By Todd Holcomb and David Purdum
For the AJC
The Georgia High School Association on Tuesday banned reigning boys basketball state champion Milton from region and state playoffs for the 2012-13 season because of illegally influencing student-athletes to transfer to the north Fulton County school.
Milton’s former coach, David Boyd, resigned Sept. 10 after Milton and Fulton County Schools reported to the GHSA allegations of undue influence.
Under Boyd, Milton won state titles in 2010 and 2012 with several major college recruits, most of whom transferred from other schools. It follows a trend that many find disturbing: No boys basketball team has won Georgia’s highest classification in more than a decade without participating with a high-profile transfer.
The Fulton County investigation that led to Boyd’s resignation — obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under Georgia’s open records act – revealed that:
The report also stated that Roswell basketball coach Ty Phillips filed the initial complaints about Boyd in August. One of Phillips’ former players sought to transfer to Milton.
GHSA Bylaw 1.70 states that it is illegal to influence or induce a student to transfer from one school to another for competitive purposes.
In addition to the postseason ban, the GHSA placed Milton on Severe Warning Status for the 2013-14 and fined the school an undisclosed amount, no greater than $2,500. The GHSA can discipline member schools, but not coaches.
Boyd came to Milton in 2007, when the school had made the state playoffs only three times since 1960. In Boyd’s five seasons, Milton advanced to the state finals four consecutive times and traveled nationally to prestigious showcase tournaments with the state’s top prospects, including Julian Royal (now at Georgia Tech), Evan Nolte (Virginia), Charles Mann (Georgia), Shaquille Johnson (Auburn), Shannon Scott (Ohio State) and Dai-Jon Parker (Vanderbilt). Except for Royal and Nolte, the most prominent players were transfers.
The investigation identified the Lexington Farm Apartments in Alpharetta as home to several Milton basketball players. The report states that “it has been alleged, and not yet confirmed or denied, that some of these students are living there alone and the addresses are only used to allow residence verification.”
Although Milton lost Mann and three other college-bound seniors to graduation, Boyd expected to have a team that could defend its title. He had emailed Milton boosters and national and local media during the summer and mentioned as many as five transfers for the 2012-13 season. Each was a college prospect.
One was former Roswell player Shawn O’Connell. According to the report, O’Connell has two younger brothers who, because of redistricting of the Milton and Roswell school zones, would be forced to attend Milton.
Another was Johnnie Vassar from Indiana. According to the investigation, Vassar has withdrawn from the Fulton County School System and is enrolling at a school in California.
Boyd indicated to Vassar’s mother when summer practices began and the days of the week they were held, according to the investigation. Boyd confirmed that Vassar visited the school and worked out four or five additional times. Boyd stated to investigators that he did evaluate Vassar during the practices, according to the report.
The third player was Zach Hodskins from Tennessee. On June 9, Boyd emailed Tennessee AAU coach Markus Gibbs, inquiring about the skill set of Hodskins, the investigation said.
Boyd said that Hodskins’ father wanted to make sure his son could play with Milton before moving the student into the district. Hodskins practiced two or three times with Milton before enrolling, according to the report.
While these are three primary instances, the report indicated that several other students were invited by Boyd to practice with Milton during this past summer. The investigation contains at least a dozen emails between Boyd and parents and coaches. Boyd assessed the players who were not enrolled at Milton in several emails.
Fulton County athletics director Steven Craft said the investigation found examples of undue influence on multiple occasions.
Supplying real estate information to possible transfers is considered undue influence, Craft said. Boyd admitted in a Sept. 6 interview that he offers recommendations and locations for rental properties to students transferring into the Milton district.
Craft said that was undue influence. “You tell people you have a great community and great programs and that they have a chance to be a part of a great situation, and leave at that,’’ Craft said.
Craft considered these practices to be tryouts to see how players would fit into Boyd’s program. Regarding invitations to players to attend practices or games: “He used those sessions to assess players and comment about their abilities.”
Craft wanted to be clear that the investigation did not find evidence of what Craft called recruiting, which suggests a teacher or coach reached out to a player first.
The GHSA’s Swearngin acknowledged that this was a key distinction.
“Sometimes they go hand-in-hand, and sometimes they don’t,’’ Swearngin said. “Undue influence is what you do to induce or facilitate a transfer even if you didn’t make the initial contact.’’
Boyd saw no wrongdoing with any of it. “I had at least 20 sets of parents contact me with interest in coming to Milton,” he said Tuesday. “They didn’t all come to Milton, but they went somewhere. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. … I’m disappointed that the players who came on their own to participate aren’t going to be allowed to play in the postseason. I’m very sorry about that. But as far as doing something illegal or unethical, all I’m trying to help kids.”
Social media was mentioned extensively in the investigation, including multiple negative posts by Boyd, when referring to Phillips.
“Make sure to know that Ty Phillips at Roswell started this by crying to his AD that one of his players who lives in our district [and had a choice] came to Milton,” a Sept. 11 post read. “That was a family decision. One thing about it; his record against us is 0-11. Good luck down the road Ty. I am thankful for people like you; you make me realize how much we have done that is good.”
The post has since been deleted.
Phillips declined to elaborate on anything involving the investigation into Boyd.
“My focus is on our team and what’s relevant to our program,’’ Phillips said. “All that other stuff that involves other people is not what we’re focusing on.”