Transfers are the culture of recruiting

Transfers are the culture of recruiting
February 12, 2013, 8:45 pm
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When was the last time you read a story about a high school football or basketball team in the Chicago area that didn't include the word "transfer?" As in, "Simeon star Nick Anderson, a transfer from Prosser" or "Thornton star Tai Streets, a transfer from Rich South?"

Transfers have become a cottage industry in high school sports, particularly in football and boys basketball. Old-timers recall infrequent
but no less controversial moves by Bumpy Nixon from Quincy to Galesburg and Fred Riddle from Madison to Collinsville.

Today, however, transfers are as common as cell phones, flip-flops and decommitments. Kids move from one school to another as fast as they can swap uniforms and playbooks. And the Illinois High School Association is virtually powerless to do anything about it.

Who's to blame?

Athletes, parents, high school coaches, college coaches, summer league coaches, AAU coaches, street agents, shoe company representatives, tuition costs, academics, personal trainers, outside influence peddlers.

Why do they do it?

There are a lot of reasons but education usually isn't one of them. Playing time, college scholarships, national exposure, playing on a state championship team, playing with other outstanding players, preparation to compete at the Division I level and the NFL or NBA.

There was a time when the IHSA frowned upon the practice of transferring for the purpose of playing sports. But the argument didn't hold up in court so the IHSA put the onus on the school principals. Do they consent to a transfer? Is the athlete transferring for the right reasons?

There has been only one notable exception in recent years. Ryan Koziol, then the state's top-rated baseball player, transferred from Brother Rice to Providence because his father claimed that Brother Rice had "the worst facilities in the Catholic League."

Brother Rice principal Jim Antos refused to sign off on Koziol's transfer, and IHSA executive director Marty Hickman agreed. They contended that Koziol, who was committed to Arizona, transferred purely for athletic reasons. He was ruled ineligible for his senior season of competition.

But the Koziol case is a rarity. In most other cases, principals merely nod their heads rather than deal with a controversial issue or face possible legal action or criticism. In a school with hundreds or thousands of students, what do one or two elite athletes matter?

It is illegal for high schools in Illinois to recruit student-athletes for the purpose of participating in sports. Additionally, since joining the IHSA in 1974, Catholic schools are prohibited from offering scholarships to athletes.

But as Simeon basketball coach Robert Smith points out, some schools don't have to recruit. Their reputations for producing championship teams and developing talent for the next level are enough to entice athletes to enroll.

That was the case when Nick Anderson opted to transfer from Prosser to Simeon. He wanted to play with Ben Wilson. Marcus Liberty left Crane for King. Michael Jordan's sons, who lived in Highland Park and attended Loyola, wanted to play at Whitney Young. Jaylon Tate left De La Salle and Russell Woods left Leo for Simeon.

Remember these? Laurent Crawford, King to Simeon; Quentin Richardson, Brother Rice to Whitney Young; Tai Streets, Rich South to Thornton; Jamal Robinson, St. Joseph to Proviso East; Andre Brown, Brother Rice to Leo; Leon Smith, Mount Carmel to King; Kevin Frey, Mount Carmel to Maine West; Mark Treadwell, Fenwick to Westinghouse to St. Joseph; Larry Jackson, Oak Park to Farragut; Shaun Pruitt and Justin Cerasoli, Providence St. Mel to West Aurora; Dameon Mason, Waubonsie Valley to West Aurora; Corey Harris, Thornton to Whitney Young; and Michael Hermon, Hales Franciscan to Westinghouse to King.

That isn't all.

Kyle Davis went from Hyde Park to Morgan Park, Alex Foster from De La Salle to Seton Academy, Thomas Hamilton from Whitney Young to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and Gavin Schilling from De La Salle to Fendlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada. And that's just this year.

Curiously, just when you thought the revolving door would never stop spinning, three Simeon transfers were declared ineligible recently. Each enrolled last fall, one from Danville. But what the family said they were going to do in making the move and what they actually did were two different stories, and the IHSA finally caught up with them.

How about Tommy Mister, one of the leading football prospects in the Chicago area? He transferred from Richards to St. Rita. His family moved from Oak Lawn to Lansing. What kind of geography lesson is that?

It's a common trick when transferring from one school to another, renting a house in the new district while maintaining the original home in the former district, then packing up after graduation and returning to the old homestead. Or establishing a "legal" residence with a relative living in the new district while continuing to live in the original home.

The IHSA simply does not have enough investigative staff nor "policemen" to check out every inquiry or rumor or anonymous report. Many principals simply aren't interested in getting involved in a controversy between schools, parents and athletes that might attract negative media attention. If the student doesn't want to be here, let them go, they argue.

"We've seen the growth in transfers in the last decade," said longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Top100Hoops.com, noting there were 580
transfers in the NCAA last year. "The whole system has changed to an impersonal look at things. Now it is the culture of recruiting.

"Kids believe they have a better chance of qualifying or getting a scholarship if they go to this school or that school. If a coach doesn't get involved early, rather than concentrate on his juniors and seniors, he will lose his freshmen and sophomores. Every time a kid is unhappy, someone is trying to help him to go somewhere else."

Coleman said he can understand if a kid has a desire to play for a state championship if his parents are willing to move. "But I think we have gotten to the mentality where kids say: If it ain't right for me here, I can go somewhere else. When we were kids, you had a frosh-soph team for a reason. Participation was most important for a lot of kids, and coaches felt you had to be better or you weren't moved up to the varsity. Now, if you don't promote a kid, he goes to a school where he thinks he can play. It's the 'me' society of the 1960s," he said.

The rise of prep schools has had a significant and often negative affect on high schools. Prep schools always have been there. And they have done a
lot of positive things for their students. But, in the 1980s, with the rise of AAU and summer league competition, schools such as Oak Hill and Maine Central and Hargraves emerged as basketball factories.

"Today, kids have so many options," Coleman said. "Kids choose to attend a prep school to improve their academics or compete with and against better competition and to get more exposure to college coaches. Some are legitimate and some are less than legitimate. The mentality is what they see in college: the best players playing with the best players in the best programs. And the prep schools have become a one-year factory."