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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.