Harvard-Westlake proves you don’t need transfers to win a championship

There were 14,818 high school sports transfers recorded statewide in 2021-22, according to CIF statistics. Transfers have been embraced by so many schools, coaches and parents as the way to win that rebuilding years never happen for a select group of successful schools.

Seniors leave, replaced by more seniors from other schools. Forget about the juniors and sophomores waiting their turn. It’s competition, baby. Best teenager starts. School choice, baby. Mom and dad can pick and choose while moving as many times as they want, and coaches don’t care.

It’s all legal and happening on a bigger scale in college sports, where the transfer portal might one day get its own TV show sponsored by Dr. Pepper to announce who enters the portal.

There is one benefit for so many schools and parents loving the transfer game. Whenever a school or coach proves you can still win with homegrown players, it makes for a great story.

That happened last weekend at the state basketball championships in Sacramento, where Studio City Harvard-Westlake and coach David Rebibo won the Open Division championship without a transfer during the 2022-23 school year.

That’s extraordinary for a private school that can take any student it wants no matter where they live.

“It can be done,’’ said Terry Barnum, head of athletics. “It’s hard as hell, but it can be done.”

On their roster, the Wolverines have only one player who didn’t start at the school, senior Brady Dunlap, who arrived from Newhall Hart in 2020.

Other schools have adopted the transfer strategy, such as Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, which had six transfers on its roster this season and six last season but won no championship. Sherman Oaks Notre Dame won its first state championship aided by two transfers from Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy, Caleb Foster and Mercy Miller.

The only private school to pull off the no-transfer achievement in recent years was Torrance Bishop Montgomery in 2017, which had a starting five of seniors Ethan Thompson and Jordan Schakel, juniors David Singleton and Fletcher Tynen, and sophomore Gianni Hunt, all of whom had been there since their freshman year.

Transfers aren’t limited to private schools. When the Inglewood football program highlighted the 13 players who signed with college programs last month, 11 were transfers.

While transfers are legal, recruiting is not.

The ambition to win at all costs can be seen in a 65-page investigative report from the Riverside Unified School District last December alleging that a former varsity basketball coach at Poly and members of the community engaged in a scheme to register ineligible students to participate in the program using fake documents to establish residency from 2018 to 2022. The team was banned from the playoffs this season.

The decision to embrace transfers isn’t going to end. Programs want attention. Studio City Campbell Hall could be next, with speculation the Vikings are preparing to accept Bryce James from Sierra Canyon, a move that would probably lead others to follow.

Just be careful what you wish for. The Southern Section and City Section still look closely at schools that accept multiple transfers in specific sports to make sure rules are followed. The Harbor City Narbonne and L.A. Hawkins football programs in the City Section still haven’t fully recovered from sanctions imposed for using ineligible players.

Are the rewards worth the risks?

It’s always the question.

Kudos to Harvard-Westlake for proving you can still win a championship at the highest level with players who show up as freshmen, stick it out and continue to improve.

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