-poor town of Chocó.
Ducuara, who heads the nonprofit basketball academy Union Basketball Corporation in Bogotá, says he brought Perea, who was already 6-3 at that young age, to the capital city of Bogotá in 2006 and placed him in a Catholic prep school. Ducuara describes the prodigy as an "innocent child" whose parents signed over guardianship to Diaz, a Colombian coach, believing the basketball program could be his ticket to a better life.
Perea developed and played well enough that his handlers wanted to get him into the U.S. system so he could play in college. Along the way, a Houston Rockets executive -- Gersson Rosas, the club's vice president of player personnel and head of scouting -- became aware of Perea and alerted the Baylor staff to the teenage talent.
Mike Barnett, a founder and director of an Indiana Elite summer team, says Baylor first contacted Huss, then the Culver Academy coach in Indiana, about bringing Perea to the United States. Barnett suggests that the Rockets-Baylor connection dates to Baylor coach Scott Drew's younger brother, Bryce, having played for the Rockets after being a first-round draft pick in 1998.
Rosas, born in Colombia, acknowledges being in contact with Ducuara and Diaz regarding their basketball academy in Bogotá. As far as his relationship with Baylor and tipping the Bears off to prospects, he told ESPN.com, "Baylor has been the most proactive in terms of recruiting South America. They have done a good job. Because I am involved in the [Basketball Without Borders] camp with the NBA, they always call me periodically and ask me about top prospects in South America. I let them know about the prospects down there."
Rosas contends that he has never met Perea, as well as stressing that neither he nor anyone with the Rockets played a role in his recruitment.
"His name was given to us via Baylor amongst some other guys or kids we should bring over," says Barnett. Though not a registered agent or attorney, Barnett says he negotiated Scott Drew's first coaching contract at Baylor. "The way it worked was Alan [Huss] was at Culver. He got an email with a list of kids. Hanner was on that list as potential players to come and go to school at Culver. International kids. And so, Alan was really the point.
"And then he had never done all the other stuff -- the I-20 issue [a required federal form submitted by the attending school as part of student visa] and the paperwork. So he used Mark's foundation [A-HOPE] to help get that done. And then Mark got involved. This is a kid. [Mark] ended up footing the bill for all his food, his clothes, before it was all said and done."
Advertised as an English speaker, but not upon arrival
Once in America, Perea's nomadic basketball existence continued. He has been on four private school campuses, logging class time at Culver; in Birmingham, Ala.; in Charlotte, N.C.; and now back in the Hoosier State, reunited with Huss at La Lumiere School in LaPorte -- about an hour's drive north from his first U.S. high school, Culver.
Perea's time at Culver, which costs $37,000 a year to attend, did not turn out well.
His admission sounded like a great idea to John Buxton, the head of Culver Academy. Culver's hard-charging basketball coach -- Huss -- who did double duty as the school's assistant admissions director, came to him about Perea, who not only was a basketball gem but also was said to be fluent in English and a wonderful student to boot -- a Culver kind of kid.
But Buxton saw a problem nearly as soon as Perea came to campus.
"He couldn't speak English," Buxton says. "I said, 'Hi, Hanner, I'm Mr. Buxton.' He said, 'Hi.' I said, 'How are you doing?' He said, 'Hi.'"
Buxton says Huss conducted a telephone interview with Perea and also was the admissions staffer who processed the South American teenager's application. The Culver administrator says Huss either was duped or tried to pull a fast one.
"I don't know if Alan said his English is good because he can say 'Hi,'" Buxton says. "I don't know how that happened. But when he got here, the teachers all went, 'This kid can't speak English.' So they said, 'What do we do with him?' I said, 'Well, we brought him here. Feed him. Let's get him to the local [public] high school because they have a good [English as a second language] program. Let's get him tested. Let's see if we can help him. And Alan, go find the kid a school because he can't be here.'
"So the kid gained 40 pounds here in five months. He couldn't play for us. He couldn't go to class. We just tutored him and helped him learn English, and got an exit strategy so he could go somewhere."
Buxton says he was surprised to learn from ESPN.com that A-HOPE paid to bring Perea to the United States. Perea attended Culver, like most A-HOPE players at private schools, as a need-based student with no ability to pay.
His one-way ticket to the States was billed to an American Express card, according to travel documents obtained by ESPN.com. Perea left Bogotá on an American Airlines flight late on the morning of Jan. 31, 2008, connected through Miami and arrived at Chicago's O'Hare Airport later that night. When someone from Colombia emailed the next morning to confirm that Perea had arrived, Huss responded on his school email account: "He is here at culver (Culver). Everything is good. I will have him call you soon. Thanks."
Adams, the A-HOPE founder, says Perea lived with and was fed and clothed by Huss and his wife upon arriving in Indiana. "And what you may not realize is Hanner was a gangly 6'5" kid that had very limited basketball ability and spoke almost zero English when he arrived; not some can't-miss High Major D-1 prospect," emailed Adams, who accepted only written questions and declined to otherwise be interviewed by ESPN.com.
South American handlers worried about U.S. influences
But Perea's contacts in Colombia said his arrival in America was very clearly for the likelihood of playing big-time college basketball. Ducuara says Perea began to gradually be pulled away from him and Diaz after arriving.
Ducuara and Diaz say what troubles them the most is the feeling that they've been outmaneuvered for the teenager's allegiance. The two officials claim to have learned only after the fact that Perea had transferred from United Faith Christian Academy to La Lumiere School in Indiana late last summer despite Diaz having legal guardianship rights in Colombia. Officials with United Faith in Charlotte told ESPN.com they also had anticipated Perea's return.
Last summer, after a "bed" opened at La Lumiere and Huss was in place at the school, Adams says the Colombian forward made the decision on transferring. Adams wrote: "He loved coming to my home to Bloomington and La Lumiere was a lot closer. It is a great academic institution, and he knew Alan [Huss] well.
"We were trying to get Hanner in a more challenging Academic Institution not a better basketball institution or in a school that lended itself to Hanner committing to IU."
The sphere of influence referred to by Diaz and Ducuara includes Mark Adams' son, Drew, who was Indiana's director of operations/video coordinator from April 2010 until this month, when he left for a similar job at New Mexico. The younger Adams had earlier coached Perea, as well as at least two other IU commits, on the Indiana Elite summer team.
Ducuara says he was upset to learn Perea was living with Mark Adams last summer and backed down only after speaking with the Colombian teenager.
"I told Hanner he wasn't authorized to be in the home of Mark Adams, and that's when I started to talk to Mark Adams by telephone, but I didn't know who he was," Ducuara says. "We always believed that he was the contact for the prep school, and we never thought of malice. We always believed in the good faith of these people. I spoke with Hanner, and he told me the same thing. He was content to be there and this person was from the foundation of Indiana Elite and he offered us his support and he sent us some T-shirts and we assumed everything was OK."
Ducuara now accuses Adams of "trying to have control over [Perea]."
Indiana coach Tom Crean is restricted under NCAA rules from talking about Perea or issues related to his recruitment until he officially signs a letter of intent. As for Ducuara and Diaz, Crean told ESPN.com: "I don't know those people at all." Privately, IU officials insist recruitment issues involving Perea rest solely with Baylor.
Crean says that IU has been careful to play by the rules and that the Colombian officials would be wrong were they now to try casting stones at Indiana.
"I don't know the agenda of those guys," he says. "I know that Baylor thing got quite ugly, put it that way. And I was able to watch that from a pretty close distance, be on the outside of it but be able to see it up close."
Ducuara and Diaz both say they recognize Indiana's academic standing and rich basketball tradition and understand why Perea might be interested in the Hoosiers. As legal guardian, Diaz maintains that he'll even sign an Indiana letter of intent for Perea if that's where he wants to go. What bothers them is their being removed from the prodigy's inner circle; they say not-so-politely elbowed out by a pro-Indiana group and now almost unable to communicate with Perea other than an occasional exchange on his Facebook account.
"I think something is not within the parameters of normal," says Ducuara, referring to the IU-friendly cocoon around Perea. "Unfortunately, not everyone is how they paint themselves to be."
Perea's commitment to Indiana in October caught them by surprise, with Diaz saying, "When he was home last summer, we asked him and he said he was going to wait [to commit], but now he made a decision. That is strange to us."
Diaz adds: "They want to get us out of the middle so we can't make decisions, and we don't want that. We call Hanner, and they don't pass our calls through. We have been calling, and we began to get worries because they would tell us he was training and could not talk. He wasn't there. And that to us was strange."
The Indiana camp tells a very different story.
"I have never heard anyone refer to the Colombian Coaches as Hanner's guardians EXCEPT the Baylor coaching staff," Adams wrote to ESPN.com. He added: "Baylor told myself and others on dozens of occasions that 'Hanner's guardian, the Colombian Coaches, would only sign the NCAA National Letter of Intent for Hanner to go to Baylor, NO OTHER COLLEGE.' It was a weekly statement, 'the Colombian Coaches will only sign the National Letter of Intent for Hanner to go to Baylor.'"
With that backdrop, Adams claims he obtained assurance from Diaz and Ducuara that they'd be happy with whatever Perea decided. He also says he made sure that Perea called Ducuara and his parents to sign off on his IU commitment. He further maintains that he offered to fly him to Baylor for an unofficial visit, which Adams says Perea declined because he'd already been on campus.
According to Adams, "Baylor tried to railroad Hanner into not being able to make up his own mind in his choice of college, even saying verbally and in writing on multiple occasions that they would have him deported and make sure he would never go to college in the U.S. if it wasn't Baylor."
Baylor coach Scott Drew declined comment on the recruitment of Perea when reached by ESPN.com.
Adams maintains that what he describes as "numerous threats and constant manipulation" via text messaging and email from Baylor "will come out in time."
Barnett, whose son, Kory, is a walk-on at Indiana, agrees with Adams that Baylor and Perea's Colombian contacts are suspect. In addition to heading up Indiana Elite, Barnett owns a uniform and T-shirt business in Rochester, Ind., and is a consultant with adidas, which sponsors both his travel team and Indiana University.
Barnett says the recruiting war spiraled out of control in June 2010 when the Colombian officials and Baylor pressured Perea to commit. Barnett claims Perea's handlers demanded that he attend a camp of South American 15- and 16-year-old players being held at Baylor.
"They wanted him to be [there], and that is why it was brought to our attention," Barnett says. "There was a ticket offered for him to fly down there. This is when it got ugly. He refused. Because he felt like he was being -- they wanted him to make a commitment [to Baylor]. This is when basically Hanner said to us, 'There is bad stuff going on.'"
Barnett claims the impermissible text messages started churning almost simultaneously from Baylor assistant coach Mark Morefield, including a veiled reference to possible deportation. "All of it happened -- just bang, bang, bang," Barnett says.
Morefield did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.
The Colombian officials maintain that that scenario is not close to reality -- that the group backed out of its annual trip to the Five-Star Camp scheduled on the Baylor campus in late June because of bad weather brought by Hurricane Alex. And, according to them, Perea was never expected to attend anyway.
"This makes no sense," says Ducuara, responding via email. "Hanner has never been listed to participate in summer camps, which I organized. So what this person says is a lie."
Unlike Adams, Barnett says he has never spoken to Ducuara or Diaz, though he acknowledges telling his version of events to NCAA investigators, saying his last session was at the association's Indianapolis headquarters. He identifies Adams and Huss as also cooperating in the investigation, noting it's uncomfortable for Huss and him because of their friendship with the Drew family.
Before he was hired to rebuild the Baylor program, Scott Drew apprenticed under his father, the legendary Valparaiso coach, Homer. His younger brother, Bryce, ranks as arguably the best player in Valpo history and earlier this month was named to succeed his father. The family name is huge in Indiana basketball circles.
"We didn't know what we were getting into," Barnett says of the meltdown around Perea last summer. "We knew there had been some things that had really been very disturbing. This is a kid. And they're talking about sending him home if he doesn't go to the school they want him to go to. So we decided to cooperate [with the NCAA]."
ESPN.com senior editor Gabrielle Paese contributed to this story.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.