Chinese hoops star in San Diego received $30,000 in improper benefits

A high-rising basketball prospect from China playing at a high school in the San Diego area has been declared ineligible for his senior season because he was being financially supported by marketers in China.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Chen Cai received more than $30,000 from a group of Chinese sports marketers that were formerly affiliated with Nike and Yao Ming, the Chinese star of the Houston Rockets. Cai's ineligibility comes on the heels of a wide-ranging investigation into the Maranatha Christian High School basketball program, for which Cai played the past three seasons. Last year, the 6-foot-8 forward averaged 25.7 points and 16.6 rebounds per game. Rie Nichols, the Maranatha coach who formerly coached Yao Ming, has resigned amidst significant fallout that has included the school offering to forfeit all its wins from games in which Cai appeared.

The investigation was launched by the San Diego section of the California Interscholastic Federation, which hired a private investigator to check into Cai's time at Maranatha. That investigator's final report is a troubling look on Cai's existence in America, tying nearly all direct decisions relating to his time at Maranatha to two men formerly intimately tied to both Nike and Yao Ming: Terry Rhoads and Frank Sha.

The Union-Tribune highlighted the following salient details from the full report:

"[Rhoads and Sha] spent more than $30,000 on this kid (Chen), not to mention paying his living bills, paying the training, paying the parents to come to the U.S. three times."

The report says that information came from an e-mail from Sha to Jerald Clark, a former Padres player who, along with his wife Lydia, a teacher at Maranatha, was letting Chen live with them as his host family.

"Terry Rhoads and Frank Sha of Zou Marketing are in complete control of all matters relating to Chen Cai," the report said.

As if that wasn't enough drama, questions have also been raised about whether he is actually 17, as his official documents attest, or 20, as some believe.

Cai isn't the first player to run afoul of regulations under Nichols' watch at Maranatha, either. Just last year Maranatha players Raul Borquez and Sergio Garcia were named ineligible after allegations that they had been part of pre-recruiting contact with Nichols emerged.

While there are still plenty of details to be sorted out, one thing is certain: Something unacceptable was going on inside the Maranatha High School basketball program. In the report, Lydia Clark insisted that she was not providing Cai with money, but that she believed the Chinese player was being funneled cash by Rhoads and one of his Chinese associates. She also claimed to see Cai's mother, who could not communicate in English, handle large wads of cash within her sight.

Even Chen's money from tuition was all but openly tainted; his school file claims that the $7,000 to cover his 2007 tuition at the school came "from unknown sources."

It's unknown what Cai will do now, or who will be leading the Maranatha program during the 2010 season. Only one thing is certain: Neither the player nor school's future will involve Rie Nichols.

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