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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

 

The Big 10’s (Successful) Attack on Philly Mid-Majors!

It is ironic that most fans of college basketball are completely unaware of one of the most influential books of the 20th century. Published in 1962 by the University of Chicago Press, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, authored by Thomas Kuhn introduced term “paradigm shift” to contemporary discussions of organizational change and intellectual progress. Fans of Philadelphia’s rich college basketball tradition have, perhaps unknowingly, experienced a massive and consequential paradigm shift.

Thomas Kuhn can help us understand what has taken place over the past quarter century. Kuhn’s work is important because he singlehandedly changed the way we think about mankind’s most organized attempt to understand the world: science. Kuhn focused his considerable analytical acumen on our view of science and scientific progress. However, the power of his analytical approach for lay persons lies in it’s ability to shed considerable light on organizational change in general.

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Wednesdays at 4:00 pm on 610 ESPN Philadelphia

Prior to Kuhn, the standard account saw steady, cumulative “progress” in organizational development. Kuhn, trashed that traditional mode of thinking… Instead, he saw “paradigm shifts” or abrupt discontinuities – a set of alternating “normal” and “revolutionary” phases in which communities of specialists in particular fields are plunged into periods of turmoil, uncertainty and angst. These revolutionary phases – for example the transition from Newtonian mechanics to quantum physics – correspond to great conceptual breakthroughs and lay the basis for a succeeding phase of business as usual.

The fact that Kuhn’s version seems unremarkable now is, in a way, the greatest measure of his success. But in 1962, almost everything about it was controversial because of the challenge it posed to powerful, entrenched philosophical assumptions about how organizational change and intellectual progress did – and should – work.

I strongly anticipate that many will find this application of his framework to subject of Philadelphia college basketball controversial. This essay will directly challenge some powerful entrenched assumptions about Philly’s mid-major hoops programs.

Here, I assert that the world of college basketball has been in an extended period of turmoil, uncertainty and angst for the past decade or so. This revolutionary phase – the transition from a high/mid/low major model to a far more narrowly circumscribed high/low major model – corresponds to aggressive Power 5 Conference geographic expansion and serves the basis for a new succeeding phase of business as usual. In this new phase, the mid-major category or classification will become extinct.

Increasingly, we are left with the BIG BOYS and the rest of us… Ain’t no more middle ground…

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Jim Delany, Former (1990-2020) Big 10 Commissioner  

The present discussion will center around very specific cases in the mid-Atlantic region, but I would argue the logic is applicable to Division 1 college basketball in general.  Let’s focus on the strategy of encirclement deftly deployed by Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany and it’s deleterious impact on Philly mid-major basketball programs, namely: Temple; Saint Joseph’s; La Salle, and; Drexel.

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Quinton Rose, Temple University

Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces. Delany and the Big 10 have effectively encircled the Philly mid-majors: Rutgers to the north, Penn State to the West and Maryland to the South. This situation is highly dangerous for the Philly mid-majors: at the strategic level, because the Big 10 programs are attracting top recruits that would otherwise serve as reinforcements, and on the tactical level, because the Philly mid-majors are being subjected to an attack from several sides. Lastly, since the Philly mid-majors cannot retreat, they must either fight to the death or surrender.

Surrender does not appear to be imminent. These programs are gonna fight to the death…

In what can aptly be described as as stroke of genius, Delany added Penn State to the Big 10 in 1990, twenty-four years later he added Maryland and Rutgers. With the latter two additions, encirclement was firmly in place. Delany has publicly stated how significant the mid-Atlantic presence is to the Big 10’s long-term plans. “I don’t think people should evaluate this in the short term. But in a 25-year or 50-year period, I think they’re going to be very competitive. They are added value. And if the Big Ten had stayed at 10 and not taken on any of the risk associated with expansion, we probably would be tied for the fourth-largest conference.

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Philly guys, Donta Scott, Hakim Hart, Sr, & Hakim Hart, Jr.

Delany further adds, “Rutgers is a fabulous institution, as is Maryland. And the corridor they occupy with Penn State might be the most important in the Western world — great students, political institutions, financial institutions. So we’re not only recruiting students to play basketball but students overall.”

“If you don’t venture out,” Delany said, “you never gain anything. I don’t want to go back and read all the articles about (criticism for) the Big Ten Network or instant replay or expansion. You have to do what you think is right. And if you make mistakes, you course correct or you double down.”

The Big 10 doubled-down and it is now reaping the rewards.

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Lamar Stevens, Penn State

 

DJ Newbill, John Johnson, Shep Garner, Lamar Stevens, Tony Carr, Nazeer Bostic, John Harrar, Mike Watkins, Izaiah Brockington, Kyle McCloskey and Seth Lundy were Penn State Nittany Lions that may have found their way to Philly mid-major programs under the old paradigm. Eric Ayala, Hakim Hart and Donta Scott are plying their trade in College Park, Maryland instead of the Wynnefield or Olney sections of Philadelphia.

Shit is real… The paradigm has shifted… But not everyone is convinced…

The alums, season ticket holders and athletic directors of the Philly mid-majors remain entrenched in the outdated paradigm. They have yet to fully comprehend the extent of the paradigm shift. Hence, they are striving maintain a “mid-major” status when the existence of the category itself is tenuous at best.

Collectively, they have pinned their hopes on a “Messiah Model” of intervention.

From their perspective of the “Messiah Model”, status as competitive mid-major program hinges on finding the right head coach. Operating within this model, the competitive struggles of the Philly mid-major programs on the court and on the recruiting trails are attributable to the “poor performance” of head coaches. Hence, Billy Lange replaces Phil Martelli… Ashley Howard replaces John Gianinni, Aaron McKie replaces Fran Dunphy and Zach Spiker replaces Bruiser Flint…

Just gotta get the right guy in there and we’ll be alright… So they think…

In this way, the Philly basketball community has developed a collective messiah complex. There has emerged a state of mind in which the alums, fans and athletic directors hold a belief that the “new coaches” – Lange, Howard, McKie and Spiker – are destined to become a program savior today or in the near future.

They seemingly lack an appreciation of the much more complex and insurmountable sets of problems and issues facing these programs.

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Montez Mathis, Rutgers

For those that understand a paradigm shift that has taken place, it’s just not that simple. For those that have recently ventured into the athletic facilities at Big 10 programs, it becomes immediately apparent that the Philly mid-majors are deficient and at a serious disadvantage. There’s one notable exception… Temple has been able to build and renovate it’s facilities in a manner that renders them on par with Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland.

Saint Joseph’s, La Salle and Drexel are simply not on the same planet. The gap is humongous and ever-expanding.

Then there are the significant differences in travel accommodations and living arrangements. Simply stated, money matters and Delany has delivered ungodly amounts of cash. For the fiscal year 2019, Big 10 athletic departments each received $52,100,000 before they sold a single $88 ticket, $1,000 seat license, $5 hot dog, $20 parking pass or $125 hoodie. The student-athletes travel and live differently in Big 10 programs. Kids and their parents have become savvy comparison shoppers. Private Jet travel, 5 star hotels, luxury apartments are de rigueur in the Big 10 Conference.

Philly mid-majors ain’t playing in that ballpark. People, even 18-19 year old prospects, like nice things…

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Big 10 Commissioner, Kevin Warren

Then there’s the subtle but tremendously important leadership question…The Big 10 has a long history of progressive policies and righteous behaviors in the area of race relations. That means, in addition to tremendous advantages in athletic facilities, travel accommodations and living arrangements, the Big 10 has people in charge that look like many of the top high school basketball student-athletes in America. Jim Delany’s successor as Big 10 Commissioner is Kevin Warren (pictured above). Warren is the only Black commissioner among the Power 5 Conferences.

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Michigan Athletic Director, Warde Manuel

 

Warde Manuel is the 12th athletic director in the 118 years that the University of Michigan has had a formal title for the job. And he’s the second African-American man in that office. Tradition-rich Michigan has a consistently given Black men an opportunity to serve in leadership positions. Michigan has 31 teams and more than 950 student-athletes. The self-supporting department has an annual budget of $197 million and a staff of 400.

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Ohio State Athletic Director, Gene Smith

Gene Smith  currently serves as Vice President and Athletic Director for the Ohio State University. He was named the university’s eighth athletic director on March 5, 2005. The Ohio State athletic department sponsors 36 fully-funded varsity sports with more than 1.000 student-athletes competing for Big Ten Conference and NCAA championships. Smith has additional oversight responsibility for the Business Advancement division of Ohio State which includes: Schottenstein Center, Nationwide Arena, Blackwell Hotel, Drake Union, Fawcett Center, and Trademark & Licensing.

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Maryland Athletic Director, Damon Evans

Damon Evans was named the Director of Athletics for the University of Maryland on June 25, 2018. He oversees a department with 20 varsity sports and 500 student-athletes, a full-time staff of over 200, and an annual budget of $95 million. Evans joined the Terrapins in December of 2014 and served as Executive Athletic Director and Chief Financial Officer. He had overseen all day-to-day operations for the athletic department since October of 2017 prior to his appointment as Director of Athletics.

The Philly mid-major programs have widely varying track records in this area. One has a long and strong legacy of diversity and inclusion. Another has made significant progress over the past few years. The others lag considerably behind in this regard.

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Temple University COO, Kevin Clark

Temple has a long-standing track record of identifying and appointing Black males to leadership positions. Temple currently has a Black male COO, Kevin Clark (pictured above). Temple has a Black male basketball head coach and a Black female women’s basketball head coach. Historically, Temple has had a Black male athletic director, Black male football head coach, 3 Black female women’s basketball head coaches and two Black male basketball head coaches. Without question, Temple University has long valued Black participation above and beyond the playing field.

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La Salle Athletic Director, Brian Baptiste

La Salle University currently has a Black male athletic director, Brian Baptiste (pictured above) and a Black male basketball coach. La Salle has also had a Black male women’s basketball coach. La Salle demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion at the leadership level.

Drexel has had one Black male basketball coach.

Saint Joseph’s has never had a Black male basketball coach. Saint Joseph’s has never had a Black female basketball coach. Saint Joseph’s has never had a Black athletic Director. Currently, Saint Joseph’s has zero Blacks in leadership positions in the Athletic Department.

As my Grandpop used to say, “everything ain’t for everybody…”

Taken together, one could easily surmise that these factors do not bode well for coaches of Philly mid-major programs competing with Power 5 programs for elite basketball recruits. In addition to talent drained off to Penn State and Maryland, Miami (ACC) has successfully recruited Davon Reed, JaQuan Newton, Lonnie Walker and Isaiah Wong from the Greater Philadelphia region. Virginia snatched DeAndre Hunter. Kentucky landed Quade Green and Lance Ware.

Surprise… Surprise… Kids like really nice new things…

And, who would’ve thought? Kids and parents respond to people that look like them in leadership positions.

Alums, fans and the ADs of the Philly mid-majors have convinced themselves that they can overcome these hurdles by simply identifying the “messiah.” Lange, Howard, McKie and Spiker are expected to deliver these programs from the depths of mediocrity they currently inhabit.

Through the sheer force of their personalities, by exercising their exceptional “X & O” knowledge and just working VERY HARD they will compete…

So what the BIG BOYS have NBA arenas on campus… So what the BIG BOYS travel exclusively on private jets… So what the BIG BOY players live in luxury apartments…

Who needs a garbage disposal and washer and dryer in their apartment anyway?

Unfortunately, once one realizes and accepts that the paradigm shift has occurred it becomes apparent that alums, fans and ADs of Philly mid-majors have somewhat grandiose self-images that veer towards the delusional.

Shit has changed! And… It ain’t changing back…

By the standards of a present-day high major/low major rubric, alums, fans and ADs of Philly mid-major basketball programs look misinformed and naive at best. And yet we know they aren’t. They are fervent and passionate supporters of programs with wonderful basketball traditions.

They have no idea they are well behind Towson, Monmouth, Quinnipiac, UMBC, Fairfield and Coppin State in the facilities arms race… They just don’t know…

Kuhn’s blinding insight into the problem at hand comes from the sudden realization that if one is to understand these alums, fans and ADs, one must know about the intellectual tradition (outdated paradigm) within which they are operating. One must understand, for example, that for them the term “mid-major” means a program outside the Power 5 that was truly capable of challenging the BIG BOYS year in and year out on the recruiting trail and on the court.

Those days, I fear, are a thing of the past.