Transfers are cottage industry in high school

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Transfers are cottage industry in high school

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With liberal transfer rules and a desire to play for teams that can compete for championships and provide national exposure for college scholarships and even the NBA, it has become a common practice for high school athletes to market themselves to the most high-profile programs in the country.

Some of the most celebrated transfers in Illinois history were Kevin Garnett, Mark Aguirre, Marcus Liberty, Nick Anderson, Quentin Richardson, Jereme Richmond, Michael Hermon, Bill Small, Shaun Livingston, Fred Riddle and Bumpy Nixon, all basketball players.

In the last few years, however, transferring has become a cottage industry. De La Salle's basketball team lost Gavin Schilling to Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada, and Alex Foster to Seton Academy. Kyle Davis went from Hyde Park to Morgan Park. Tommy Hamilton left Whitney Young for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

In the last two years, Wheaton Warrenville South landed two highly regarded quarterbacks, one from Ottawa, Illinois, and the other from Springdale, Arkansas. This season, a 1,700-yard running back moved from Bartlett to St. Francis in Wheaton.

In Chicago, handlers of a promising and widely recruited offensive lineman showed up at a few high schools and demanded: "If you guarantee that he will play left offensive tackle, he'll come here. If not, he'll go somewhere else."

This year, the most celebrated transfer could be 6-foot-5 junior L.J. Peak, who left Gaffney, South Carolina, and enrolled at Whitney Young. He is rated among the top 50 players in the country in his class by some evaluators. At Whitney Young, he will join two other highly rated players, 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor and 6-foot-9 Paul White.

"Peak is an explosive scorer who can create, drive with either hand, finish with major hops and is a surprising passer off the dribble," said veteran recruiting analyst Van Coleman. "He is a streaky shooter from around the arc but when he's on, he can be scary, like he was at Beach Ball last winter when he scored 40 points on 13-of-18 shooting, including five threes."

Coleman said Peak, who is being recruited by South Carolina and Clemson, will have to convert his game to the more physical style that is played in the Midwest, especially in the Chicago Public League. "If he does, he will be a huge addition to Windy City basketball. He probably will start the year rated around No. 40 in the class of 2014."

In other moves, A.J. Riley went from Peoria Manual to LaLumiere Academy in Indiana to Peoria Notre Dame, 6-foot-7 junior Don Johnson went from Niles Notre Dame to St. Joseph and 6-foot-5 senior Paris McCullum went from St. Patrick to Proviso East.

Nationally recognized recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons of Lenoir, North Carolina, who has been evaluating high school basketball players since the 1970s, said the hardest aspect of his job is to keep track of where top-rated kids are going from year to year.

"Transfers and reclassifications are a major dilemma," Gibbons said. "Kids are being jerked around. Always stay with the horses that brung you, I always say. If you have reached a level of success at a high school with a coach and your teammates, you don't have to go to a different school to get a scholarship.

"Parents are worst of all. They are like Little League parents. They have illusions fed by summer coaches that their sons will make them millionaires overnight with a pro contract and shoe contract. The hoop dream of today is to be recruited by Kentucky and enhance your chances of being a big-time prospect and become an NBA player after one year of college."

Coleman has observed the growth of transfers over the last decade. Every year, based on academics, a significant number of athletes leave high school to enroll at prep schools, some of which are legitimate while some aren't.

No matter, the aim of the prep school is to get kids qualified. There were 580 transfers in the NBAA last year.

"The whole system has changed to an impersonal look at things. Now it is the culture of recruiting," Coleman said. "Kids look at their own lives and what older kids are doing. Every time a kid is unhappy, someone is trying to help him go somewhere else.

"I 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 a mentality that if it ain't right for me here, I can go somewhere else. Now if you don't promote a kid, he goes to another school where he thinks he can play.
It's the 'me' society of the 1960s. Kids have so many options."

And about this story? Does it get any more hypocritical than this? When athletes jump from one school to another to another, when does it become obvious that it isn't for academic reasons and somebody in authority steps in and says "enough is enough" and declares the athlete ineligible to participate in sports?

After being declared academically ineligible after his junior year at Peoria Manual, A.J. Riley, one of the state's leading basketball players in the class of 2013, transferred to La Lumiere Academy in LaPorte, Indiana.

One report said Riley was "homesick" but another report said Riley was flunking out of La Lumiere and withdrew before the school ordered him to pack his bags. Now Riley has returned to Peoria and reportedly will enroll at Peoria Notre Dame.

Let's get this straight:

Riley's AAU coach said the 6-foot-2 guard, who has received more than a dozen Division I scholarship offers, including Bradley, Illinois State, Creighton and Drake, was leaving Peoria Manual because he needed to escape Peoria's academically inept public school system. So now he is coming back because he has no other options?

And if Riley couldn't cut it at Peoria Manual, what makes him think he can achieve passing grades and meet NCAA academic standards at a parochial school such as Peoria Notre Dame?

"Transfers are out of control, largely with the involvement of prep schools," said recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye. "The problem is compounded because there is no way of regulating it. Who is the authority to step in? Who is the governing body? It has become enough of a national issue that the NCAA or the National High School Federation must step in.

"It has reached epidemic proportions because so many talented players have delusions of grandeur. They think prep schools are the fastest way of achieving success in college and moving to the NBA. It is hard to turn down those incentives."

With Dexter Fowler in St. Louis, Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as a potential leadoff answer

With Dexter Fowler in St. Louis, Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as a potential leadoff answer

Dexter Fowler buttoned up a white No. 25 Cardinals jersey and put on a red St. Louis hat, posing for the cameras during Friday morning’s press conference at Busch Stadium.

Fowler stood in between Mike Matheny, the St. Louis manager who now has a new leadoff guy at the top of his lineup card, and John Mozeliak, the general manager who helped structure a five-year, $82.5 million contract that goes against The Cardinal Way.

That visual might be disorienting for Cubs fans who just watched what will probably be the best two seasons of Fowler’s career. But Theo Epstein’s front office understandably wanted to get younger, upgrade defensively and preserve some financial flexibility for the future, planning to go with Albert Almora Jr. and ex-Cardinal Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare.

“I’ll be forever grateful that I was a Cub,” Fowler said. “We made history, won a World Series. But I guess that door is closed, and, you know, I’m a Cardinal now. And we’re trying to make history over here as well.”

Let’s not get carried away with all the talk about Fowler being such a great leader and magnetic clubhouse personality. There were enough questions about him that the draft-pick compensation dragged down his market to the point where he accepted a $13 million guarantee in spring training. But he is a switch-hitter who sees pitches and works at-bats (.366 career on-base percentage) and can ignite an offense when healthy.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

Cubs manager Joe Maddon might not go with a traditional leadoff hitter in 2017. But this lineup should still score 800-plus runs again, factoring in a full season of Kyle Schwarber, projected growth from MVP Kris Bryant and All Stars Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell and an anticipated bounce-back year from Jason Heyward after the $184 million outfielder had been one of the least productive hitters in the majors.

 “Schwarber is not a bad name, Kyle is not a bad name at all,” Maddon said when asked about his leadoff hitter during this week’s winter meetings at National Harbor in Maryland. “(Ben) Zobrist isn’t a bad name. There are different guys to consider right there.

“Actually, a couple years ago, (when) Kyle came up and Dexter was still there, I considered leading Kyle off and putting Dexter second. But I had all the dudes do all the work — all our nerds did all the work — and they really liked Fowler 1 and they liked Schwarber 2, just based on our data.

“So I went with that, and it worked out really, really well. So now all of the sudden, Dexter is not there anymore. It’s not impossible to consider Kyle in that spot, Zobrist in that spot.

“I don’t know if we’re going to do anything differently during the course of this offseason that might cause me to think differently, but there’s not a whole lot of other candidates.”

Fowler bet on himself after the Baltimore Orioles dragged out negotiations over a reported three-year deal in the $30 million range, shocking the baseball world when he showed up in Arizona in late February. It paid off with a staggering contract that will add another level of intrigue to a rivalry that has already seen Heyward and pitcher John Lackey switch sides.

Fowler will be in Cardinal red on Opening Night 2017 when the Cubs begin their World Series title defense at Busch Stadium.

“It’s bittersweet,” Fowler said. “Now they’re the rival. But you still got some boys over there. We’ll always be boys. We won a championship together. But when you get on the field, it’s ‘go time.’ Now we’re playing against each other.”

Dexter Fowler: Cubs-Cardinals rivalry 'almost even'

Dexter Fowler: Cubs-Cardinals rivalry 'almost even'

The Cubs have the World Series trophy, and that's the ultimate in bragging rights.

But new Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler — who helped the Cubs win that first championship since 1908 — thinks there's not too much separating the Central Division rivals.

Fowler officially switched sides in the rivalry Friday, signing a five-year deal with the Cardinals and getting an introduction in St. Louis.

"Playing over there and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and they weren't that far away," Fowler said at his introductory press conference Friday morning. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

Even though the Cubs are on top of the baseball world right now — and the Cardinals missed out on the playoffs last season — the numbers back up Fowler's claim.

Only one game separated the two in their regular-season series in 2016, the Cubs taking 10 games and the Cardinals winning nine. The year prior, both teams won more than 97 games and reached the postseason, with the Cubs eliminating the Cardinals in the NLDS. During the regular season, though, the Cardinals won 11 of the 19 matchups and the Cubs won eight.

The two teams have indirectly swapped All-Star outfielders in each of the last two offseasons. Jason Heyward signed a huge deal with the Cubs prior to the 2016 season. And now Fowler will be in the Cardinals' Opening Day lineup in 2017.

That ought to add even more fuel to the fire in this epic rivalry.

But the rings are the thing, of course, so can the Cardinals challenge the Cubs as the North Siders attempt to make it back-to-back championships in 2017?

"I can't tell what the future has in mind, but I feel like this team has a chance to win a World Series," Fowler said.