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Eric Sondheimer ON HIGH SCHOOLS Eric Sondheimer ON
HIGH SCHOOLS

Transfers take toll on basketball

September 08, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

It's time to wave the white flag of surrender when it comes to trying to control the proliferation of transfers in high school boys' basketball.

The Southern Section, the City Section and the California Interscholastic Federation can put forth all the transfer restrictions they want, but it's not deterring parents, their publicity-seeking sons and travel coaches from embracing the switching-schools routine for athletic reasons.

The first week of school has become a maddening moment for coaches waiting to see who has left and who has arrived based on summer rumors, and this past week produced some strange scenes.

At Woodland Hills Taft, the City Section champions welcomed three top transfer students -- 6-foot-5 junior Bryce Jones from Los Angeles View Park Prep, 6-7 junior De'Andre Daniels from La Canada Renaissance and sophomore point guard Dominique Evans from Van Nuys.

At Van Nuys, two players who arrived the year before from Sylmar -- Victor Rudd and Willie Hankins -- left for Las Vegas.

At Renaissance, the state Division V runner-up, four players left, headed by 6-foot-10 Anthony Stover, who's now at Los Angeles Windward. Two players arrived at Renaissance from Reseda and Pasadena Maranatha.

At Santa Ana Mater Dei, 6-4 junior guard Tyler Lamb from Ontario Colony is supposed to check in at any time, though a Mater Dei official said no enrollment papers had been processed as of Friday. Lamb committed to UCLA last month and would join a starting five that has to be considered the best in the state.

At Van Nuys Grant, Coach Howard Levine, in his 24th season, is still trying to find out what happened to his team's returning all-leaguer, 6-2 Josh De La Torre. On Aug. 26, De La Torre was at Grant working out with freshman players. By Sept. 3, the first day of school, he was gone.

"It's upsetting," Levine said, "especially when you feel like the kid gives you no clue throughout the entire summer. I look on my roll sheet the first day and he's not there and isn't answering phone calls."

Welcome to the modern era of high school basketball. It's not a pretty scene, and it's the reason there won't be many coaches sticking around for 25-year tenures as in the past.

Steve Miller, a former coach at North Hollywood who retired after the 1997 season, said he's grateful to be gone after seeing what has happened.

"It's sickening," he said. "You put in so much time and then wonder if it's all worth it when [the player] leaves to go to a better deal."

On the other side are the parents who believe they have the right to move their child any time they want for academic, athletic or any reason.

High school sports has evolved into a multifaceted scene, with increasing focus on what it offers for the individual rather than the team. It's now about branding opportunities, exposure to recruiters and media, and preparing for future stardom. Taft Coach Derrick Taylor, under scrutiny for receiving transfers, said his school has lost numerous players in recent years, citing a summer game in which he counted nine ex-Taft players playing for Reseda.

"We are a farm team for the San Fernando Valley," he said.

Students are leaving so quickly they don't even have time -- or the courtesy -- to tell their coach.

At least Lamb and his parents informed Colony Coach Jerry DeFabiis of their decision, citing "family issues."

"We were successful before Tyler, and we'll be successful after," DeFabiis said. "I wish him the best."

Asked for his thoughts about player movement the first week of school, Southern Section Commissioner Jim Staunton said, "This late in the game and knowing the summer associations, it clearly looks like these kids are being manipulated and moved around like chess pieces, and it does concern me."

What needs to be done?

"I don't know what the answer is," Levine said. "This isn't high school basketball. You can't make plans. You don't know what you have going into September."

Levine coached Gilbert Arenas, who moved into the Grant district from Birmingham, then came close to transferring to Sylmar in his senior year. He stayed, however, and is now an NBA All-Star and a multimillionaire.

"They don't want to hear how hard Gilbert had to work," Levine said of today's players.

On Thursday, Bob Becker, the coach who has revitalized the basketball program at Cerritos Gahr, showed up for the first day of school and learned that his team's best player, junior guard Ervin Ware, had withdrawn and is on his way to another school.

High school basketball is a mess, and those who still love the sport had better come up with a solution soon because it's headed for a crash.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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