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NCAA's transfer portal shaking up college basketball

NCAA's transfer portal shaking up college basketball

James Akinjo

Former Arizona guard James Akinjo (left) will get his chance to play immediately this upcoming season following his transfer to Baylor, thanks to a change in NCAA rules.

Baylor’s national championship basketball team was built with a unique combination of veteran leadership, unmatched chemistry and near-perfect roster symmetry.

The Bears’ rotation featured a dynamic mix of transfers and players who signed with Baylor straight out of high school. All five starters were in at least their third year with the Bears, while the top three players off the bench had been on the roster at least two seasons.

It’s a model for success any coach would like to emulate. But it could be near impossible in the new era of college basketball.

With the NCAA allowing first-time transfers to play immediately instead of redshirting, the transfer portal has gone crazy. Through last weekend, nearly 1,700 players had entered the NCAA transfer portal with about 1,100 finding new schools. And summer is just beginning.

Baylor coach Scott Drew isn’t surprised by the high level of activity.

“Actually I thought there would be 2,000,” Drew said. “But it’s not over.”

Players enter the transfer portal for a variety of reasons. Joining a nationally prominent program could give them a grander stage to showcase their talent to NBA scouts. Their skills might be a better fit with a new coach in a different system. Sometimes a change in scenery benefits both players and coaches.

Though immediate eligibility will certainly help some teams, the players will miss the benefits that redshirting for a season brought under the old rules. Baylor transfer guards Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Adam Flagler all improved their skills during their redshirt seasons as they learned Drew’s system, developed relationships with their new teammates, and adjusted to their classes at Baylor.

“We’ve had some program-changing level players,” Drew said. “At the same time, they had to sit out a year, which allowed them to develop and become the players they wanted to become when they were eligible. Sometimes with a player redshirting and not having the pressure to perform or think about the minutes they’re playing, they can develop their game for a year without added pressure.”

With All-America guard Jared Butler and national defensive player of the year Mitchell declaring for the NBA Draft and Teague and Mark Vital completing their fifth seasons of college basketball, the Bears will have a different look in 2021-22.

Drew signed all-Pac 12 Arizona guard James Akinjo and high-scoring guard Dale Bonner from Division II Fairmont State to supplement returning players like guards Flagler and LJ Cryer, forwards Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, and talented incoming freshmen Kendall Brown, Jeremy Sochan and Langston Love. Matthew Mayer is exploring his NBA Draft options, but has left the door open to return for his senior year.

But even with four starters gone, Baylor’s roster will look much more familiar look than a lot of Big 12 schools that plunged deep into the transfer market.

Coming off a 12-14 season and a 5-11 Big 12 record, TCU coach Jamie Dixon overhauled his roster by adding seven transfers heading into his sixth season with the Horned Frogs. The most prominent addition is former Texas A&M forward Emanuel Miller, who averaged 16.2 points and 8.2 rebounds in 17 games last season.

Chris Beard’s switch from Texas Tech to Texas led to roster upheavals in both programs.

Beard has beefed up the Longhorns’ frontcourt by adding former UMass’ Tre Mitchell, Utah’s Timmy Allen, Creighton’s Christian Bishop and Vanderbilt’s Dylan Disu. All four averaged double-figure scoring last season and were solid rebounders. Former Texas Tech reserve guard Avery Benson also transferred to Texas.

Beard often dabbled in the transfer market during his five seasons as Texas Tech’s head coach.

“When the rules change, a lot of what’s important is to stay true to your core values,” said Beard on a recent College Hoops Today podcast. “We’re looking for guys who want to win. That sounds like Captain Obvious, but we start by finding guys who want to be part of a winning team and a winning culture. For us, it’s always going to be commitment on the defensive end, and having a balanced team.”

Following Beard’s departure, several Texas Tech players opted to leave. But former Red Raiders assistant coach Mark Adams has bolstered his roster with six transfers from four-year schools, including former UTEP star Bryson Williams, who averaged 17.1 points in 2019-20 and 15.1 points in 2020-21.

Even though Kansas has traditionally signed top 10 recruiting classes, longtime coach Bill Self is adding three potential impact transfers.

Guard Remy Martin averaged 19.1 points the last two seasons at Arizona State, while guard Joseph Yesufu averaged 12.8 points at Drake. Forward Cam Martin, the second-leading scorer in Missouri Southern State basketball history, averaged 25 points per game last season while earning NCAA Division II second-team All-American.

“Cam is going to bring a lot of versatility to our frontcourt, allowing us to play with space and size,” Self said. “Jeff Boschee (former KU guard) runs a solid program at Missouri Southern and knows exactly what it takes to play at this level. We’re very excited that Cam is coming to Kansas and look forward to the positive impact he will have on this team.”

Two former Jayhawks transferred to Big 12 teams, including Tristan Enaruna to Iowa State and guard Bryce Thompson to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys also signed former Texas Tech forward Tyreek Smith.

New Oklahoma coach Porter Moser has signed brothers Tanner and Jacob Groves from Eastern Washington, Ethan Chargois from SMU and Jordan Goldwire from Duke as transfers. Standing 6-9, Tanner Groves earned 2021 Big Sky Conference Player of the Year, averaging 17.2 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 56.0 percent from the field as a junior.

West Virginia lost one of the Big 12’s best big men with Oscar Tshiebwe heading to Kentucky. But coach Bob Huggins has added high scoring Old Dominion guard Malik Curry.

Kansas State will bring in at least three transfers, including Ismael Massoud, a 6-8, 220-pound sophomore forward from Wake Forest. Despite the current craze, Wildcats coach Bruce Weber isn’t convinced that switching schools is always the best thing.

“I know change is hard for everybody and change is a part of life,” Weber said. “But I still go back to Coke and Coke Classic. Sometimes people make bad decisions and they have to go back and say, ‘What did we do? Did we mess this up?’ “

Though Drew has greatly benefited from transfers, he knows it takes the right balance of players and personalities to build a program that wins consistently. The Bears have reached the NCAA tournament nine times since 2008 with two Elite Eight appearances and two Sweet 16 berths to go along with the 2021 national title.

But the kind of stability Drew has built at Baylor is more fleeting than ever in college basketball. The landscape has changed with the NCAA granting transfers immediate eligibility, and programs across the country are feeling the tremors.

“I think it’s too early to tell for sure what lasting impact it will make,” Drew said. “From a coaching standpoint, it makes it more difficult to identify what your team needs year to year. Right now, everyone is trying to come up with the magic number of transfers and freshmen, and trying to create that balance.”

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