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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Transfer of players is ruining basketball

The sport has sadly become a venue for players, parents and coaches to manipulate the system.

September 15, 2009|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Professional sports have their free-agent periods, and now high school basketball has one too. It's called the late spring and summer, when top prospects review their options while playing for club teams.

It wasn't until last week, when most schools finally opened and college coaches started making the rounds, that everyone revealed their true intentions. And what a surprise: several top players had changed schools.

This is what high school basketball has sadly become, a venue for players, parents and coaches to manipulate the system in the name of gaining exposure, landing scholarships and winning championships.

There are so many transfers that some by-the-book coaches have given up expressing outrage.

"Nothing surprises me about high school basketball anymore," Los Angeles University Coach Steve Ackerman said. "We've seen so much we've become desensitized. I don't get angry anymore."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 16, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
High school basketball: Eric Sondheimer's column on basketball transfers in Tuesday's Sports section said Mike VanKirk transferred to Santa Ana Mater Dei High from Lancaster Paraclete. VanKirk decided to stay at Paraclete after playing in the summer with Mater Dei.

Added Los Angeles Loyola Coach Jamal Adams: "The stigma of having transfers is gone."

The system is broke and no one is trying to fix it.

The same schools keep competing for championships, rarely having rebuilding years because new players from other schools keep checking in.

The big winner this year was City Section power Woodland Hills Taft, which picked up 6-foot-10 junior center Kevin Johnson from Gardena Serra, senior guard Jordan Gathers from Loyola and 6-5 sophomore Brandon Perry from Canyon Country Canyon.

That comes after last year's arrival of Texas-bound De'Andre Daniels from La Canada Renaissance, USC-bound Bryce Jones from Los Angeles View Park Prep, guard Dominique Evans from Van Nuys and guard Sam Natt from Dorsey. The Toreadors lost in last season's City championship game.

At Santa Ana Mater Dei, Arizona State-bound Keala King from Compton Dominguez checked in, along with 6-6 Max Hooper from San Jose Valley Christian and Mike VanKirk, a 7-footer from Lancaster Paraclete. Last season at this time, it was UCLA-bound Tyler Lamb joining the Monarchs, who lost in the Southern Section Division I-AA final.

At Los Angeles Price, 6-9 Richard Solomon from Torrance Bishop Montgomery and 6-9 Norvel Pelle from Dominguez have joined the program. Yet another example of the rich getting richer: Price last season won the Division IV-AA title.

Taft Coach Derrick Taylor said about transfers, "As long as they come legit, I will take them all."

At least Taylor is being honest.

The impact of the transfer game is affecting all of basketball's stakeholders. Coaches feel betrayed when they lose someone they've helped. Fans feel deceived when a player they've supported and trusted suddenly changes allegiance. Teammates feel duped when they discover all the hard work invested in spring and summer competitions no longer matters in determining playing time because it's competition against the new kid that counts.

But transfers continue because players and their parents have decided they want all the benefits that playing for a top program brings -- exposure, competition, free sports apparel and travel to out-of-state tournaments. Many of the transfers occur after friendships are made on the club circuit, with players and parents wooing each other.

Players switching schools is nothing new, but the stampede to join a top program has become so blatant that it must be demoralizing to those coaches with visions of winning a championship with neighborhood kids.

It's not going to happen.

Of course, the big challenge lands at the feet of high school administrators who are supposed to make sure all these transfers actually change residences, as required under CIF rules unless they are sophomores-to-be.

I suspect that come February, just when the playoffs are about to begin, the anonymous phone calls will start and someone will be caught with a false address.

It happened that way to Los Angeles Fremont in 2006 and Taft in 2007. Both schools failed to make the playoffs when ineligible players were discovered late in the season.

"There's no doubt a tremendous amount of movement right now," Southern Section spokesman Thom Simmons said. "It still comes down to someone has to put pen to paper and make a formal complaint."

As far as I'm concerned, let the snitches come forward and bust them all. No more sympathy for those caught cheating or those pleading ignorance. Too bad for the players and parents who weren't involved. Speak up now or take the punishment.

There's lots of blame to go around for basketball's descent into the abyss:

* The CIF has failed to provide leadership to toughen transfer rules after being spooked by the threat of intervention from state legislators in Sacramento.

* The section offices have failed to take a more aggressive role in investigating suspicious activity, relying on disinterested principals and overworked athletic directors to prove wrongdoing.

* The media has failed as a watchdog, whether because of cutbacks in personnel or from being overwhelmed by coverage demands.

* Parents have failed to hold coaches accountable for not focusing on the most important aspects of high school sports -- teaching ethics, loyalty and right from wrong.

What's clear is that basketball is crashing and needs emergency intervention.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latsondheimer

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