On “Devil in a New Dress,” Kanye West dubbed himself “the LeBron of rhyme,” but if recent reports are true then he’s more like rap’s John Calipari. According to several prominent sports outlets, four elite basketball prospects have committed to a new school West is launching called Donda Academy.
Last month, the Simi Valley Acorn reported that West was “eyeing” a plot of land in California between Moorpark and Simi Valley, west of Los Angeles. That piece also reported that the school would feature “classrooms, labs, offices, a kitchen, restrooms, storage, a basketball court and an open field” (you know, normal high school things).
MTV News further explained that the Donda Academy would be a tuition-free private K-12 school. Like West’s 10th studio album, the school’s name is a tribute to his late mother, who was a professor and department chair at Chicago State University.
The four prospects reportedly attending are Zion Cruz, Jahki Howard, Robert Dillingham, and Jalen Hooks. Cruz is considered one of the 30 best players in the class of 2022, and has scholarship offers from Auburn, Memphis, and Ohio State. Howard won’t graduate until 2024, but already is being pursued by Florida, Florida State, and LSU.
Dillingham might be the most highly-touted of the bunch, a consensus top-10 player in the class of 2023, who is widely expected to attend college basketball blue blood North Carolina. Hooks ranks in the top 75 of the same class, with offers from Marquette, Illinois, and Pittsburgh.
All four players have even changed their Instagram profile pictures to a black circle, a likely allusion to the Donda album’s minimalist cover art.
“It’s just one of those things you can’t pass up,” Hooks told the IndyStar of his choice to transfer. “It was more of a family decision, too. All of us just felt like it was a chance to reach my full potential and grow and get ready for the college level.”
It’s unclear exactly what West’s involvement was in recruiting these talented kids (if he had any directly at all), but the Kanye connection clearly brings Donda Academy a tremendous amount of cultural cachet with young people.
In the world of high school sports, it’s not unusual for prominent figures to start their own academic institutions with the purpose of recruiting talent. Legendary NFL player Deion Sanders ran Prime Prep Academy, which was shut down in 2014, and the father of five-star Memphis commit Emoni Bates founded Ypsi Prep in Michigan for his son and other basketball prospects. Back in 2013, Pitbull helped spearhead the Sports Leadership and Management Academy, an athletics-focused charter school in Miami.
A concern with these new schools is whether they will meet NCAA accreditation rules to ensure that athletes are eligible to play at the college level. Beulah McLoyd, an educator originally from Chicago, is working with Donda Academy as a consultant, and she’s listed as its official contact.
The school’s website is sparse, but does include an all-caps explanation of its goal: “Donda Academy–finding the intersection between faith and the innovation of the future, Donda Academy is focused on equipping students with an education that will last in the ever-changing world.” There’s also a longer mission statement and an admission form, which will come in handy if GQ decides to pull a 21 Jump Street and send a reporter over.
This isn’t West’s first foray into the world of education. Last October, he posted a video on Twitter announcing the Yeezy Christian Academy, which featured his own children and others repeating the line “Dear future, I still believe in you” while clad in YCA shirts that surely would run you $650 on Grailed. (There’s been no significant news since then about the Yeezy Christian Academy.)
The timing of West’s big foray into the world of high school sports also comes with news of a new Yeezy brand basketball sneaker. In 2018, Nick Young became something of a meme for playing an actual NBA game in a pair of Yeezys, but that may become far more commonplace if Cruz, Howard, Dillingham, Hooks, or any subsequent Donda Academy basketball stars make it to the league.