RICHMOND, Calif. (AP) -- Five years after he made headlines by benching his unbeaten team for slacking off in the classroom, basketball coach Ken Carter has a new career as a motivational speaker and is the focus of an upcoming Hollywood movie.

But what he's really excited about is what happened to his former players: Of his five starters and a key reserve, all have attended college, two have NFL hopes and one is playing semi-professional basketball.

"The boys are just doing phenomenal," said Carter, who reunited with his former players for an alumni game at Richmond High School on Tuesday night.

Before the game, the players stood in their old school library to talk about how far they've come and where they want to be. Cardiology, optometry, sociology -- some were closer to their goals than others but all had serious plans.

Wayne Oliver, a senior in 1999, had transferred to Richmond High with straight "Fs."

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"I was on a bad path," Oliver said.

Then he hooked up with Carter and Oliver went from flunking to honor roll.

"Coach Carter, he always focused on us keeping focused and being serious about what we do," said Oliver, now playing for the American Basketball Association's Las Vegas Rattlers.

Sometimes people start conversations with the 6-7 Oliver, Does he play basketball? Where? It's not unusual for the conversation to end up with the story of the benched team of 1999.

"It hasn't gone away," he said.

When Carter benched his team for a week, none was failing the district-required 2.0 grade point average and quite a few -- including most of the starters -- had B averages and better.

But others of the 45 members of the varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams weren't living up to a team contract of a 2.3 GPA and there was also a problem with students showing up late for class.

Just being average, said Carter, wasn't enough.

Starter Chris Gibson had a 2.1 GPA when the team was locked out and at first he was puzzled by the punishment. But "when we saw the big picture, we supported it," he said.

Gibson understood Carter's message not to skimp on education. Tendinitis on his left knee as a young adult underscored that. "Athletics can be taken away from you like that," said Gibson, now studying hotel management at the University of New Orleans.

Back in January 1999, Carter got pretty much the reaction he expected when he forfeited two games by ordering his 13-0 players out of the gym and into the library: His car was egged.

Some felt Carter was stomping on a rare winning streak for Richmond, a city of about 100,000 east of San Francisco that has struggled with gang violence and currently is scrambling to fix a $9.5 million deficit.

But soon the story of the tough urban coach who insisted that his players perform in class as well as on the court caught fire. When Carter's chastened team resumed play, then-Gov. Gray Davis showed up.

The team eventually finished 19-5 and lost in the second round of the district playoffs.

These days, Carter couldn't be more proud of his former team members.

"It's just great to see them excelling outside of sports," said Carter, who has given up coaching at Richmond for a career as a motivational speaker and self-help author.

This year, the story of Carter and his team moves to the big screen in "Coach Carter," a Paramount Pictures movie starring Samuel L. Jackson and the R&B; singer Ashanti that begins filming this week.

Carter, grandson of a sharecropper in Mississippi, sometimes feels like he needs to pinch himself.

"Who ever would have thought when we were little kids in Mississippi with no shoes, actually drawing water from a well, that anything like this could happen?" he asked. "It's just amazing."

As a little boy, Carter used to run to the local store and imagine he was carrying the Olympic torch. That boyhood dream came true in January 2002, when he carried the torch for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

And his mother tells the story of how they were in the kitchen baking a cake when Carter, about 8 at the time, picked up a spoon and started interviewing himself, telling his amused parent, "Mom, one day they're going to make a movie out of me."

Carter jokes that he should predict he'll win the lottery.

Then he pauses.

"This whole situation, with the maturity of the kids," he says, "this is better than winning the lottery."