Westwind Prep back in the sports news…unfortunately

It’s hard to believe Westwind Prep is once again in the news cycle – and once again for the wrong reasons.

The small charter school in northwest Phoenix keeps coming back into the public consciousness, like Jason rising out of Crystal Lake in yet another installment of the horror flick franchise, Friday the 13th.

So, why do the media keep providing coverage?

Because, unfortunately, what the school is doing with its basketball program is affecting the entire high school sports landscape.  And, once again, the school has rankled the high school coaching fraternity in the state, as well as continuing to be an irritant to the prep sports governing body, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA).

This time, Westwind has outmaneuvered the AIA, at least temporarily, by developing a national high school basketball program that will not become a member of the association, and thereby not be required to play by their rules.

An Arizona Republic article by Richard Obert, published over the weekend, unveiled Westwind’s plan to put a team on the floor that will travel nationally, rather than play teams within the state.  They’ve had a post-grad program for students who graduate high school and want to play another year to prepare for college ball, but this is different.

The additional high school team will be separate, school officials say, from a high school varsity team fielded by the school, which will be a member of the AIA.

Westwind Prep, which has an enrollment of about 300 students, has been in the eye of the storm before.

During the 2010-11 season, the school put a starting varsity team on the floor that included a player from China, two from Latvia, and two more from the streets of Detroit.  They dominated the entire season, often putting more than 100 points on the board as they blew out team after team and went on to post a 30-2 record and win the 2A state championship.

The two years previous to that weren’t much different.  The Warriors won 30 games in the 20o9-10 season and went 27-4 in 2008-09.

However, the 2010-11 season led to an investigation by the AIA  into the eligibility of a couple of its players, and a review of its bylaws regarding boarding schools; Westwind is an accredited member of the Western Boarding Schools Association.

After the season ended, the school’s controversial head coach, Gary Trousdale, bolted for California to take over a similar program in La Jolla, appearing to take several players with him.  He had led the school to back-to-back Top 10 national rankings, but left without a word to the administration.  (See 6/22/11 Phxfan article)

In an attempt to level the playing field somewhat, the AIA moved Westwind up to play with the big boys last season.  That slowed the Warriors down a little; they went 17-9 overall, but lost just two conference games to finish in fourth place among the 20 teams in Division I, Section III.

But the latest flap isn’t about competition, but more about the school creating a talent drain from other programs in the state.  Essentially, what they’re doing by having a ‘regular’ high school varsity team and a ‘national’ team as well, can result in a subtle form of recruiting.

The other high school coaches who are lucky enough to be blessed with a really good player or two now have to worry about losing that talent to Westwind Prep.  It’s tempting for any really good ball player to want to try his game against some of the best prep teams in the country, which are being put on the national team’s schedule, and get additional exposure to college recruiters.

It doesn’t take much imagination, then, to see the ‘recruiting’ benefits that would trickle down to the ‘regular’ varsity team, which will be able to load up and be back to the dominance it enjoyed when it was a 2A school.

And, according to Obert’s article, the attrition has begun.  Six local players from four different high schools around the Valley have evidently decided to make the switch.

The school could have avoided the controversy and hard feelings by simply prohibiting in-state players from joining the new program.  But it chose not to follow that route.

For the AIA, Westwind Prep has posed yet another challenge.

For Arizona’s high school basketball coaches, it’s another threat to the stability of their programs.

And for Westwind Prep, it’s another black eye on its image in the community.