AUSTIN — Three star basketball players at Deion Sanders' Prime Prep Academy in Dallas won't be hitting the hardwood this season.
State University Interscholastic League officials unanimously benched them on Wednesday, ruling they are ineligible to play because they transferred to the school for athletics instead of academic reasons.
The three players transferred from Arlington Grace Prep, one of the best teams in the nation last year. But they lost their appeal to play this year.
Three weeks ago, the UIL District 11-3A Executive Committee ruled the three players broke state rules by following their head coach from Grace Prep to Prime Prep, hoping to form a basketball powerhouse at Sanders' new charter school.
The parents and guardians of the players appealed the decision to the UIL State Executive Committee meeting in Austin on Wednesday, and the president of Prime Prep, D.L. Wallace, was there to defend them.
“I did not know all three students transferred from Grace Prep at the time,” Wallace said. “You don't know what you have at a charter school until August 27th when we opened."
But Prime Prep's opposing team coaches — who also serve on the local UIL committee — showed up in force to testify against the students’ transfers.
"I've gotten a call from several coaches stating that their kids are being recruited," said Ronald Johnson, head football coach at Madison High School.
Other coaches also testified against Prime Prep.
"These kids are going to Prime Prep strictly for athletics," said Aaron Emeyabbi, head football coach at Ferris High School.
The state board stood firm, voting 5-0 to uphold the local UIL decision declaring the students ineligible for at least one year.
The father of one student said he's not done.
"I just have to speak with my attorney and see what we need to do for the next step, because I feel that you are now affecting kids' futures," said Damon Collins.
Deion Sanders left the meeting without comment.
A fourth basketball player who transferred from Grace Prep was originally approved to play, but his transfer is now also believed to have been for athletic purposes, and will be challenged in the coming days.