He was the calm floor leader with the crafty dribbling skills, crisp passes and smooth left-handed jump shot.

But just as he did countless times on the basketball court this past season as a freshman at Santa Monica High School, Spencer Freedman has darted in a different direction.

The talented point guard has transferred to perennial powerhouse Santa Ana-Mater Dei, ending his one-year stint with the Vikings and exemplifying a school-hopping trend that seems to have become increasingly common among prep prospects in recent years.

Freedman, who recently picked up an offer from USC, promptly responded to a Daily Press inquiry but declined to discuss the move and said his father would answer questions from the media.

His father, Bryan Freedman, said the decision was not his son’s and that it was based solely on academic considerations.

“Spencer has been in private school his whole life, and we feel he’ll be more academically challenged in a private school environment — that’s the reason,” Freedman said. “We love (Samohi coach) James Hecht and his family, the team is going to be great and Santa Monica is terrific. … We love the place, but from an academic standpoint we think Spencer will thrive more (at Mater Dei).”

Freedman spoke at length about what he sees as the benefits of a school like Mater Dei: smaller classes, more challenging coursework, better-paid teachers, more resources and support services and a stronger sense of community.

Why, then, did he send his son — who had previously attended the private Willows School in Culver City — to a public high school in the first place?

“You don’t know what public school resources there are until you go through public school,” his father said. “I want to make sure as much emphasis is put on academics as anything else. I’m sure there are public schools that challenge kids academically. At private school, there’s more of a community focus with people striving toward an academic goal. And it can be distracting when others aren’t.”

Freedman’s father said the family considered several private schools and that the rich tradition of Mater Dei’s basketball program was not a key variable.

“If I was picking a basketball team, I don’t think I would pick Mater Dei,” he said.

Others in Southern California might disagree. Mater Dei won four state titles in a row starting in 2011, and this past season it lost in overtime to Oakland-Bishop O’Dowd in the state championship game. Monarchs coach Gary McKnight has a career record of 1,024-90, making him the winningest coach in the history of California high school basketball. And many Mater Dei players have earned athletic scholarships to play at the next level.

The list of former Mater Dei players includes several pros. It also includes Samohi senior-to-be Jayce Johnson, who played under McKnight as a freshman.

Freedman is leaving behind a program that he enjoyed and a Vikings lineup that next season figures to feature Johnson as well as Jonah Mathews.

“Samo is an incredible place,” his father said. “(Hecht) is like a second father to him, and he loved those guys on the team. He was totally happy with his teammates and the friends he made. His mother and I just thought he’d be better off academically in a private school. Spencer is an incredible student, and it’s important that he be challenged academically as much as possible. It’s important to focus not just on basketball … and instead try to create a more well-rounded kid.

“I don’t think he agrees with it, but he’s willing to listen to his parents. I hope, in the end, that it all works out.”

Basketball remains a focal point of his life. (Reads the tagline of his website, which features photos, highlight reels and press clippings: “Basketball is what I do!”)

Freedman recently participated in the Pangos All-American Camp, which showcased highly touted prospects from across the country. He told the Daily Press last yearthat it’s his dream to play in the NBA.

He already had offers from Cal State Northridge and UC Santa Barbara when he picked up an offer from the Trojans — and he hasn’t even started his sophomore season.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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