College basketball coaches spend hundreds of hours recruiting players. Whereas the NBA can draft, make trades or scan the waiver wires to upgrade teams, college teams have to make do with what they learn on the recruiting trail.
The current college trend, though, isnt much different from perusing that wire for immediate upgrades.
The transfer list for college basketball contains more than 500 players, some of whom have graduated from their original institutions but the great majority of which are underclassmen who just want out. Its a growing problem in the sport; ESPNs Jeff Goodman, who has been tracking transfers for six years, puts this years still-increasing list just under the record 550 players who transferred last season.
In the age of social media opening any person to immediate advice or criticism, and the world of high-level recruiting filling players heads with dreams that might not be realistic, instant gratification is the goal. If a player doesnt start as a freshman, or doesnt believe hes being used correctly, there are many other options rather than waiting it out, working hard and earning it.
Its not 1982 anymore, where everybody gets out of bed and waits their turn, South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. Its microwave. Sometimes when you dont get your microwave food, and you have to wait for the oven to cook it, people go to McDonalds and buy a cheeseburger rather than wait.
Martin lost two of his players in a week, each citing a desire for more playing time. The Gamecocks are one of 12 SEC teams that have seen at least one transfer over the past year. The league also has eight teams who have accepted at least one transfer for next season.
Its a necessity for college coaches to look at the transfer list. Their last recruiting class might have just taken a hit, and they have to fill the void. There are so many college-ready players looking for new homes that its a disservice if a coach doesnt look at the list.
Tennessee lost its entire recruiting class when coach Cuonzo Martin accepted the California job. New coach Donnie Tyndall has begun to replace it, but he also lost returnees A.J. Davis and Quinton Chievous (Darius Thompson is still deciding whether to stay). Part of the fix? Finding Eric McKnight and Ian Chiles on the transfer list.
Every year, you have 50 people getting fired or changing jobs, Martin said. Thats part of it. The contact person that these young people trust with their future is the basketball coach. The coach leaves, theres a void there.
But its not just college where players wish to start over. It starts at the level before. Tim Whipple has been a teacher and coach for 37 years, the past 33 at Irmo High. His program has become a model for stability.
We do a really, really good job of helping kids understand where they are, and the level that they can play, and the expectations necessary, Whipple said. They have to choose to accept that or not, and for the most part, they do.
Yet he recognizes the struggle college coaches face when dealing with todays high-schoolers, as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago. Martin, a former high school coach, pointed out that he often has to sort through four or five high school transcripts for one player to make sure he can get into college. Why? The player transferred several times in high school.
Because of the one-and-dones, everyone wants to be a star immediately, Whipple said. When theyre not, theyre not mature enough to handle it, because the grass is always greener somewhere else, in their minds. They believe everything they hear and, all of a sudden, they get in a situation and its not that way.
At Irmo, players are taught what to expect in middle school. They have plenty of time and plenty of examples of how it works to decide if its for them. There arent a lot of players who leave for prep schools or new starts, because theyve been in the system and have seen how it can produce.
In college, its not that way. Even longtime coaches have players transfer in and out, and a coach just taking over a program will almost always deal with many departures within his first two years. That starts the vicious cycle of not having time to build relationships while recruiting, so they look to transfers, which causes more players to think they can also transfer since it worked for the first guy.
You cant blame the coaches. Theyve got to do it, theyve got to play the game, Whipple said. Theyve got to do whats necessary to get these kids in. They end up taking talented players that really dont fit their systems, just because theyre the most talented players.
Each of the states two major programs have been on the transfer wire, giving and taking, in the past year. Clemson lost Adonis Filer and Devin Coleman this year and picked up San Franciscos Avry Holmes. The Gamecocks have had six players transfer in two seasons but landed transfers LaShay Page and Ty Johnson, and are in the mix for Houston transfer Danuel House.
College coaches were forced into playing AAU and recruiting battles to keep up with each other, and are now dealing with the transfer epidemic. Stability in a program can be attained, but it becomes more difficult with every player who decides a new school and new team is preferable to waiting his turn at the old one.
Its kind of the culture thats been created in the grassroots level, Martin said. You try to build a program, you try to find people that fit your views, your values and are willing to help you. When you start building that culture, maybe you havent won enough, so they get rid of you, and here comes the new guy. Its hard to have a stable culture, because its always a different vision.
And the vision for many players is to succeed now, no matter when or where they have to go to do it.
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