MONTREAL - Controversial youth basketball coach Ro Russell rejected CBC allegations that he exploited Canadian teenagers by misleading their parents into paying him directly to attend an American basketball academy.
Russell spoke to QMI Agency after refusing to grant an interview to The Fifth Estate, which on Friday broadcast an hour-long documentary centred on the Toronto native's track record as a hoops coach and power broker on both sides of the border.
Several basketball figures criticized Russell in the documentary, including former Team Canada coach Leo Rautins and Ron Neclario, the head coach at Cardozo High School in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The most serious allegation concerned tuition payments that Laurie Anderson, mother of athlete Braeden Anderson, said she thought had gone to North Carolina-based Christian Faith Center Academy (CFCA) for the 2009-2010 season.
The Fifth Estate said the money, which amounted to thousands of dollars for each of the 11 athletes, instead went to a school with a similar name that's owned by Russell.
The coach did not dispute that fact but said Laurie Anderson and the parents of the 10 other boys knew they were paying him directly and agreed to do so.
He explained that he was forced to set up his own temporary academy in 2009 after American student visas for CFCA were unexpectedly delayed.
Russell said the Canadian kids trained in the CFCA gym in Creedmoor, N.C., but did not attend classes that year and instead took online courses.
"They weren't at the school so they would they pay me," said Russell, adding that the tuition covered a full basketball schedule, travel and lodging while he took "very, very little salary.
"Obviously the guys lived there, and the transportation, gas, amenities, food, car rentals ... you have to pay bills."
Braeden Anderson and another former player, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, told the CBC that Russell hung them out to dry. Anderson, a 6-foot-9 forward from Okotoks, Alta., said Russell failed to supervise the students in the dorm, located an hour from campus.
"We were basically on our own," Anderson told the CBC. "Basketball was everything. That's all we did. School was there, but it was basically basketball."
Anderson accepted an offer last year from the University of Kansas but couldn't play because he was only ruled a partial-qualifier due to his online courses. He has since moved on to Fresno State and says he holds no grudges against his former coach, but hasn't forgotten his experience.
"He knows what he was responsible for and most of the world does as well," said Anderson. "It's no secret."
Rathan-Mayes, a 6-foot-3 guard from Toronto, provided The Fifth Estate with video of the players' residence in Creedmoor that showed holes in the wall, a filthy kitchen and unsupervised young players surfing down a staircase on a mattress.
A source close to the team told QMI Agency that it was Rathan-Mayes who caused the damage.
Russell added that he lived with the players, supervised them "95% of the time" and has since brought in two adult supervisors.
He also vehemently denied taking illicit payments and says that he turned down lucrative opportunities to stay in Creedmoor, a village located about an hour north of Raleigh.
"After last (season), I was offered a Division I assistant coaching job," said Russell, who splits time between Creedmoor and Toronto, where his wife and son live.
"I could have easily said, 'I've had enough of this, this didn't work out, I'm out,' and make my (money)," he said. I came back and stuck with it. Who's going to do that?"
The native of Toronto's tough Jane and Finch neighbourhood said the CBC built its story around two disgruntled players and Rautins, who "despises me." Russell singled out Rathan-Mayes, who he said left the program amid attitude and disciplinary problems.
"He couldn't get what he wanted from me," Russell said of the guard, who left his program last year. "(CBC) found Xavier and ... Braeden Anderson ... rather than talk about all the success stories, you're just going to isolate and talk to a couple of kids who said this and that."
Russell mentioned that five players from his first team came back the second year, and his entire core returned this season. He says that would have been impossible had the allegations been true.
"Why would their parents drive them down here and drop them off in the house?" he asked. "No parent is going to leave their sons in a situation that's bad."
He said the long-standing criticism from basketball coaches, including Rautins, is based on jealously he said intensified when proteges Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph were first-round NBA draft selections last year.
"You look at people that impacted society, they've always been ridiculed," said Russell, whose Toronto-based Grassroots club program has produced over 100 scholarship players.
He says his Christian faith has prevented bitterness from setting in.
"Glory to God for opportunities and the favour he's given."