Sports

Open enrollment is a magnet for Taft success

If Woodland Hills Taft wins the City Championship Division boys' basketball title Saturday night at the Sports Arena, give some of the credit to the state legislature for passing the open enrollment law that went into effect in the fall of 1994.

Not a single member of Taft's talented starting five lives in the school's regular attendance boundary. All arrived under open enrollment, which allows parents to choose any school they want no matter where they live if there's enough room at the school.

And that's the big secret to Taft's athletic success. The Toreadors have had several hundred spots for open enrollment. Many other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District have few, if any, openings because their campuses are filled to capacity.

"I hope they never get rid of it," Taft Coach Derrick Taylor said.

Taylor can also thank Jordan Farmar for helping put Taft on the basketball map four years ago when Farmar led the Toreadors to their first City Championship Division title. The attention Taft received helped persuade many from this season's team to enroll at Taft.

"I guess Jordan Farmar's legend brought everybody together," senior Eugene Phelps said.

After Taft played Los Angeles Fremont last Friday at USC's Galen Center in a semifinal game, Phelps didn't need to take the school bus back to Woodland Hills. He could have walked home because he lives down the street from USC in the Manual Arts attendance area.

The 6-foot-6 forward who has signed with Long Beach State rises at 5 a.m. to take the bus to Taft and doesn't get home until 8 p.m. after riding another bus. He said an uncle made the decision for him to attend Taft.

All-American guard Larry Drew Jr., headed to North Carolina, lives in Encino. Junior guard Justin Hawkins, who has committed to Nevada Las Vegas, lives in Baldwin Hills in the Dorsey district. Three-point specialist Bryce Smith, a senior, lives in the Woodland Hills El Camino Real district. Junior forward Terran Carter came to Taft while living in the Chatsworth district. And standout junior reserve guard Michael Williams lives in the Grant district.

To call Taft "an all-star team" is appropriate. It's the advantage Taft has enjoyed for having so many open-enrollment slots.

Because the Toreadors' basketball program has been winning, players want to join the team, and simply filling out an open-enrollment form will likely get them in.

It hasn't been just Taft benefiting from open enrollment. The few schools with large numbers of open-enrollment slots and good athletic programs continue to prosper.

Milton Knox, the two-time City Section player of the year in football, attends Lake Balboa Birmingham under open enrollment while living in Pacoima. USC-bound receiver De'Von Flournoy, a junior, is another open enrollment student at Birmingham. Matt Dominguez, a first-round draft choice last year, helped Chatsworth win the City baseball title as an open-enrollment student even though he lived in the Birmingham district.

The City Section once allowed students to transfer under open enrollment without moving and without losing a year of eligibility. That since has been outlawed, but there's nothing to prevent an incoming freshman from picking Taft or any other school that has open enrollment. All five of Taft's starters arrived as freshmen.

"We do have an advantage," Taylor said. "It's no secret."

In many ways, Taft's basketball team resembles a private school with an unlimited area to draw students from, though Taylor said, "We don't have private school money."

Don't feel sorry for the team the Toreadors (24-3) will be facing Saturday night at the Sports Arena, defending champion Los Angeles Fairfax (25-4). The Lions happen to have the best transfer student, 6-10 junior center Renardo Sidney, who played last season at Lakewood Artesia.

Farmar, who scored 21 points for the Lakers on Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, bought uniforms and warmups for Taft.

"That's my school," he said. "They did a lot for me, so I had to give back a little bit."

As for thoughts on Saturday's City final, Farmar said, "I hope they get it done. They've been playing well."

Sidney's 32-point performance against Westchester in the semifinals in which he scored his team's final 11 points, including two three-point field goals, is going to be talked about for years. The Lions won it, 55-53, on Sidney's 18-foot jump shot with two seconds left.

"It was one of the greatest 2 1/2 -minute stretches I've ever seen," Taylor said. "He took his level to where no one else could go except him."

The challenge for Taft will be trying to make sure Sidney doesn't single-handedly deliver the Lions a championship.

"We're not going to let him go ballistic," Taylor said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

ON THE WEB For coverage of Thursday's championship basketball games and previews of this weekend's games, go tolatimes.com/preps.

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