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The New York Post
One New Jersey high school basketball coach seemingly will stop at nothing to win, housing - but barely feeding - six international players to make his program a winner, according to an explosive report. Now he's paying the price.
NJ Advance Media chronicled the troubling, potentially illegal, situation in which all six students appeared to be living at the home of Juan Griles, the basketball coach of Paterson Eastside High School, a top public school program in the state's cutthroat hoops ecosystem.
Hours after the report, the city school district announced it has suspended Griles with pay from his teaching job at the school and without pay from his coaching duties. Assistant coach Albert Maldonado was also suspended without pay. Retired state Supreme Court justice John Wallace has been hired to investigate the situation, and the district will reassign coaching duties for the basketball team, which is the No. 1 seeded team in the Passaic County tournament.
The six players - three from Puerto Rico and three from Nigeria - are 17 or 18 years old and have enrolled in the school the past two years, two in 2015 and four since September, according to student profiles in a district database (The names of the players were withheld in the report for legal and privacy reasons). As of last week, the report says, five of the boys listed the 50-year-old Griles as their legal guardian and his home as their primary address; the sixth student listed Maldonado as his guardian. NJ Advance Media observed the players departing Griles' home, at staggered times, on four mornings in late January.
But the report suggests a pattern of neglect, with not enough food to go around for six growing boys. One player described dinner as spaghetti for "a whole two weeks" or "just a loaf of bread to last two people for like two weeks." The player also said the international students sometimes would go to a local church looking for food, and didn't eat anything on Thanksgiving.
A source from the school district said one player was asked to leave so his portion of the food could go to another player, and a different player was recently found in tears at school because he feared being told the same.
Indeed, one of the six players appears to have been exiled from Griles' house and last week was found alone by a teacher after having spent the night in a local Dunkin' Donuts, sources said; Paterson is a notoriously crime-ridden city.
Sources told NJ Advance Media the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency is investigating the students' safety, how they got to Paterson and who has legal custody. New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association assistant director Larry White said it could violate state rules involving recruiting, athletic advantage transfers and coaching protocol.
Griles, who has been head coach at Eastside since 2010, denied any wrongdoing to NJ Advance Media.
"Everything we do here is legit," he said.
Though records show Griles as a guardian for four of the players, he said he was the legal guardian for just two of the players from Puerto Rico, where he once lived, and is the godfather to one of the players. He denied more than two of the players have lived with him - he conceded a player might crash with him on occasion - and denied he was a guardian to more than two of the players. The student profile of one of the Nigerian players reportedly was changed in the past week to indicate Maldonado was now his legal guardian.
"I know people are jealous of our success here," Griles said. "I'm a coach, I'm a mentor to a lot of kids in the city of Paterson. If a kid is struggling at home if a kid wants to sleep over for a couple days before we can join him back with his family, I'll do it.
"If you pass by my house, you might see six, seven or four, but they all don't live here."
Paterson public schools spokeswoman Terry Corallo conceded that Griles is a legal guardian for two of the students and Maldonado for the other two. She declined to answer further questions.
"Additionally, for approximately three months, Coach Griles had two additional players living with him temporarily as these students were displaced with nowhere to live," Corallo said in a statement. "They no longer live with him."
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