Philadelphia, PA: There are over 800 players in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Transfer Portal (https://247sports.com/Season/2020-Basketball/TransferPortal/). As one local scout likes to say, “Club Transfer” is indeed “Jumpin’”. But why?
Delusion? Accountability? Dishonesty? All of the above according to several coaches, scouts, AAU directors and parents contacted for this article.
The college basketball landscape is changing. For the good and the bad. There have been rule changes that have affected the limitations on when and who can talk to players. Also, the number of people involved with the player has ballooned with trainers, various AAU coaches and runners joining the fray. This provides players with a wealth of resources to go to when making decisions regarding their collegiate career. However it also, according to one coach, “puts a lot of people in a kid’s ear that don’t know what they’re talking about.”
The growth of social media has also influenced the issue. Many young people live on the adulation and sometimes criticism that comes from having thousands of followers. These followers may hold weight if they are stroking the child’s ego and making him feel as thought he’s arrived. This is particularly dangerous when these followers may be adults seeking to profit in some way from the child’s immediate and/or future success.
This puts kids in a precarious position as they try to navigate through a world they are misinformed or misled about. This misinformation isn’t always intentional from the contributors, but is often a product of coddling a player in an effort to ensure staying in his/her sphere of influence. “They don’t really have hard conversations with kids about where they are because they don’t want to lose a kid,” he intimated.
It is the opinion of many of the people polled that many parents, AAU, high school and now even college coaches are guilty of not holding players accountable for fear of the child cutting them off or leaving the team. “These (players) are being set up for failure from middle school,” said one local coach.
Another coach said it makes it difficult to be honest in recruiting. “You can’t tell a kid it’s going to be a year or two before you get meaningful minutes or you might have to redshirt” because it will take you out of the mix. The truth of the matter is that most freshmen have a long way to go before they can be impactful on a team. Adjusting to the speed of the game, figuring out your role and being physically ready for the college grind all make it difficult for freshman to play a lot. Still, according to a local coach, “we try to get them on the floor to keep them happy”. Many times that effort is made early on during the sometimes less grueling non-conference schedule when the stakes aren’t as high and there is time to recover if freshman mistakes lead to a loss. However, especially for a team making a playoff push, it’s more difficult to do later in the season when rotations are tightened. “Freshmen wear down, experience helps older players push through the grind”, he added.
“Man, guys aren’t going to f—ing lose to satisfy their ego,” said one local scout. “But they also ain’t gonna just have a guy sit if they think they can help them either.” It’s really about winning with college coaches. Over the last few years I’ve had the chance to meet some pretty stand up guys in coaching and I realize they have a lot riding on their wins and losses. It’s not just their families they have to worry about. They have assistants and trainers and players that will be impacted if they get canned. So they have a very fine line to walk in recruiting and playing the right guys.
So then it comes down to managing expectations. Most college players, no matter the level D1 or D3 were good high school players used to playing all the minutes they can. That is not realistic as they move up. According to a sample of local kids from the class of 2019 that was pretty highly regarded by the locals, it is apparent that expectations need to be tempered. According to the data, on average, freshmen generally sit out nearly a third of the season, playing in just 23 of a possible 31 games. And when they do step on the court, it usually isn’t for long. On average they log only 15 of a possible 40 game minutes. One saw as little as 18 minutes all season, appearing in just one game!
Of course there were exceptions, like Donta Scott who appeared in all of Maryland’s games, starting 21 of them. However, he had to make significant changes in his approach and his game to see the floor. Also, according to sources, he earned his 21.6 minutes per contest with his “toughness and attitude, and just running dudes outta there”. Scott played with the ball in his hands the last two years of his high school career, playing point guard at 6-7. At Maryland, it’s not been the case so far. He played the majority of his minutes at the “4” this season. “He’s always been a team first player, he’s never been a guy who cared about stats,” said Howard Hudson, his mentor and AAU coach.
According to another local coach, that kind of attitude and approach is not common among scholarship level athletes. “It used to be all about the name on the front, now it’s all about the name on the back”, he lamented.
Scott’s scenario also points to another reason why freshmen often struggle and become disillusioned as they adjust to the college level. Role changes are common and student-athletes are often asked to play differently than they did in high school. They are asked to be patient and “wait” their turn to play the main role. Whereas, according to Hudson, Scott took a “whatever you need coach” kind of approach, many young players fight it, insisting that they shouldn’t have to wait.
Another question is whether it’s worth it. Is the allure of Club Transfer Portal just fool’s gold or can a player significantly change his trajectory by changing schools? The data would suggest “No”. According to one A-10 who has done extensive research on transfers, “You are who you are whether you transfer or not”. The numbers bear this out. When a player moves from Mid Major to High Major over the remaining years of his career he sees a drop across the board in points, assists and rebounds. And when a player moves within the same level, the change in production is negligible, no matter if it was D1 to D1 or D3 to D3. Predictably, those moving from low major to high major saw the biggest decrease in production.
So if it really makes little difference whether you stay or go, why are so many kids jumping ship? Are they leaving to flee competition? Or were they simply told by the staff that they weren’t going to play so they might as well pack up? Or are they just not happy living at the school and the reason is not basketball related? One parent of a transfer said 75% of the reason his son decided to transfer was unrelated to actual basketball.
There are a myriad of reasons why players transfer and each situation is different. Still, one set of initials kept resurfacing as the conversations about this topic went on: the NBA. One coach mentioned Matt Haarms, a 7-3 center transferring from Purdue to “go someplace to showcase his NBA skillset”. We all know that chasing the NBA dream, while inspiring and admirable at times, is not the most attainable goal. According to the NCAA, 1.2% (52 of 4181) of draft eligible basketball players go on to play in major pro sports leagues. Now graduation rates are much higher: 86% in D1, 71% in D2 and 87% in D3. You choose which one should be your primary plan.
Bottom line: everyone involved needs to take stock of the truth revealed in the numbers. Everyone needs to assess their level of culpability and change accordingly. 98.8% of the time, lil Johnny is NOT going to the NBA even if he is fortunate enough to be one of the 6% of high school players who garners a D1 college scholarship. We need to stop being fans of kids and start being coaches, mentors, parents and guardians. The truth is most will not play a significant role at the college level the first one or two years. We need to prepare them for that even if they have 15K followers telling them they are “League-bound” everyday. College coaches need to grow a set and realize that if you lie to a kid just to get him in the door it’s going to work for one year and that it isn’t worth the risk to their livelihood. Club Transfer is “jumpin” and the music won’t stop until it’s too late for many student-athletes deluded into thinking accountability isn’t part of the responsibility that comes with accepting a scholarship.