In October 2021, Kanye West launched Donda Sports Academy and it quickly became an elite high school prep basketball team that was playing in top tournaments and showcases around the country. Five-star prospects Rob Dillingham and Zion Cruz were the first high-major prospects to join the team and soon others followed. West — also known as Ye — showed up periodically throughout the season and would sit courtside watching his young squad.
Fast forward one year and West's venture into the basketball space, in high school and the pros, is nonexistent. The fall of Donda Sports Academy happened fast after West recently made numerous antisemitic comments publicly in early October and donned a "White Lives Matter" T-shirt during Paris Fashion Week. West has also been dropped by Adidas, his partner and manufacture for his Yeezy brand, and many connected in the sports and fashion industry (Foot Locker, Gap, Balenciaga) have all severed ties with West.
The Donda Doves had a full national schedule until West's comments. The team, based out of Calabasas, California, was coming off a strong showing at the Border League in Las Vegas where two of its games were broadcast on ESPN.
"We have athleticism, we can shoot the ball and once we find our chemistry no one will be able to beat us," Dillingham told Yahoo Sports after Donda's final game at the Border League.
This year's team was led by five-star Kentucky commit Dillingham, five-star combo guard A.J. Johnson, four-star wing J.J. Taylor and three-star wing Justin Johnson. The Doves won their last game, 69-67, against Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas). Dillingham had 35 points and five rebounds while Justin Johnson added 14 points.
After returning from a strong showing in Las Vegas, four national tournaments quickly dropped the Doves in response to West’s hate speech. It started a domino effect of players scrambling to find other teams ahead of the season and unsure if Donda Academy would still even have a school year or basketball season. Within two days, Taylor announced he was transferring to San Ysidro High School in San Diego to team up with four-star guard Mikey Williams and Justin Johnson transferred back to his hometown school, Doral Academy in Florida.
On Thursday, Dillingham and A.J. Johnson announced they would both be transferring and leaving Donda Academy, essentially ending the Doves' run as an elite national prep team. Dillingham signed with Overtime Elite, while maintaining his college eligibility and Johnson is transferring to Southern California Academy, an elite prep school in Los Angeles.
“I couldn’t be more excited to join OTE,” Dillingham said in a news release. “The team and resources they offer are amazing and this is an incredible opportunity to continue to develop my game and take it to the next level, while competing against elite talent.”
Two weeks ago, Dillingham put on a show in Atlanta at Overtime Elite's opening night, finishing with 36 points (four 3-pointers) and four steals. Sources told Yahoo Sports that OTE was the first program and team to reach out to Dillingham after Donda Academy initially announced it was shutting down the school.
Other players on the team don't have the means or the option to transfer to another school or program this late into the fall season.
“I’ve heard from a lot of players on the team and they’re all pretty much — a couple of them are just staying, they came from nothing, they don’t got nowhere else to go,” Johnson told the Los Angeles Times. “No other prep school teams to go to, no one else is recruiting them, so they want to stay. So a lot of people want to stay without — even if Rob or me leave, people want to stay.”
"I feel bad for the players and the situation Kanye has put them in," one Power Five assistant coach told Yahoo Sports. "Some of them went to Donda to play with guys like Rob [Dillingham] and A.J. [Johnson] to maybe get more exposure and opportunities to play in these national tournaments so coaches could see them against tougher competition. It's a bad situation for most of these kids now and not what they signed up for at the start of the season and none of it is their fault."
Donda Sports Academy was showing signs of growth in its second season. Further opportunities for young basketball players came crashing down after West's actions, leaving the players to pick up the pieces themselves.