How Does “Club Transfer” Impact HS Recruiting?

by Eric Dixon

Portals have entry and exit points, so as an unprecedented number of players are entering the transfer portal, it’s impacting the recruitment side of the equation. Colleges are still recruiting high schoolers but this may change in the coming years as the portal offerings are exploding and the advantages college coaches gain from bringing in a seasoned transfer are plain and plentiful.

“Transfers are more experienced… they know what’s expected,” said one college coach polled for this piece. He went on to explain that transfers know how to eat, how hard you have to practice and all these little things freshman have to catch up on.” One local high school coach mentioned Tyrese Martin, who has decided to leave Rhode Island for the den of Huskies at UConn. “UConn isn’t going to be able to get anybody out of high school that’s better than (Martin),” he said matter-of-factly.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Georgetown

Georgetown’s Mac McClung is in the Transfer Portal

Skip Robinson, head coach for the WeR1 program, added another pertinent point, saying “they can bring in a transfer and know that he’s notGeorgetown going to leave right away.” He further explained that the player had already transferred once so it is unlikely the player would be in a hurry to jump ship again.

These advantages lead some to think that it will change how programs will recruit players. Many believe that kids who fall out of the top 200 may not get recruited very heavily or receive as many actual offers because programs will begin to shift their priorities to looking at the portal first to fill holes, especially if those gaps are at key positions. If the coach is on a “warm seat” the urgency to bring in transfers may be greater.


La Salle’s Ed Croswell transferred to Providence

If you don’t believe the high rate of transfers, as of April 25th 73 of the 351 Division I schools have 4 or more players in the portal, is real, then you are fooling yourself. One Patriot league coach spelled out how it’s affected recruiting at the low and mid major levels since only 3 of the 73 schools are from a Power 5 conference.

“First step is accepting it as reality… On average 3+ players from every roster will enter the portal.” This assessment is consistent with the numbers when you look at the number of players in the portal (approximately 850) relative to the number of players (about 4100) there are at the D1 level.


Binghamton’s Sam Sessoms transferred to Penn State

The portal itself may also expedite this shift because prior to it’s establishment “you had to have relationships to hear about who was on the market and get contact information,” said one college head coach. “Now you have greater access,” he noted. He did, however, disagree that there would be a trend toward recruiting transfers over high school seniors or prep players. “You recruit as normal and look to the portal late.”

Here is where high school players and parents need to pay attention because it gets tricky. The exodus to the portal has affected how the recruitment strategy has to be planned out. “There are going to be way more seniors recruited” said the coach, but “the relationships are going to end up being more “interest than offers,” as college coaches will be recruiting based on contingencies rather than realities because “they have to be ready” when/if players leave unexpectedly. “We still want high school kids, but you can’t simply replace (transfers) with more young players.” Coaches plan their recruitment strategy based on having a certain level of maturity and experience on their rosters. If an older player enters the portal, he is taking that expected experience with him so in order to maintain a balance and the planned team progression, a transfer is a better option in replacing him. Besides that, “Older players win.” In previous years a school might bring in 4 players, all high school seniors. Now that may change. It may be only 2 or 3 high schoolers and 2 or 1 transfer(s).


Towson’s Allen Betrand transferred to Rhode Island

A local college coach also offered a possible explanation of why the portal has added ease on both sides. “I think the transfer portal makes it easy for the kids now. There doesn’t have to be any face to face interaction when you decide you are leaving.”

So the question becomes why would you look to bring in high schooler when a transfer would most certainly be more ready and possibly more stable? “Potential growth,” according to one coach. “A high school senior might have a lower floor, but higher ceiling.” If you do a solid job recruiting and bring in the “right” young players, then you can have confidence that the player would meet their potential over time at the primary school.


West Chester’s Robbie Heath transferred to Pepperdine

Robinson noted that this may be more problematic in this “Club Transfer” environment because it makes “projection” difficult. “Whenever you bring in a player you’re projecting how he might be able to help you in a couple years, but now he might not be there in a couple years because he’s not happy not playing.”

Robinson also made it clear that transferring was sometimes necessary. “Sometimes a player gets homesick or there are family issues that makes him feel like he needs to be closer, or a coaching change. Or sometimes you just have to realize every player ain’t right for every coach.”


Saint Joseph’s Chereef Knox transferred to Coppin State

One PCL coach said a coaching change spurred his transfer from a mid-major to eventually playing 2 years at a high major school after spending his freshman year at a low major, where he excelled. His episodic journey led to a progression up the levels of college basketball which was a “blessing” in many ways because he didn’t think he would have been ready to contribute at a high-major program coming out of high school.

“It would have been tough,” he said of trying to adjust to the rigors and pace of college basketball after completing the 12th grade at just 17 years old. “I matured and was more used to being on my own, taking care of myself,” he said, further explaining why the transfer route was good for him as a player and person.


Temple’s Josh Pierre-Louis transferred to Cal Santa Barbara

Still, another advantage a high school senior may have is “timing”, according to a local AAU director. “The portal doesn’t usually open until December. High school guys can commit before it opens.” This makes holding offers less desirable even though many high school players like to wait to gather more offers so they can announce them on social media. Playing that game may cost some an opportunity to play at the school of their choice. Also, there may be fewer scholarship opportunities for true freshman at the higher levels forcing them to decide to go to a lower level, hope to play really well then transfer up, as Robbie Heath, the former Abington Senior High School standout, was able to do in garnering a scholarship from Pepperdine University after torching opponents in the PSAC at Division II West Chester University.

Talent and timing versus experience and readiness is the dilemma facing many college coaches as they make decisions regarding their strategies and allocation of recruiting resources. The tipping point may be the general security of the coach or urgency of the positional need. The game has changed and the growth of the portal has made it easier for both entry and exit. This adds another dimension for high school upperclassmen and prep players who might be forced to make commitment decisions sooner than they might want to and go places they believe are below their ability.


I’m Putting My Name in the Draft! Why?

by Eric Dixon

Philadelphia, PA: Reasons matter. So often we take an “ends justifies the means” approach, valuing results over reasons. Eventually, it all catches up and we are left wondering how we end up with unintended consequences. Some of those consequences are a cause for alarm, while others are  to be celebrated.

I’ve chronicled both the confusion over a player’s appropriate level and the growth of the Transfer Portal in recent weeks. The proliferation of entrants into the transfer portal is lamented by many, while lauded by others. Those who see it as a negative point to it as a sign of immaturity or bad evaluation and decision making in the recruitment and college selection process. Others see it as a move toward greater student-athlete autonomy and freedom of movement. Really it’s both, but the reasons why matter.


Rasheed Wallace and David Stern

When I asked the question of coaches, AAU directors, scouts and trainers too often the NBA comes up. This is insane to me. “The reason why kids want to go to play ball in college has changed,” said one AAU Director. “They all want to go to the league.”

In speaking with one scout who played in both high school and college, he said he started playing because he was attracted to “playing in the games.” He was enamored with the atmosphere, environment and lifestyle that came with being a ballplayer. “I didn’t really care for practice or any of that other stuff.” He just wanted to play in the games. He didn’t even think about whether the NBA was in his future until a college professor asked him about it as he approached his junior year.


David Stern and Dion Waiters

Why did you start playing?

For me it was a chance to get free college tuition. I wasn’t much of an athlete going into middle school. I had attended an educational enrichment program at Beaver College (now Arcadia University) and, in deference to the constant urging of my mother, had come to believe my best chance to escape the wanton violence and rampant poverty of my neighborhood was to go to college. “You don’t like where we live. Get an education and get out” she would tell me. I knew I had to go to college and I knew that it cost money my family didn’t have. So I primarily started playing basketball to go to college. Seems as though many kids are doing it the other way around.

“Things are different now.” They certainly are with the rise of social media, the increase of influencers and the focus on individual goals in the team sport. Players are implored to make their own decisions and “live their own life”. Sounds great and in many ways it is great. There was no way I was going to make my son’s college decision for him. I had taken my injury plagued basketball career as far as I could take it and am at peace with how much the game gave me. He was the one who would have to endure the practices and mind games of the coaches that I knew would come with being a student-athlete in a high-major program, so it was best to let him make the decision.


David Stern and Marcus Morris

Our family and support system helped by arranging and paying for him to make more than a dozen unofficial visits, play against all levels of competition and gather as much information about the schools recruiting him as we could. We also helped him set goals and expectations of what he wanted from his college experience. Asked questions like, “Do you want to live at a big school or smaller one? Where do you want to settle after graduation and what are non-basketball career goals? Did the NBA come up?  Yes.  At 6-8, a consensus top 75 player with his resume would be remiss in not making the NBA a part of the discussion. We discussed it with people at USA Basketball, pro scouts, current and past NBA players and UAA connections regarding how realistic it was and what he would need to do to make his dream a reality since he’s not currently an NBA prospect. Our access to the resources and people who have helped in that discussion is not shared by the majority of people making their college decision. We also understand that you don’t get to choose the NBA, they choose you- or not. The reasons they don’t choose some and do choose others is beyond his control so he prepares and makes decisions based on what he can control.

Another difference is social media. This has been a huge influence on the changes in the last couple years. Again, with mixed results. Some young people, who often don’t consider the ramifications of their actions beyond when their next round of SnapChats will appear and disappear, still don’t seem to understand what it means to have a digital footprint or what it can mean if it leaves a negative impression. Donte DiVincenzo had his draft celebrations marred by allegations stemming from a post on his twitter account from his middle school years.


David Stern and Markeiff Morris

“It’s one of the first things we check,” said one assistant coach from the A-10.
One positive byproduct of this movement to play in college is higher rates of success among student-athletes, especially African Americans, according to the NCAA measurement of success, Graduate Success Rate (GSR). “More than three-quarters of African-American college athletes — 77 percent — earned their degrees, up from 74 percent last year. The rate has risen 21 percentage points since 2002,” according to a NCAA report published in 2018.

Others say this stat is misleading and that the real outcomes are less rosy with respect to actual graduate rates. The GSR doesn’t note the level of responsibility the original universities have for those who transfer or those who seek to transfer but end up just leaving school all together.

“Thus, the NCAA system is not held accountable for a significant number of recruited athletes,”  wrote the authors of a recent article titled “The Hoax of NCAA Graduation Rates.” “Even for those included in the GSR cohort as transfers, the original recruiting school is absolved of responsibility for failing to retain them.” -Politifact, February 1, 2018. When considering that the Federal Graduation rates put the actual number at less than 50 percent, it does seem as if something is amiss with the NCAA number crunching.

 “Sometimes people lose focus on their original reasons,” said James Nelson, local veteran of the AAU community. He explained that with the growth of previously unforeseen basketball related income streams, some people begin to stop chasing their passion for the game and start pursuing profits. There is little doubt that profiteering has hurt grassroots basketball and the college decision making process.

“You gotta let them do them,” says the local scout. “Kids need to be able to do what’s best for them and their families.” I ask, what if they don’t know? “Don’t matter.” I don’t presume to think I or anyone else knows enough to tell a family what’s best for them based on the information they gather, especially when you consider that no one can adequately assess a situation from the outside.  Still, players have to perform their due diligence and make sure they are gathering reliable information and setting realistic goals and expectations.