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ERIC SONDHEIMER

Success by the Book, and Homegrown

April 18, 2004|ERIC SONDHEIMER

High school basketball is a troubled sport, with individuals willing to break recruiting rules for the sake of winning.

There is a glimmer of hope, though, based on the changing motivations and priorities of at least one prominent coach, Inglewood's Patrick Roy.

Roy, who just completed his 11th season, said he recruited players until three years ago, when he lost a player who decided to transfer for fear he'd never get the chance to play varsity at Inglewood.

It made Roy realize he was pushing away teenagers from his own neighborhood and making a mockery of an aspect of life he was supposed to be teaching: loyalty.

Roy said he persuaded basketball players to enroll at his school by promising them preferential treatment, not shoes.

"I just talked to kids about coming and telling them what I could do for them personally and knowing a lot of college coaches," he said.

This season, Roy experienced perhaps the most satisfying victory of his coaching career, taking a team with 10 losses and guiding it to a Southern Section Division II-AA semifinal upset of 17-time champion Santa Ana Mater Dei.

The game reinforced Roy's belief that a team of neighborhood kids can pull together for a common goal.

"If you can get your kids to believe in themselves and play hard and let them buy into the philosophy, you can beat anybody, anytime," he said.

Roy was selected South Bay coach of the year by the Daily Breeze, which quoted him last month about his change in coaching philosophy.

"If a boy plays in the ninth, 10th and 11th grade in our lower levels, should he play for three years and then not play varsity because I recruited someone else?" Roy said. "My allegiance has to be to the kids, not to winning."

Roy concedes that illegal recruiting is the "strongest it's ever been in the history of high school basketball."

He added: "A lot of adults are behind it, but ultimately, kids suffer. I think CIF has to start looking at adults who encourage kids to do these things. A lot of parents don't understand what's going on."

But finding adults willing to clean up the sport by reporting infractions on the record is difficult. Even Roy is unwilling to participate.

"I'll never be one of the guys who turns someone in for cheating," he said. "I know a lot of things going on, but I won't mention it to anyone. For me, my ultimate loyalty" is for the kids at Inglewood.

What has helped move Roy beyond the world of recruiting is a revised definition of success for high school basketball.

"Success is not just winning," he said. "It's being able to get kids into universities and colleges and being a role model, and giving them something to carry on in life. It's not just putting on a ring."

Roy's team lost to Compton Dominguez in the II-AA championship game, but he gained respect because of what he accomplished with his own players and not a group of transfer students.

Let's hope Roy's change in coaching philosophy is a trend and not the exception for a sport that needs to cleanse itself of illegal recruiters and send them where they belong: the college level.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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