Robert Dillingham, AJ Johnson transfer from Kanye West-tainted Donda Academy
No one, it seems, is willing to play Donda Academy and its roster of top college basketball prospects. The reason is well-chronicled: Donda founder and billionaire entertainer Kanye West has alienated much of society with his repeated antisemitic hate speech.
What about the players? They had a dream of playing at Donda Academy: a star-studded roster, a top-tier schedule that included several prestigious national tournaments, an unparalleled arrangement with sports apparel giant Adidas; and an online academic curriculum that could be completed in a couple of hours a day.
As a bonus, their home facility would be the well-appointed Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, formerly the Mamba Academy owned by Kobe Bryant before he and eight others died in a January 2020 helicopter crash.
Today, Adidas has severed ties with Donda and the schedule is gutted, with four national tournaments dropping the Doves.
Here are answers to pertinent questions surrounding the Donda team and academy.
What is the Donda Academy?
Donda Academy is a year-old, unaccredited private K-12 school launched before the 2021-2022 school year. The basketball team does not take classes with other students and is not sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation, but the roster is stacked with college prospects.
Administrators sent emails to parents last week saying the school was closing but reversed course soon thereafter. Students, teachers and security personnel were observed Friday during a visit to the new campus in a Chatsworth industrial park.
What’s the status of the Donda basketball team?
The basketball team operates separately, using the Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks for classrooms, a weight room and basketball courts. The players spend about six hours a day at the facility.
The Donda season is in jeopardy because at least four national tournaments dropped the Doves last week in response to West’s hate speech and amid rumors the school was closing.
Robert Dillingham and AJ Johnson, the team’s top-rated players, both indicated Thursday they are transferring to club programs similar in structure to Donda Academy.
Dillingham, the No. 13-rated player in the 2023 class, transferred to Atlanta-based Overtime Elite, which will enable him to maintain his college eligibility, according to several media outlets. Dillingham is committed to Kentucky.
Johnson, a 6-foot-6 highly recruited guard who spoke at length with the Times earlier this week, has transferred to Northridge-based Southern California Academy.
Last week JJ Taylor transferred to San Ysidro High and Chuck Bailey indicated he’s leaving but his destination was unclear.
Whether the Donda team remains intact for the 2022-23 season could be resolved by the end of the week.
When and why did NBA stars reach out to the Donda players?
Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, one of the NBA’s brightest young stars, believes the Donda Academy players are victims of West’s unacceptable behavior and hateful comments. Brown had Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin join him on a Zoom call with the Donda players Sunday to discuss the obstacles facing the team.
Brown severed a business relationship with West’s Donda Sports marketing agency but hasn’t abandoned the players. He led scheduling a game at Morehouse College in Atlanta, but Morehouse decided Monday not to host Donda. Brown is trying to find another venue for the game, billed as a Donda “homecoming.”
“[The NBA players] were just telling us that they were going to have our back and they were going to help us through the process,” Johnson said.
Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin among those helping Donda Academy basketball players decide whether or not to transfer and cut ties with Kanye West.
What are Donda players’ options?
Johnson was highly sought by other top schools, but he said some of his teammates might not have the same options.
“I’ve heard from a lot of players on the team. They’re all pretty much — a couple of them are just staying, they came from nothing, they don’t got nowhere else to go,” Johnson said. “No other prep school teams to go to, no one else is recruiting them, so they want to stay. So a lot of people want to stay without — even if Rob or me leave, people want to stay.”
Are other schools willing to take former Donda players?
The father of one Donda player who has explored transferring said the response has been less than enthusiastic.
“Because of the situation, some schools are kind of shying away,” said the father, who requested anonymity to protect his son. “It’s like, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ or ‘We gotta talk to our admissions department.’ That’s what we get back.”
The father said eligibility could be an issue for transfers, especially because Donda Academy is not an accredited high school.
“Eligibility, because it’s so late — we’re three months into school right now,” he said. “We want to make sure he goes to the right school.”
Jaylen Brown offered sponsor basketball tournaments willing to schedule the Donda Academy after Kanye West antisemitic backlash sparked cancellations.
Why was Dillingham’s decision pivotal to the team’s existence?
Dillingham is the No. 1-ranked point guard in the 2023 class. A hugely entertaining offensive machine, Dillingham gave Donda instant credibility when he enrolled before last season.
His presence was a drawing card for established national tournaments wanting to bring in as many future NBA players as possible. Dillingham’s potential for name, image and likeness deals is high, but he needs continued visibility on the court.
No doubt Dillingham consulted with coaches at Kentucky before transferring to Overtime Elite to ensure that he meets NCAA eligibility requirements.
Aaron Donald had to reiterate why he chose to leave Donda Sports because of antisemitic comments made by Kanye West, but the Rams now need to turn their attention to the rival 49ers.
How do players feel about four national tournaments barring Donda?
“It was just weird how they would drop us from tournaments based off … what Kanye was saying,” Johnson said. “But it makes sense — they don’t want their brand to be tied to his name, I guess, or anything to do — because of the comments he made. So I would understand it, but I feel like it just doesn’t have anything to do with us.”
“We obviously feel it’s not fair. Not being able to play in a tournament because of what he was saying.”
Are players worried about fallout from playing for a team founded by Kanye?
Johnson said he and teammates have talked about the long-term impact of playing for Donda Academy. They aren’t optimistic.
“We’re all keeping that in mind, just seeing maybe — playing for him, at the end of the day, with the Donda Dove on our chest, we’re basically playing for Kanye,” Johnson said. “It’s his school. So having our names tied to him could lead to some things — maybe some agents, NIL’s wouldn’t want to do deals with us, maybe, or people wouldn’t want to sign us, or anything like that. So now, we’re just trying figure out.”
The Mamba Sports Academy no longer will use Kobe Bryant’s iconic nickname following a mutual agreement with the Lakers legend’s estate.
Is Kanye still involved with the Donda basketball team?
West made an appearance at the Sports Academy on Friday night, but it was to watch his daughter play in a basketball tournament, not to address the Donda team.
The father of one of the players who spoke under the condition of anonymity paraphrased West’s recruiting pitch to his son: “’He come here, he’s going to be one of the top athletes in the country, we’re going to continue to push, he’s an emerging star right now, we’re going to continue to build that brand, and he’s going to be able to increase his earning potential on that platform, and on our platform.’
“And pretty much, none of that happened.
“I requested to have a conversation with Mr. West through some of his staff … and they kinda blew me off a little bit. I just want to know, what’s up? I just want to know, what do you have in place for these children’s future?
His son and his Donda teammates believed they were part of a special opportunity. Instead, the entire program is on the verge of collapse. The father is just concerned for his son.
“He’s kinda gotta pick up the pieces,” the father said.
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