Posted: 3:20 pm Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Girls basketball: Following coach’s firing, three American Heritage standouts transfer to Grandview Prep 

By Matt Porter

Updated at 1:25 p.m., Friday, Nov. 11 | As it did three seasons ago, the balance of power in small schools girls basketball may have shifted. And again, it involves American Heritage.

After coach Russell Newman was fired in May, three of the area’s brightest young standouts left the Delray Beach school and transferred to Grandview Prep.

Sophomores Vionise Pierre-Louis and Neydja Petithomme and freshman Jonika Garvin transferred to Grandview Prep, which was 0-7 last season.

“With our promising newcomers we look forward to a competitive season,” Grandview coach Gary Downing wrote on the Post’s preseason girls basketball survey, which is sent to all area coaches.

American Heritage Athletic Director Doug Socha said Downing was fired as interim American Heritage boys basketball coach after last season, his only season at the school. Socha said Downing was let go after another school accused the coach of recruiting players.

Downing, who could not be reached by phone Thursday, called the Post Friday to refute claims he was fired. He did not wish to comment on the record.

According to FHSAA bylaws, players following a high school coach does not constitute a violation. Players who follow summer travel coaches to a new school can be forced to sit out a year.

If it was proven that Downing had contact with the three players while at American Heritage, “then it would raise our eyebrows,” an FHSAA spokesperson said.

That is more than likely at a school the size of American Heritage, which enrolls 385 students at the high school level and has one on-campus gymnasium. American Heritage has not accused Grandview Prep or Downing of any wrongdoing with relation to the three players.

Yveny N. Petithomme II, the father of Neydja Petithomme, said Downing never recruited his daughter to change schools, adding that he moved his daughter from American Heritage to Grandview Prep after he learned Newman was on his way out.

“The unknown is unacceptable to me,” Petithomme said.

In the 2009-10 season, Newman’s second year at the American Heritage, six transfers helped boost American Heritage from a program with middling results to a Palm Beach County powerhouse. The program was never investigated by the FHSAA.

In May, American Heritage fired Newman, who went 45-8 with two District 13-2A titles after posting an 11-12 mark in his first year at the school.

At the time, Socha said the school was “going in another direction. We want more discipline and structure in the program.” Newman would not offer details.

Thursday, Socha reiterated that Newman “was fired for numerous reasons. I’m not going to say it was recruiting.”

Pierre-Louis, a 6-foot-1 post player, averaged 12 points and 12.4 rebounds per game and had a double-double in 26 of 27 games. She was a first-team All-Area small schools selection.

Petithomme averaged 6.8 points per game in an injury-shortened season, but her skill the ball earned her a second-team selection. Garvin scored 9.4 points per game, third on the team, and was an honorable mention.