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UC Irvine's Mamadou Ndiaye (L) and UCF's Tacko Fall, both of Senegal, meet in a 2015 NCAA game. Photo: Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Joel Embiid. Pascal Siakam. Serge Ibaka. Those are three of the 15 active NBA players from Africa, and they represent an ever-strengthening link between African talent and American hoops.

Yes, but: According to a year-long "60 Minutes" investigation, countless other African players who have come to the U.S. as teenagers to chase their hoop dreams have been lost in a tangled web of deception.

What they're saying: The Africa-to-U.S. basketball trail "is littered with corrupt fly-by-night high schools and shadowy middlemen and academies that mislead families, run roughshod over immigration rules and sometimes commit federal crimes," per SI, which published an accompanying report.

How it works: For African teens to come to the U.S. legally, they must secure an I-20 visa, which allows them to study at a specific high school. But only certain institutions — like the since-shutdown Evelyn Mack Academy in Charlotte — are authorized to distribute these visas, making them hubs of illicit recruitment.

  • There have been 75 cases in which a middleman paid Evelyn Mack $1,000 per visa to get a certain player into the country.
  • Once the teenager lands, they're whisked away to another school in another state (whichever school the middleman works with/for) and then they're on their own. It's awful.

Horror stories:

  • Blessing Ejiofor of Nigeria arrived in 2014 at the age of 15, "so excited" to attend such a beautiful school, which Evelyn Mack purported to be on its fake website. But when she got off the plane, a coach met her and took her to East Side High School in Patterson, New Jersey. Somehow, Blessing landed on her feet and is now a junior starter at West Virginia.
  • Christian Mulumba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo arrived in 2016, headed for the West Virginia Prep Academy. Turns out, it was fake. He and others in his position "had little food and were forced to sleep on the floor of a tiny, unfurnished apartment." Christian ultimately left with nothing but a terrible experience.
  • One middleman in the Midwest became the legal guardian of the two players he recruited. Once they arrived in the U.S., he made them sign contracts entitling himself to 40% of their future earnings.

Looking ahead: The "60 Minutes" investigation, which helped lead to the closure of Evelyn Mack and the conviction of its owner, was undoubtedly a boon to kids like Christian and Blessing, and the NBA's soon-to-launch Basketball Africa League will hopefully bring more transparency and integrity to this pipeline.

  • There's more work to be done, but what began so innocently in the 1980s with Hakeem Olajuwon and reached its nadir in the 2010s with a vast network of nefarious middlemen, seems to finally be turning a corner.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

4 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.