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Column: How two Open Division titles were won without transfers

At a time when college sports is in turmoil with no NIL rules, unlimited transfers and players coming and going, there was a historic achievement in Southern California high school sports this past weekend.

Harvard-Westlake and King/Drew won Southern Section and City Section Open Division boys’ basketball championships, respectively, with ZERO transfers on their rosters. Do you realize how astounding that is in this age of transfer mania?

The Open Division was created in 2012-13 so that the most ambitious schools playing the transfer game could be put together and duke it out while letting others play by a different set of rules and philosophies away from them. It was unofficially known as the Transfer Division or the Shoe Division.

At a time when state transfer numbers are nearing a record 17,000 for high school sports in the CIF, winning at the highest level in basketball with zero transfers might provide a different path forward. Call it the old-fashioned way, building from within, developing players from freshmen and not being so quick to chase the AAU way of embracing players and their sometimes delusional parents seeking instant gratification over committing to long-term development.

Yet nothing is really going to change the way things are headed in “amateur” sports. The rise of money in media contracts, the rise in ticket prices, the pressure to win and pay coaches lucrative salaries, the willingness of boosters to ignore rules by offering housing and scholarship money, the influence of private coaches seeking to make money and have a say, it’s clearly a big mess.

Harvard-Westlake players embrace after a game.

Christian Horry and Josh Engelberg, four-year players at Harvard-Westlake, embrace after winning the Southern Section Open Division title.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

What transpired this weekend is that old-fashioned hard work, loyalty to those willing to buy in, competence and trust can win out. Will this once-in-a-lifetime 21st century moment happen again at the highest level? Probably not. We all know that many lack patience, and what happens in pro and college sports eventually seeps down to the high school level.

The protectors of education-based high school sports have their moment to smile. It’s only a moment, though. Football season is six months away and the top schools are already reeling in transfers to replace graduates or take over for players judged not good enough to deliver a championship. Let’s hope some schools stick to the good fight, finding individuals interested in developing students on and off the field instead of just how many trophies they can win by luring another team’s player.

The state regional basketball pairings will be released Sunday evening as the two-week push begins to reach Sacramento to play at the state championships March 8-9 at Golden 1 Center. Stay tuned: There could be lots of rematches coming in the Southern California regionals for boys and girls.

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