College basketball is full of rituals, and one of them is that the day after the season ends a host of publications will release their “way-too-early” preseason rankings, as more attention will be focused on mock drafts and the upcoming NBA Draft.
Back in the day, the players who made it to the final weekend were usually going to be the stars of the draft. That isn’t the case anymore as Monday night’s classic between Kansas and North Carolina proved that change is here to stay — for now — as transfers have replaced one-and-dones as the hottest trend in the sport. Because while the sexy freshman might be the ones getting their names called first on draft day, they’re rarely the ones having “One Shining Moment”
Kansas would have been lost without Remy Martin. The Arizona State transfer scored 14 points last night and was the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. Without him, Kansas doesn’t get to the Final Four, let alone win it all. The same could be said about the play of Brady Manek, who put up a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas, as he was a godsend for North Carolina all season after transferring from Oklahoma. In fact, every team in the Final Four had a transfer on the roster that played a vital role for them this season. Villanova had Caleb Daniels who played close to 30 minutes per game this season after spending his first two years at Tulane. And Duke had veteran big man Theo John from Marquette, as the graduate senior added toughness and maturity to a team full of underclassmen.
The women’s national championship game even included an impactful transfer as UConn had Evina Westbrook after she left Tennessee, of all places. The Huskies also had Dorka Juhász, a former Ohio State Buckeye, who missed the Final Four due to getting injured in the Elite Eight.
“What the transfer portal does, it allows you not to take a step back whenever you have unexpected things happen during the season,” said Kansas coach Bill Self on Sunday. “So, for instance, that happens a lot whether it be another guy transfer or where there be a guy or two declare for the draft and have a good year that’s maybe ahead of what your schedule was for him. Those sorts of things. You can’t get a freshman in the spring like that because they’re already taken. So the transfer portal allows you to fill in the gaps, which allows programs to stay at the level that they’re presently operating at. And there won’t be as many dips like this because of the portal.”
Baylor, last year’s champion, was led by Davion Mitchell, who came from Auburn. And the 2019 Texas Tech team that took their program to the first national title game in program history had four transfers on their roster.
Given that Kentucky’s 2012 squad and Duke’s 2015 team are the only teams that have won national titles led by multiple freshmen in the one-and-done era, other programs around the country figured they’d prioritize experience over talent and youth.
“The backbones of all of our teams have been our experience,” Self explained. “It hasn’t been our young kids. Even though I’ve always thought, ‘Man, if your foundation is your juniors and seniors but your best player was your freshman, you’ve got something special. That could be something special.”
Perhaps no other coach understands that quite like Self, who has recruited a slew of recruits that were thought to be one-and-dones that either wound up staying more than one year, transferred, or didn’t quite turn out to be who they were expected to be in the NBA. In case you forgot, Self once had Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid on the same team and lost in the Second Round to Stanford.
A few years ago, people thought that the one-and-done was crippling college basketball, as it seemed that all the talent was going to Duke and Kentucky, given that they seemed to be the only programs that could win with 18- and 19-year-olds. But even then, it was a gamble. John Calipari started five freshmen in the 2014 national title game and they were defeated by a less talented, but older UConn team. In 2017, Zach Collins was surrounded by veterans at Gonzaga when they lost to North Carolina in the title game. The same was true for Jalen Suggs last season when he was the one-and-done star for the Bulldogs that lost in the last game of the season.
According to Axios, back in January, over 3,000 football players had hit the transfer portal as this is affecting all the revenue-generating sports. And at LSU, they don’t even have a basketball team with any scholarship players as everyone has decided to transfer, enter the draft, or were a recruit that decommitted from the fallout of Will Wade’s firing.
However, while every college coach is trying to figure out how their program will handle transfers, a side effect of this rule that’s given players more power is how it has changed high school recruiting.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing,” said Ethan Bilgrien, a football recruit in Oklahoma, to the Tulsa World earlier this year. “I think that goes for a lot of guys on our team. Especially with the COVID year and the transfer portal, there’s no reason for colleges to take on kids coming out of high school, when you have kids coming out of (colleges) with three or four years of eligibility left. It definitely affects us.”
Decisions need to be made at a quicker pace.
“Colleges are not going to wait around for recruits anymore because they can go straight to the transfer portal and recruit from there also,” said Thomas Wilcher, Michigan State’s Director of Community and High School Relations, last fall to MLive.com. “A lot of kids don’t have the leisure of waiting. They need to make sure they are locked into schools early because, if they do not, they will lose that spot. So, you have to figure out where you want to go. You have to get your choices together early because, if you do not, you may not have a choice later on.”
Parents, coaches, and players are all trying to figure this out and no one has figured out the perfect formula. When the All-Tournament Team was announced after Monday night’s game, Duke’s Paolo Banchero was the lone freshman, as he could be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Do you try to sign star freshmen that will only be around for you a year? Or do you look for the transfer portal each season to add experienced players? How do you handle recruiting high school kids if there are players that can help you win now in the portal? Is there even a happy middle ground?
There aren’t any “right” answers to those questions, as running a program just got a lot harder. Transfers have become the new “one-and-done,” but instead of leaving for the NBA after one year, they’re leaving for another team that could be on your schedule next season.