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The basketball controversy that erupted at San Diego High could have been avoided if San Diego Unified School District officials would have followed a precedent set two decades ago by one of its former high school principals at Lincoln, Wendell Bass.

Briefly, here’s what’s happening at San Diego High:

Three nationally prominent college prospects transferred so they could play with Jeremy Tyler, the Cavers’ 6-foot-11 junior center. Tyler is ranked nationally by some as the top player in his class. He’s already verbally committed to national powerhouse Louisville.

The three transfers, Zechariah Smith and Terrence Boyd of Oklahoma and LaBradford Franklin of Temecula, were declared ineligible. The San Diego Section office cited rules violations and undue influence.

San Diego Union Superintendent Terry Grier subsequently placed Cavers head coach Kenny Roy and assistants Jerome Sherman and Clayton Williams on administrative leave while the district conducted its own investigation.

Franklin’s appeal was recently denied at the CIF State level. Smith and Boyd are still waiting to have their CIF State appeals heard.

The three players are motivated, of course, by something other than gaining an education. And it reminds of when Darren Wagner suddenly showed up at Lincoln High after leaving University City High early in his junior football season.

Anyone who follows San Diego high school football knows the legend of Darrin Wagner. He was the CIF Offensive Player of the Year in 1987 as a senior at Lincoln.

He later signed with Nebraska but came home without ever playing a game because he couldn’t take the cold weather. He shined briefly at San Diego State in 1989 when he nearly led the Aztecs to an upset of UCLA in a game they lost. Wagner, though, was suspended and didn’t finish the season.

If Wagner didn’t have so many personal problems, he could have been considered one of he greatest running backs to come out of San Diego.

Rashaan Salaam, one of four Heisman Trophy winners from San Diego high schools along with Marcus Allen, Ricky Williams and Reggie Bush, once told me, “Darrin might have been the best out of all of us.”

The point I’m making is everyone knew this was no ordinary transfer when Wagner announced he was leaving University City for Lincoln.

Wagner attended UC through the bussing program, but his legal residence was the Lincoln district. At the time, CIF rules would have permitted immediate eligibility since Lincoln was Wagner’s home district.

But when Wagner arrived at Lincoln to enroll, Wendell Bass, then the school’s vice-principal and athletic director and later its principal, was waiting for him.

Bass greeted him by saying, “Welcome to Lincoln High School. We hope you enjoy your education and your experience here. And we look forward to you joining the football team next year.”

In other words, Bass was telling Wagner that Lincoln wasn’t going to let a high-profile college prospect transfer in just so he could help the school win football games.

The late Vic Player, then the football coach, backed Bass’ stance. If a coach says you haven’t earned playing time, your rights aren’t being denied. Not when you’re in school to gain an education and football is an extracurricular activity.

Lincoln wasn’t going to allow Wagner to disrupt the football team and take away playing time from kids that had been working out together since two-a-day drills in the summer.

The stand of integrity Bass set at Lincoln is an example sorely lacking at San Diego High.

— TOM SHANAHAN

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