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High school musical

Many top players are jumping from school to school

Posted: Tuesday January 22, 2008 3:57PM; Updated: Tuesday January 22, 2008 3:58PM
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John Riek (83) jumped from Our Savior New American (Centereach, N.Y.) to the Winchendon (Mass.) School last summer.
John Riek (83) jumped from Our Savior New American (Centereach, N.Y.) to the Winchendon (Mass.) School last summer.
Kelly Kline

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- When Michigan State signee Korie Lucious transferred from Rufus King High to Pius XI in Milwaukee two years ago, the star guard and his new school weathered an inquisition into what many considered an unholy recruitment.

Anointed as Wisconsin's top player in his class since the seventh grade, eyes opened when Lucious, who describes himself as non-religious, transferred to Pius XI with five of his teammates. Some in the community claimed undue influence from the DTA Wisconsin AAU program. But coach Joe Claasen, who coached the girls' team at Pius XI for 18 seasons before taking over the boys' program four years ago, and the Lucious family maintain the move was for academics, not basketball.

"A lot of people did not know the whole situation," said Lucious, who scored 21 points in the Popes' 89-56 loss to No. 12 Lincoln in the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., last Saturday. "They said our coach recruited us. I just needed a change and my parents thought the education was better. I know coach won a few championships with the girls' team."

Lucious is part of a growing trend of transfers among many of the nation's top prep players. Whether it is seeking to improve grades, a more challenging basketball program or a school that travels the nation providing greater exposure than smaller, parochial schools, at least 11 players in the SI/Takkle.com Top 25 have been enrolled in more than one school.

"If you look at the top 100 players in the nation and you see how many have been to more than one school it is pretty amazing," says Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) coach Steve Smith. "It's not always the kids, either. Everyone has mentors and inner circles now. Parents are heavily involved and all whisper if the kid is not getting enough time. Whenever we bring in a kid, the first question I ask is: 'Why do you want to leave where you are now?' One or two schools is fine, but it's the kid with six schools in his past that make you think it is the kid not the place he is leaving."

Oak Hill, a program built on transfers, saw two players, Oklahoma-bound Willie Warren and USC signee Malik Story, leave before the Christmas break. As a result, Smith accepted the transfer of Delaware native Brian Oliver, a 6-foot-6 wing from Delaware's William Penn High. "Sometimes it seems like the prominent teams in the nation use the other high school as a D-League to call players up from," said one Division I assistant watching last weekend's games in Springfield. "It's like the guys who have been one school have a Scarlet letter because they haven't bounced around."

Among the headliners playing in Springfield College's Blake Arena last weekend, Washington signee Isaiah Thomas, a Seattle native who wound up across the country at South Kent (Conn.) Prep for a postgraduate year, says the relationship that the Huskies staff had with South Kent coach Raphael Chillious was why he traveled across the country to play there.

Another top player, the Winchendon (Mass.) School's John Riek, a 7-2 Sudanese product, was involved in a contentious battle for his transcripts last summer when he transferred out of Our Savior New American. "I have seen kids leave campus against their will, I have lost kids midseason before," said Winchendon coach Mike Byrnes. "It gets a little ludicrous with all the movement, but it's been that way for years."

Playing against Lucious and Pius XI, Dwayne "Tiny" Morton's Lincoln team featured three transfers, all of whom came from Xaverian High, a small Catholic school in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Railsplitters received negative attention for the trio's move, but Morton says there was nothing to any charges of impropriety. "I knew when they came there would be some questions, but I coach differently than their old coach and they are adjusting to our game here," he said.

Afterward, Lucious, who has a cross and two basketballs tattooed on his right arm, said his decision has worked out for the best. "My family and I knew what we could get out of transferring, and it has worked out for me going to college," he said.

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