Transfers Now a Big Part of College Basketball
For the last six or seven years, national college basketball reporter Jeff Goodman has been assembling a list of transfers.
It’s all encompassing. It includes junior college guys as well as four-year and fifth-year players who are looking to play elsewhere. When Goodman started doing this it was a relatively manageable exercise.
Now, assembling it has become quite an undertaking. Last summer, his list of transfers reached 500 and this year we’ve already hit that number and we’re still only midway through May. When Goodman is done compiling this year’s list of college basketball transfers it’s going to look like a New York City phone book.
Players are leaving everywhere … Maryland, Oregon, Boston College, Nebraska, Rutgers, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Tennessee, Clemson, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Purdue, Virginia, Miami, Alabama, Washington State, Arizona State, NC State, Georgia Tech, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Virginia Tech, Connecticut, Louisville, USC, Penn State, Washington State, and yes, even West Virginia.
They are leaving for a variety of reasons, and its leaving college basketball coaches everywhere scratching their heads.
“We live in times when kids from all different kinds of places go from one high school and then they go to the next high school,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who has seen two of his top three scorers from last year’s team announce their departures this spring. “That’s the times that we live in. Is it right? I don’t know if it is or it isn’t. Honestly, that’s not for me to judge.”
Huggins may not be in a position to judge, but he does have to take this trend into account and adjust accordingly. In fact, he already has.
Two guys expected to start next year for the Mountaineers began their college careers at other institutions – Big 12 preseason player of the year candidate Juwan Staten (Dayton) and promising forward Jonathan Holton (Rhode Island).
Additionally, Kevin Noreen, a program player who will spend all four years at West Virginia, actually signed with Boston College while coming out of high school before getting out of his letter when Al Skinner was fired. Touted junior college guard Tarik Phillip, who came aboard to replace guard Eron Harris, actually signed with South Carolina out of high school.
“Kids are leaving Ivy League schools,” noted Huggins. “Kids are leaving high-profile academic places. They are leaving everywhere.”
And most programs are actively pursuing them. What was once looked down upon has now become the latest fad in college basketball. Take Duke, for instance. Two years ago, the Blue Devils heavily pursued former Mississippi State forward Rodney Hood and he ended up averaging 16.1 points per game for them in 2014. Coach K has another four-year transfer coming on board in Rice forward Sean Obi.
Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell helped Arizona get to the top of the national polls for a good portion of 2014 and Dayton’s run to the Elite Eight this year was aided by Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert. Because of that, Ohio State is now actively seeking transfers, making a big push in the four-year transfer market this spring by acquiring former Temple forward Anthony Lee and Virginia Tech center Trevor Thompson.
Oklahoma State, Purdue, Indiana and Maryland - just like West Virginia - are adjusting to significant defections. Even Kansas, consistently one of the top programs in the country, is dealing with (and accepting) four-year transfers.
“Forty percent of guys don’t make it to their junior year,” said Huggins. “It’s been tracked. They transfer.”
Nobody has benefitted more from this growing trend than Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg. He openly covets four-year players and has built a successful program by seeking them out. It began when he got Royce White from Minnesota and has continued this past season with guard DeAndre Kane (a former Marshall player) who helped the Cyclones reach this year’s Sweet 16.
Hoiberg is counting on two more big-time transfers next season in UNLV’s Bryce Dejean-Jones and Marquette’s Jameel McKay.
“It used to be that there was a stigma of some type attached to schools that recruited outside of the high school ranks,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher was quoted in an AP story earlier this spring. “You were not considered able to compete with the blue bloods. Well, now all of the blue bloods recruit transfers; they take one-and-dones. They take guys who have graduated and have one year left.”
That includes Florida’s Billy Donovan, who went 13 years without recruiting a four-year transfer. Now he is taking them, such as Michigan forward Jon Horford who will be available for the 2014-15 season.
“Kids now want that instantaneous success,” Donovan says.
Michigan, which reached the NCAA Finals two years ago and almost made it to the Final Four this season, has seen virtually its entire roster blown up because of the NBA draft, transfers and other defections. Wolverine coach John Beilein, who actively sought four-year transfers when he coached at West Virginia University (star players such as Mike Gansey and D’or Fischer) is back at it once again.
Beilein is not the only one, not by a long shot. One AAU coach quoted in a story earlier this spring referred to the period following the Final Four as like a “free-agent market.”
Nobody this year is dealing with the sting of departures quite like Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who has seen four players from last year’s NIT team leave so far this spring.
“I’m a little bit of everything – surprised, angry, disappointed,” Turgeon was quoted earlier this month. “All of those emotions come into it. But what am I going to do? Am I going to sit here and cry about it? No. I am going to go and get 13 (scholarship players) and hopefully be a tighter group because of it.”
Huggins is dealing with a similar situation at WVU, although not quite to the same degree that Turgeon is.
“We are limited in the contact that we can have with them,” Huggins explained. “We try and do as many things as we can possibly do. You don’t hear any of those guys say they didn’t have a relationship with the staff. They have. We are going to try and do more; we’re going to try and figure out how to do more and we’re going to try and fix the problems, or the perceived problems.
“Can I sit here and tell you that I have it figured out? If I had it figured out there’d be 364 other Division I coaches lined up outside my door saying how do you do it? It’s happening everywhere,” he added.
When pressed, Huggins believes there are many factors involved in players choosing to go elsewhere.
“Let me just say this: there are a lot of other people in young people’s lives other than their head basketball coach,” he said. “You would probably think that they would refer to (the head coach’s) expertise, but that doesn’t always happen.”
Even Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, who has seen Big Ten rival Ohio State load up on four-year transfers, shakes his head at the current state of affairs in the game.
“It’s sad that we’re in that position,” he said. “I understand it and everyone wants one. If it’s a fifth-year guy, I swallow it. But the underclassmen who are transferring and trying to be eligible immediately, I think it’s free agency and I think it’s going to hurt our game eventually.”
As for West Virginia, Huggins believes his program will be fine. Considering the number of players transferring these days there is a very good chance another good one or two will become available between now and mid-August when the fall semester begins. Huggins has a scholarship available to use if that should happen.
“I think there are people out there that we can be involved with that can come in and make an immediate impact,” he said. “I can’t tell you 100 percent that we’re going to get those guys, but we’re going to be in the mix.
“What would I prefer? I would prefer somebody who can come in and make an impact,” he added. “Go get a fifth-year guy that can’t play? No. Go get a guy who got out of his letter and can’t play? No. If they’re not going to make an impact why would we recruit them?”
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