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.

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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.

 

It’s Levels (D1, D2 & D3) to This Thing!

by Eric Dixon

April 25, 2020

We live in challenging times with respect to the market. There is a lot of uncertainty and a lack of reliable information out there. Some people at the top are outright lying while people who should know don’t and people who know aren’t always being honest for their own selfish reasons. And I’m not even talking about stocks, bonds, 401Ks or mutual funds. The various levels of college basketball recruitment and talent are fraught with misinformation, mismanagement and immaturity.

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So many kids have D1 aspirations, but their market offerings are well below that. How do you know if you are a D1 player? There is a simple answer and there is a complex answer and the truth is somewhere in the middle. The simple answer is what does the market say? You are the level of your offers and serious interest. The complex response is “it’s a combination of things,” says Aaron Dread, former D2 player and father of Penn State guard Myles Dread.

“There’s the athletic component, the IQ component, and the component of being special at something. Then there’s the maturity to understand where you are,”  he added. The former Millersville University guard went on to explain that he “had a strong inclination in 8th grade” that Myles was going to be a Division 1 player “based on how he was tracking against other kids his age.” Even though Myles was doing well against other players, he said, “I just didn’t know athletically and size-wise.”

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Myles Dread, Penn State

Dread had the advantage of his own experience playing to rely on when trying to determine what level was best for his son, who committed to PSU following a stand out performance at Peach Jam before his junior year. “Playing (myself) helped tremendously because I played against D1 guys and eventual NBA players and I know what it looks like.” So what do you do if you don’t have that advantage of personal experience and, as Brandon Williams put it- its your “first time at the rodeo,” as it is for most parents? Or even if you did play, how do you stay grounded enough to make sound decisions about your child’s potential and goal assessment?

“Be realistic and keep things in perspective,” says Isaac Mitchell, father of former North Penn standout, AJ Mitchell. The elder Mitchell has a modicum of experience having played just one year on the freshman team at Chicago powerhouse, Whitney Young High School. He explained that some parents get caught up in seeing only the best performances of their children as the barometer of their potential. “You can’t use their best game to determine how good they really are,” said Mitchell, who watched his son, a 5-11 point guard, notch 27 points in a summer league win over Shipley, then led by the outstanding Sam Sessoms. “Sessoms, who scored 20-something, was kind of cruising, while AJ was playing his heart out,” says Mitchell, who’s son is now a freshman at Widener University.

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Sam Sessoms, Jr., Recently transferred to Penn State from Binghamton

This sentiment was echoed by Williams, a coach for the Philly Pride AAU program. “Consistency is the key to being D1 or D2,” said the former Abington Friends and Chestnut Hill guard, adding that “consistency” on and off the court went a long way to determining what level a kid belongs on. . . Physical metrics and instincts are products of talent, but how consistent a player is means a lot.”

He went on to mention that the consistency of the message a player was getting from the various influencers around him also could play a major part in a child’s progression to level as well. “Consistency of mentors is important,” he explained, adding that “you have to be slow in setting expectations with parents… It avoids switching and backpedaling later.” The problem is a lot of parents aren’t trying to hear it. “If you tell them something they don’t want to hear, then they’ll just go to someone else who will tell them what they want.”

Conflating this mixture of messages is the inability of college coaches to be effective talent evaluators. “You’d be surprised how many college coaches ask me what level I think a kid is after watching him play” said Duval Simmonds, a long time trainer from the DMV area. Simmonds, who has been training kids since 2001, lamented, “It’s hard for a player to know where he belongs if the guys recruiting him don’t even know.” This makes it difficult to allow the market to determine a player’s worth.

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Duval Simmonds (left) and Georgetown Head Coach, Patrick Ewing

Look at the curious recruitment of the aforementioned Sessoms, who will take his considerable talents to the Penn State this fall. Coming out of high school no scouts thought he was ready for the Big Ten. He was a 2000 point scorer in high school, played for a premier AAU team and, by all accounts, did everything the right way. Still, just one Division 1 school, Binghamton University, deemed him good enough to play at that level. Many of us who actually saw him play were befuddled.

One possible explanation, according to one D1 coach unfamiliar with his recruitment, is his lack of height for the position and other physical metrics. It’s impossible to truly know now why at least local mid-majors didn’t see the potential in his impressive game but Simmonds offered one hypothesis.

“A lot of times coaches don’t know and like to wait to see who else offers,” he explained, adding that some coaches don’t “trust their eyes” if other programs don’t seem to see what they see.

Williams also touched on that saying coaches need to be “confident in their assessments”. He added that his confidence in his assessments makes it easier for him to have “real” conversations with parents and players about what level might be appropriate for them. However, he also said he doesn’t offer assessments and will only speak to a parent and player if asked. “Too easy to be seen as a ‘hater’”.

“I knew (my players) could play at the D1 level because I watched them play well against other players,” said Coach Charles Grasty, head coach at Abington High School, who saw all five of his starters from last year’s 28-2 District One championship squad receive the opportunity to play at the next level, ranging in level from D3 (Rosemont College) to D1 ( Univ. of Penn and Villanova). Grasty, a former college player himself, said he offers to contact schools and lobby for his players..

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Charles Grasty, Abington HS Head Coach

“I bring them in my office and tell them to give me at least five schools they want me to call, 3 solid prospects and 2 reaches,” he explained. Referring to the “reaches” he said,  “Why not? The most they can tell me is ‘no’,” he dead-panned. This year he was able to help a deep reserve on last year’s team, who played a slightly bigger role this year, get a chance at Penn State-Scranton.

He also said he didn’t think it was solely his responsibility to get players next level opportunities, however, he cares about them and wants to help. One way he helps is by scheduling competitive games where they can gain exposure. He prides himself in including rigor in his non-conference schedule. “It helps the players be seen and it helps the team get ready for conference play.”

Much of the responsibility of garnering next level opportunities lies with the player and his/her family. Part of that responsibility is making sure they are academically prepared to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise.  Several players with D1 talent have had to take a different path because of academic issues.  “We can’t do much with them if they have a 1.9,” lamented one coach. Ball without books is empty.

In conclusion, there is a gamut of reasons why players’ stock may rise and fall in determining their college level. Chief among them are physical metrics like natural talent, height, body type, athleticism, speed and an above-average skillset. These along with a mental toughness, basketball IQ, maturity and attitude that affords them the ability to perform consistently go a long way to figuring out where a player is a best fit. As usual, honesty is the best policy and most of all being honest with oneself may be the most difficult, yet important aspect of realistic goal setting.

Sam Sessoms Commits to Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lions!

The Philly to State College basketball pipeline was established in 2011. Pat Chambers decided to leave Boston University and take on the tremendous challenge of breathing life into the basketball program at Penn State University. Along with Alabama, Texas and USC, Penn State is one of the premier “football” schools in American.

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Basketball in State College was thought of as something to occupy the space between the Bowl Game in January and the start of Spring football. How would Chambers eek out some space for his program in the mind of the Happy Valley faithful? How would he establish an identity for his program?

Born into the Philadelphia basketball culture, Chambers decided to bet heavily on what he knows. A Philly guard himself, Chambers placed his fate and that of the Penn State program in capable hands of Philly guards. He had an affinity for the guys that endured trials and tribulations. His first recruit, Devonte “DJay” Newbill, was unceremoniously dumped by that scalawag Buzz Williams after committing to Marquette. After enduring a year playing in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Newbill agreed to join Chambers at Penn State.

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Newbill would go on to have a wonderful career. He finished with 2105 points, 681 rebounds and 340 assists. Moreover, and more importantly, he paved the way for future Nittany Lions from the 215. John Johnson transferred from Pitt, Shep Garner was a 4-year starter out of Roman Catholic. Big Mike Watkins from MCS joined the squad. Nazeer Bostic, Lamar Stevens and Tony Carr joined the program all at once. John Harrar put down the football pads and decided play a little power forward in the Big 10. Izaiah Brockington left St. Bonaventure and became a key member of the Nittany Lion club that was ranked as high as #9 this past season.

Well… here we go again… another Philly guard that has been through some real ups and downs has decided to join Chambers and the Nittany Lions. Twenty-four months ago, Sam Sessoms had exactly one (1) scholarship offer from Binghamton. In two All-League seasons, Sessoms put up 1151 points, 254 rebounds and 253 assists.

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Desirous of an opportunity to compete at the highest level, Sessoms has decided to join a Nittany Lion club that was ranked in the top 25 most of the last season. He will redshirt a year have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

When asked why he chose Penn State over Rutgers, Wichita State, Marquette, Clemson and 50 other suitors, Sessoms said “It’s a great school, degree from Penn State will be huge for a boy from the Bottom section of West Philly. And, the Penn State alumni family is huge, I look forward to becoming a part of the network. As far as basketball is concerned, I think it’s a nice fit. I can see myself growing as a player and person under Coach Chambers and the coaching staff. Most importantly after basketball, a degree from Penn state would be good for me for the rest of my life.”

One of the most entertaining and competitive players in college basketball, Sessoms will provide Chambers with yet another Philly guard with a chip on his shoulder. Expectations will be high and Sessoms will exceed them.

Welcome home to the City 7 Sam Sessoms!