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Westchester to Face Recruiting Allegations

November 05, 2002|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

Westchester High, the reigning state boys' basketball champion, will appear before a special City Section rules committee today on allegations it has recruited top players from other schools.

Ray Reese of Carson High and Gabriel Pruitt of Compton Centennial transferred to Westchester this fall under unusual circumstances, officials from their former schools contend. If the committee determines a violation has occurred, either or both players could be deemed ineligible and the Comet basketball program could be punished.

This is the fourth time in three years Westchester has been formally accused of recruiting. The Comet basketball program was put on probation two years ago when it was determined a player participated in a summer tournament with Westchester before the transfer from his former school was official. That player, guard Hassan Adams, was the leading scorer on the Comets' state title-winning team last season and is now at Arizona on a basketball scholarship.

Westchester has had a winning boys' basketball team for years but only recently has gained national prominence -- an improvement some opposing coaches credit to the program's relationship with Nike. The Comets are one of about 15 teams in the nation outfitted head-to-toe for free by the shoe and apparel giant, and they travel to several showcase tournaments with Nike footing at least part of the bill.

The free gear and national exposure are hard for athletes and their parents to resist, critics say. Last year, the champion Comets didn't have a player from within the school's primary attendance area.

Jeff Halpern, assistant commissioner of the City Section, said the 10-member panel of athletic directors and principals, convened especially for this occasion, will be studying "how kids are getting there, and is it being done legally."

Carson administrators are accusing Westchester of multiple rules violations in the transfer of Reese, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who last season distinguished himself as one of the best young forwards in the section. They say Reese was recruited by Comet assistant Marlon Morton and that his father, Ray Reese Sr., was coached on how to get his son legally transferred by Westchester Athletic Director Brian Henderson.

Shortly after the current school year began, Reese's father filed for an "opportunity transfer for social adjustment," a complex transfer in which a student requests to leave a school because the student feels at risk from gang members or other students.

Typically in such cases, Carson officials said, parents talk in "layman's terms" with school administrators when expressing concern about their child. "Not too many people come in off the street and for a specific type of transfer" like the Reeses did, Carson assistant principal Rosie Martinez said.

Carson officials say Reese told them his son was threatened at gunpoint and that personal items, including a cell phone, were stolen. School administrators say they do not have a record of the incidents.

Reese's younger brother, a freshman, remains at Carson. "We would like to know why Carson was such an unsafe situation for [Reese], but it is OK for his brother," Martinez said.

Carson administrators say Henderson, who is also a varsity basketball assistant, left a voice mail for Carson basketball Coach Richard Masson saying that he told Reese's father how to ask for the specific transfer request.

The City Section prohibits athletic officials from personal contact with a student from another school before the student has checked out of that school.

"Something ought to be done other than a slap on the wrist," Masson said. Phone calls seeking comment to Reese Sr., Reese Jr. and Henderson were not returned.

Reese has been denied a transfer on three occasions -- first by Martinez, then by Carson Principal Doug Waybright, then by the district that has jurisdiction over Carson, Local District K of the L.A. Unified School District.

After Reese was denied by the district, his father filed for an official change of residence. City Section students are allowed to transfer once without losing athletic eligibility if they change residences within the boundaries of the section. But Carson is challenging whether Reese resides at the given address.

Schools are expected to verify a student's residence through the Pupil Service and Attendance program at each LAUSD campus. A PSA worker who recently checked Reese's claimed address was unsatisfied.

"They saw his toothbrush there, his tennis shoes ... they didn't see a lot of clothes," said Morton, a Westchester assistant. "That's the one thing they mentioned."

Morton said Reese stays at the apartment with a cousin during the week and "on the weekends, he goes back home" to live with his father in Carson.

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