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Transferring ‘epidemic’ sweeping across New Jersey high school basketball … – Gloucester County Times

Medford Tech, a small high school in Burlington County, hasn’t had many huge moments when it comes to athletics. So it was a big deal last season when its boys basketball team made an electrifying run to the Group 2 state championship game. The young Jaguars lost, 56-44, but the disappointment didn’t last long.

How could it?

Eli Cain, the county Player of the Year and a Division 1 prospect, would return for his senior season and Myles Powell, the county’s second-leading scorer and another Division 1 prospect, also would be back.

But then came a one-two gut punch no one saw coming: Powell announced he was transferring to Trenton Catholic and Cain said he was bolting for St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark.

“Heartbreaking,” is how Medford Tech coach Nick Powell described losing transfers to schools 26 and 73 miles from his campus.

“A horribly sad statement about high school athletics,” is what Larry White of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state’s governing body for high school sports, called the broader wave of transfer activity rippling across the state.

And Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff, whose team is on the sending and receiving end of the transfer turnstile, characterized it as “an epidemic in New Jersey high school basketball.”

Call it whatever you like, but elite players are hopscotching between schools — most without missing a single game — like never before in the latest indication that big-time high school sports has gone bonkers.

In interviews, coaches, officials, parents and players say kids are merely chasing the perfect mix of opportunity, competition and exposure. They’re doing it all in the name of college scholarships and, more than ever, they’re doing it because no one can or will stop them. And whether intentional or not, coaches say players and parents are exploiting the NJSIAA’s murky transfer rules, its inability to investigate and enforce the guidelines, and an unwillingness among many coaches to blow the whistle on other programs.

“Transferring has just gone rampant,” St. Mary’s of Elizabeth coach Anthony Colletti said. “I’ll be honest, when basketball season’s over I’m on edge because I worry about who I’m going to lose.”

How bad is it? Even the state’s most legendary coach — Bob Hurley of St. Anthony — pulls no punches, calling it a “free-agent system” in which some teams will lose one player and simply plug in a transfer from another program.

Isaiah Still, a 6-6 guard at Union Catholic who has transferred three times since the start of last season, explained his actions this way: “High school is crucial to your life — especially high school basketball for your future. So if it’s a better situation for you, then you have to do what you have to do.”

This season, The Star-Ledger identified 27 high-profile transfers on top boys teams, mostly at private and parochial schools. By NJSIAA bylaws that cover every sport, any player who appeared in a varsity game last year must sit out 30 days or half the maximum games if he does not have a bona fide change of residence.

Of the 27, only two — Isaiah Briscoe, who transferred from St. Benedict’s to Roselle Catholic, and Austin Alfonso, who left Rutgers Prep for North Brunswick — are sitting out the 30 days, according to interviews and a review of early season box scores.

And while it’s possible the other 25 have moved, coaches and administrators say it’s highly unlikely. Instead, they describe several maneuvers that are common knowledge among parents and players.

Some parents actually rent apartments in different school districts. Others have their sons spend time with relatives so they can change his address, which also can be accomplished when kids shuttle between mom and dad if the parents aren’t together.

And, of course, coaches say there are some who will fabricate an address, confident that enforcement won’t catch up. Also, private schools — unlike public districts — have less reason to check where students actually live.

“There’s a lot of people out there going to great lengths to move their kid,” said Chris Chavannes, coach of the Patrick School in Elizabeth. “People are going to do whatever they need to do to get their kids to the right spot.”

And many will do it without a single question from the NJSIAA.

“Do we know there are people that are beating the system? Yeah,” said White, noting that each time the state’s transfer rule is tweaked, players and parents inevitably find a way, technically and quasi-legally, around it. “But we don’t have the manpower to really investigate every time we get a call. The problem is that we probably don’t deter as many as we would like to.

“Like any rule, people are going to break the rules. It’s gotten too crazy.”


High school basketball has been big business for years, nurtured and fed by the college game and its $10.8 billion March Madness TV contract. The money has sparked an insatiable desire for talent, opening up hundreds of scholarship opportunities for boys across New Jersey every year.

Parents, players and those who control the players know what’s at stake and some will do just about anything, whether it’s holding a boy back a grade in middle school to allow him to physically develop or spending tens of thousands of dollars over time on specialized training and coaching.

In New Jersey, with 433 NJSIAA member high schools packed inside its borders, transferring for athletic advantage has been a red-hot issue for decades, made even more contentious as the talent gap between some public and private schools widens.

In 2008, prompted by a rash of complaints about private schools recruiting from public schools in multiple sports, the NJSIAA changed its transfer rule. Instead of the 30-day period, sophomores, juniors and seniors who changed schools without a bona fide change of residence would sit for a year.

But the new rule coincided with the economic downturn and private schools saw enrollments plunge. Hundreds of athletes were forced back to public districts — and onto the sidelines.

The NJSIAA would hear more than 240 hardship appeals from those claiming to be transferring for reasons other than athletics.

“That was a disaster,” said White, the NJSIAA assistant director.

So, in March 2010, the NJSIAA changed the rule back to its current 30-day period. But coaches say families soon found a loophole by changing their son’s address — sometimes legally, sometimes illegally, the coaches say, but almost always with few challenges.

So far this school year, White said, the NJSIAA’s Eligibility Appeals Committee has heard about 10 cases where transfers were challenged.

When a player transfers schools, the receiving school fills out a “transfer form.” The form is sent to the original school’s administrators, who indicate if they believe the transfer was for athletic advantage. If athletic advantage has been indicated, most players will be ineligible until the Eligibility Appeals Committee hears the case.

But, according to White, it’s often difficult to prove a player transferred because of sports. Schools need hard proof and documentation, not just hearsay, he said.

“Schools realize the star witness to a certain degree are the kids and the parents that have left,” White said. “They’re going to basically say, ‘No, it has nothing to do with sports. It has to do because we didn’t like the school. He was being harassed. The academics weren’t that good.’ Whatever reasons are out there, that’s what they’ll say.”

What’s more, if a school thinks a player transferred for athletic advantage or does not have a bona fide change of residence, the original school must investigate. Coaches and officials say they have neither the means or know-how to probe those possibilities.

“No school’s going to waste any resources or time or money to do that,” Nutley athletic director Joe Piro said. “The NJSIAA’s in a tough spot here. How do you police this?”

Plus, some of the same schools angry over athletes transferring are the ones accepting transfers, making them less likely to challenge a move, other coaches say.

Now, coaches say the lack of oversight has created a free-for-all.

“Everybody’s getting transfers and it’s because kids just don’t want to wait,” Linden coach Phil Colicchio said. “It’s the ‘Now’ generation.”

scorecard, anyone?

The transferring leading up to this basketball season left some coaches’ heads spinning.

“You have to have a Rolodex to find out where they’re at these days,” said Powell, the Medford Tech coach.


• Malachi Richardson, the No. 22-rated player nationally in the 2015 class according to Rivals.com, transferred from Trenton Catholic to Roselle Catholic as a sophomore and then back to Trenton Catholic before this season. The star power left by Richardson, who lives in Hamilton, was replaced at Roselle Catholic by Briscoe, the No. 17 player nationally in the Class of 2015, who transferred from St. Benedict’s. Briscoe lives in Union.

• Still, the 6-6 guard, transferred from Roselle Catholic to the Patrick School midseason last year

and played in games for both

schools. Before this season, he transferred to Union Catholic. He lives in Rahway.

• Roselle Catholic, last season’s Tournament of Champions winner, had at least five players transfer out of the school this offseason and at least four others transfer in.

“It’s like you fill a need by going to the free-agent market,” said Hurley, the St. Anthony coach. “It’s a regular thing. Kids jump from team to team like they breathe.”

And if they don’t play right away, they often leave.

“The traditional way is kids move up through the freshman program to the JV to the varsity and you learn,” Hurley said. “It’s a whole different world now.”

In Still’s case, he transferred from Roselle Catholic to the Patrick School last season because the team had brought in too many talented players and he wasn’t getting enough playing time, according to his father, Darin Still. He then transferred from the Patrick School to Union Catholic because Chavannes, the Celtics coach, was “too controlling,” Darin Still said.

Darin Still said his family moved from Rahway to Colonia and back to Rahway, which enabled his son to have a bona fide change of address each step of the way and avoid the transfer penalty.

rebuilding mode

Back at Medford Tech, the Jaguars are off to a 1-3 start. Powell, the coach, remembers the optimism in the postgame press conference after the state title loss last season at Rutgers, when he thought his two leading scorers were coming back.

Now, his program is in rebuilding mode.

Meanwhile, Cain is emerging at St. Benedict’s and Myles Powell is averaging 25 points per game at Trenton Catholic.

“Of course as a coach — as a human being — you’re frustrated because you put a lot of work into these kids,” Nick Powell said. “It’s not like I just coach them during the season. We work out in the summer, we go run and we lift weights, I pick them up, give them rides, bring them to the school to work out in the summertime. You put a lot of work into their individual games. So in that aspect, it hurts.

“But you just gotta roll your sleeves up and take the challenge on. That’s the water we’re swimming in these days.”



An early season list of highly regarded boys basketball players who have transferred for the 2013-2014 season, with their team from the 2012-2013 season. The list was compiled through interviews and reviews of team rosters and box scores.


Isaiah Briscoe#: St. Benedict’s to Roselle Catholic
Malachi Richardson*: Roselle Catholic to Trenton Catholic
Bryce Aiken*: Pope John to Patrick School
Otis Livingston*: Patrick School to Linden
James Scott*: St. Peter’s Prep to Pope John
Eli Cain*+: Medford Tech to St. Benedict’s
Myles Powell*: Medford Tech to Trenton Catholic
Pierre Sarr*: Westtown (Pa.) to Roselle Catholic
Isaiah Still*: Patrick School to Union Catholic
Fatir Hines*: Patrick School to Roselle Catholic
Shane Stevens*: Immaculata to Bound Brook
Fred Deensie*: Franklin to Bound Brook
Angel Delgado*: Huntington Prep (W.Va.) to Patrick School
Trayvon Reed*+: Shiloh High (Ga.) to Life Center Academy
Robert Lewis*: Roselle Catholic to St. Mary’s of Elizabeth
Tyreke Woodard*: Roselle Catholic to St. Mary’s of Elizabeth
Rick Mixson*: Roselle Catholic to Linden
Nick Mele*: Westfield to Roselle Catholic
Mohamed Bendary*: Bayonne to St. Anthony
Shaq McFarlan*: Lincoln (N.Y.) to St. Anthony
Logan Santiago*: North Bergen to Marist
Everson Davis*+: Newark West Side to Peddie
Kevin Bostic*: Roselle Catholic to Columbia
Najee Lucky*: Plainfield to Piscataway
Asiah Avent*: Immaculata to Piscataway
Austin Alfonso#: Rutgers Prep to North Brunswick
Jason Saldiveri*: Sayreville to South Brunswick

* Did not sit out

# Sat out per the NJSIAA’s 30-day transfer rule

+ Non-NJSIAA member school and not subject to state rules and regulations

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