<
>

Mater Dei alums on the move

North Carolina coach Roy Williams couldn't believe what he was hearing when Dave Wear, the father of twins David and Travis Wear, called him one evening last May to request scholarship releases for the forwards. The Tar Heels were losing two rising 6-foot-10 sophomores and former McDonald's All-Americans, and Williams was left issuing a prepared statement to express how the transfers "came as a complete surprise."

Then in January, it was Mike Montgomery who announced his disappointment that shooting guard Gary Franklin had abruptly decided to transfer only 13 games into his freshman season, leaving the Cal coach without one of his top-100 recruits.

The three former teammates at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., are set to become eligible again this season -- the Wear twins enrolled at UCLA and Franklin ended up at Baylor. Both programs were thrilled to land the impact transfers after having finished as runners-up while recruiting them out of the prep powerhouse.

But why are college basketball players from Mater Dei, one of the top prospect-producing high schools on the West Coast, transferring at a steady rate? When Franklin stunned Cal with his departure, it marked the fourth consecutive Mater Dei graduating class in which at least one Division I player went on to switch schools.

The current streak began in 2008 when Taylor King transferred to Villanova after his freshman season at Duke. A former McDonald's All-American himself, King eventually left Nova as well following a violation of team rules. He has returned to Southern California to play for NAIA Concordia.

Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight owns California's all-time wins record and in March led the private-school Monarchs to their eighth state championship in his 29th season. He told the Los Angeles Times in June that about 140 of his players have earned major college scholarships and explained, "When you have that many [college] kids, you're going to have some transfers."

Reached by phone last week, McKnight declined to be interviewed on the topic of transfers, saying, "I appreciate it, but I'm not interested."

Instead, ESPN.com spoke with two former Mater Dei players under McKnight, both of whom went on to become four-year lettermen at Arizona.

Miles Simon, a standout who led Arizona to the national championship as the most outstanding player of the 1997 Final Four, sees transfers from Mater Dei as part of a larger trend.

"I think it's more coincidence than anything," said Simon, an ESPN college basketball analyst. "It's a little more glorified because all these guys came from Mater Dei and were highly recruited out of high school.

"Transferring is a growing national trend. The number of transfers in college are going up every year. If you even look at how much kids transfer high schools now, there is a lot of that happening."

The other player, David Bagga, rode the bench for the most part at Mater Dei and finished his walk-on career at Arizona in 2009. He wrote of his experiences in the book, "The Walk-On," describing high school teammates with "an ego the size of Texas and a swagger about them like everything they did was picture perfect."

"Mater Dei guys transfer because of their egos and the combination that McKnight pampers the hell out of them and tells them how great they are when in actuality they need constructive criticism," Bagga said. "In college, it's a system, and it doesn't matter if you're a five-star player or a walk-on. It's about winning, conducting yourself well, and representing a college program well."

King, a former Mater Dei teammate of Bagga's who later played on a 2006-07 Monarchs team that included five eventual Division I transfers, told the Los Angeles Times that McKnight "pampers" players because "he's that kind of guy."

There is the media attention, with Mater Dei's game against top-ranked recruit Austin Rivers and Winter Park High School in Florida being broadcast on ESPNU. There are the sparkling college-level facilities. And then there is the coaching from McKnight, who has captured state championships in four different decades and has his players unaccustomed to losing.

"You get a great experience at Mater Dei with the national tourneys and tremendous exposure, family atmosphere," Simon said. "So sometimes a player's college experience doesn't equate to their time at Mater Dei."

David and Travis Wear, who averaged 3.5 and 2.9 points respectively as freshmen coming off the bench, have said they experienced culture shock in Chapel Hill before leaving North Carolina. "I'd grown up here my whole life, and I thought it would be nice to move away and see how things were on my own," Travis told UCLA Magazine last week. "Go from bigger city to smaller city. But I missed home a lot when I was actually there for a while."

Franklin, despite averaging 8.2 points mostly as a starter, ditched Cal at least in part because he preferred a more up-tempo style of play, his father told ESPN.com in January. Guard Jamaal Trice, who is set to become eligible this season after transferring from a junior college to Appalachian State, departed Connecticut last May after playing in only 10 games as a freshman.

Mater Dei continues to churn out recruits and has two top-100 players in the 2012 recruiting class on the current team. Guard Katin Reinhardt committed to UNLV last month after decommitting from USC. Forward Xavier Johnson, who began his high school career at Chaparral High School in Temecula, Calif., represents the Southern California talent that has traditionally made Mater Dei a transfer destination in itself.

As of last season, half the programs in the Pac-10 had at least one Mater Dei graduate on their rosters. UCLA coach Ben Howland, who has raved about how some Mater Dei practice drills are similar to those run by the Bruins, had four ex-Monarchs on his team last season after signing the Wear twins.

"They are a great addition to our program, not only as players but as people," Howland said then in a statement about the Wears. "They come from a great family and from one of the best high school programs in the country in Mater Dei, coached by Gary McKnight."

But with some former Mater Dei players, what they have in high school success and scholarship offers, they lack in staying power.

Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at diamond83@gmail.com.