Two Westchester Hoop Transfers Ruled Ineligible

Preseason FAB 50 No. 13 Los Angeles Westchester's national (or even state) title hopes took a big hit on Wednesday when it was announced that two underclass transfers were ruled ineligible to compete in athletics for one year due to alleged violations. One of them, shooting guard Gabriel Pruitt, was considered a Top 15 sophomore in the state last season.

Westchester has emerged as the class of the L.A. City boys basketball scene recently, capturing its second Div. I state title in the last five years when it beat Oackland Tech in Sacramento in March.

The Comets, which went 32-2 last season and finished No. 4 nationally in the Student Sports 2001 FAB 50, also recorded wins over New York Class A champ Rice, Florida 4A champ Lakewood and Florida Class A champ Miami Christian.

However, the school just a mile or two from the LAX airport will have a much tougher time now to defend its L.A. City and state titles as it was announced Wednesday that two key players expected to offset the graduation of stars Hassan Adams, Brandon Heath and Brandon Bowman, were ruled ineligible to play any sport in the upcoming year.

A committee consisting of officials from the L.A. City Section ruled that sophomore Ray Reese, a forward who transferred from Carson High, and junior Gabriel Pruitt, a guard from Compton Centennial, violated rules in which "a parent, guardian or student cannot provide false information regarding any aspect of a player's eligibility status."

Carson athletic director and basketball coach Richard Masson reportedly instigated the investigation, filing three separate charges accusing Westchester coaches of recruiting and illegal contact with players outside the school boundaries and the Reese family of not living at the address he provided after leaving Carson.

Pruitt apparently violated the rule allowing only one inter-district transfer by living in the Manual Arts school district and then transferring to Compton Centennial before his move to Westchester.

The two players could challenge the rulings, but according to Comet A.D. Brian Henderson, it's doubtful if the pair will be on the court this winter.

"They're both going to be ineligible," he told Student Sports this afternoon. "One has a chance, he'll file a hardship waiver, but we're not optimistic about it."

Henderson says it appears at this point the two will sit out and play a year from now at Westchester.

The committee did not sanction or cite Westchester coach Ed Azzam or Henderson for any illegalities, but City Section Commissioner Barbara Fiege said a rules committee could meet as early as next week to discus taking action against the school.

Henderson feels Westchester will be vindicated of any talk or allegations of cheating.

"We're tired of everything going on," he stated Thursday. "Coaches may allege we recruit, but from what I hear and, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no recruiting going on. We have parents coming to us wanting their kids to play here. If they go through the right processes and it's legitimate, we'll take them."

Henderson points out that most of the team's roster is home-grown.

"You look at our roster from last year and nine of the 12 were from our feeder middle school."

Another factor that may have others upset, according to those close to the situation, is the fact Nike sponsors the school, donating shoes and apparel to players and coaches.

"There have been articles in the newspapers talking about how we have our Nike deal," the A.D. continued, "and parents come in and want to know when they get their stuff. We're not the only ones, though; Fairfax and Crensaw are two others in the City that have shoe deals. I think it's because we're more high-profile due to our state championships."

Henderson doesn't deny, however, the ruling will impact the team's chances for matching past successes.

"That (being a preseason No. 13 ranking) is too high considering what we have lost with those two (being ineligible), but we think we'll still win the City."

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