University of Miami

Transfers turning into NCAA’s free agent market

Miami coach Jim Larrañaga talks with guard Angel Rodriguez, (13) who transferred to the University of Miami from Kansas State in 2013.
Miami coach Jim Larrañaga talks with guard Angel Rodriguez, (13) who transferred to the University of Miami from Kansas State in 2013. AP

We live in an age of instant gratification.

We get annoyed if a website takes more than a few seconds to load. We pay extra for same-day delivery. We do our banking online because drive-through isn’t fast enough anymore.

We want our news now. Our photos now. Our TV shows on demand.

It should come as little surprise, then, that college basketball players raised in this generation are more impatient than ever, unwilling to wait for playing time, itching to bolt if their expectations aren’t met.

They are transferring at such an alarming rate that the trend is being termed “an epidemic” and was one of the hottest topics at the national coaches meeting during the recent Final Four.

More than 700 players are transferring this spring from the 351 Division I men’s programs around the country. That’s an average of two per team. Roughly 40 percent of them are switching schools in their first two years. Seventy-five of them have graduated and are changing schools for their final year of eligibility, a growing movement that has decimated some mid-major rosters.

Ten years ago, only 250 players transferred. Three years ago, it was around 450.

“Transferring 25 years ago was really frowned upon, was like there was something wrong with your basketball program if someone wanted to transfer to another school,” said University of Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, who has had six players transfer in and out over the past three years.

“Now, transferring is so commonplace that last year I heard a statistic that only seven Division 1 schools did not have someone transferring. That means 344 schools had at least one transfer, and two was normal.”

ESPN analyst Dick Vitale is deeply troubled by the trend, calling it “sickening.” He puts some of the blame on high school coaches and AAU coaches for inflating players’ egos with unrealistic expectations and on college coaches for raiding other programs when they get a whiff of an impatient player.

“I think it’s a scenario where coaches have to start looking in the mirror, too, because I think coaches are involved, runners are involved, AAU and high school coaches are involved,” Vitale said. “If they sense a kid is unhappy, they make sure and get the word out real quick to the player that, ‘Hey, School X would be interested in you.’

“So right away the thought process is there: ‘Maybe if I transfer, wow, it will be a whole different scenario.’ Coaches will deny that, but there’s no doubt in my mind that coaches look at rosters, see kids who were big-time recruits sitting the bench, not getting any PT [playing time] and they get the word out, not through them, but through somebody, that ‘if you leave, we’d be interested.’ I really believe that’s happening and it’s created this unbelievable epidemic.”

The college revolving door is not exclusive to student athletes. A July 2015 study published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that 37.2 percent of college students who started in 2008 transferred at least once. Of those who transferred, 45 percent switched schools more than once.

“We’re not a very patient society,” Larrañaga said. “In today’s day and age, kids are influenced by so many different factors; and they all have the goal of playing in the NBA; and they’re looking for immediate satisfaction, and if it’s not there, they’ll go search for it someplace else.”

Although Larrañaga prefers to develop players over four years, he recognizes that the abundance of transfers opens up a giant pool of talent that can help his program. Three of the key players on the Hurricanes’ 2016 Sweet 16 team were transfers — Angel Rodriguez (from Kansas State), Sheldon McClellan (from Texas), and Kamari Murphy (from Oklahoma State). The Canes’ 2013 Sweet 16 team was also led by transfers Shane Larkin (from DePaul) and Kenny Kadji (from Florida).

All around the state, players are coming and going to and from the University of Florida, Florida State, FIU and FAU.

The college transfer market has become like the NBA free agent market, with AAU coaches and other hangers-on often acting as de facto agents. It means college coaches are keeping up with the lists and wooing prospects just as they do high school athletes.

The Hurricanes lost 62 percent of their scoring with the graduation of Rodriguez, McClellan and Tonye Jekiri, so Larrañaga and his staff have been scouring the transfer market in recent weeks and putting on the hard sell with two scholarships available.

They are particularly interested in graduate transfers who might be able to help the team immediately.

Canyon Barry, youngest son of the UM and NBA legend Rick Barry, is due to graduate from the College of Charleston this summer and is looking to transfer for his final year of eligibility. Barry has a 4.0 GPA, is a two-time Academic All-American and is pursuing a master’s degree in nuclear engineering.

Larrañaga had lunch with Barry in Charleston a few weeks ago, and Barry visited the UM campus on Monday and Tuesday. He visited Florida a few weeks ago and is also being courted by Northwestern, California, Kansas, Louisville and Ole Miss.

Another transfer Larrañaga has been in touch with is Duke’s Derryck Thornton, but he is an underclassman and would have to sit out next season.

Ben Carter, a 6-9 graduate of UNLV, is said to be looking at Miami and would be able to play immediately for his final year of eligibility. In all, there are 75 graduate transfers on the market seeking to play their final season with a new team. Those players are highly coveted because they proved they can compete at the college level, are likely to be more mature than 18-year-olds, and they don’t have to sit out a year so they can “help your team get over the hump if you’re a little young,” Larrañaga said.

The graduate-transfer rule states that if a student-athlete completes his or her undergraduate degree in fewer than four years of athletic eligibility, they can go to another school that offers a graduate program not offered at his/her current school without the penalty of having to sit out a season.

What started as a well-meaning rule for athletes who excelled in the classroom has instead become a way for mid-major players to bolt to higher-profile schools for their final year of eligibility.

Gary Waters, the coach at Cleveland State, is a victim of the transfer craze. Over the past two years, he lost three standout players — Bryn Forbes went to Michigan State, and fifth-year graduates Anton Grady (Wichita State) and Trey Lewis (Louisville) opted for more exposure their final season.

“I understand why the kids do it,” Waters said. “It’s hard to say no to a high-major team that wants you, and everyone around them is telling them to leave. What bothers me more is that some schools are poaching players from other schools, to the point that they have a War Room and assistant coaches are assigned to track players at other schools who are on schedule to graduate with eligibility remaining. They make lists of players to raid, and then get the word to the kid, through a contact, that they’re interested in signing him for the final year.

“Those coaches don’t have to put in the work, and they get a finished product, a ready-made player. It’s not right. I am penalized because I coached a kid up and got him to graduate early. I know of six or seven mid-major coaches who had multiple players transfer and then lost their jobs the next season because the team didn’t perform. I don’t know if people realize how severe a problem this has become.”

Waters also said the suggestion that players are seeking specialized masters programs is “a farce.” Most of these moves are “strictly about basketball.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he is more concerned about the flood of graduate transfers than the one-and-done incoming freshmen.

“I would tell you this: The one-and-done from high school is not the story of college basketball,” Krzyzewski said in March during the NCAA Tournament. “The one-and-done with the fifth-year graduate player is what is the main story for college basketball. There are many, many more of those. And that’s hurt a lot of our mid-major programs when these kids leave and go. Many, many more. Very few one-and-done from high school, very few compared to that.”

Said Vitale: The initial purpose of that rule was very positive. But you can’t convince me that the majority of these graduates are transferring for academics. It’s about basketball. You’re a coach who gives a kid your heart and soul for four years and then all of a sudden the fifth year he runs on you? That’s just not right. Abuse, abuse and abuse.”

ESPN college basketball writer Jeff Goodman has kept a comprehensive college transfer list for the past eight years and follows the issue closely. He said there are lists of potential transfers that circulate among college coaches, schools get the word out through intermediaries as to who they are pursuing, and when April rolls around, they swarm.

“More often than not, it’s not the actual kid [with the idea to transfer],” Goodman said. “I think it’s the people around him that are telling him, ‘Hey, you should get out of there. You could play somewhere else right away. You’re not getting a fair shake. You should be getting more touches, a bigger role.’ Social media doesn’t help matters, either. People can get to these kids easily and tell them they should leave.”

In many cases, the fifth-year graduate players are being more sought after than McDonald’s All-Americans.

Larrañaga tells the story of his visit to the home of Los Angeles Lakers power forward Tarik Black in spring 2013. Black, 6-9, was about to graduate from Memphis and was looking for a new challenge for his final year of college basketball. The Hurricanes coaching staff was very interested in him.

“I thought the meeting went very well, though maybe we had a shot, but when I asked him what were the other schools he was considering, he named nine of the best basketball programs in the country, including Duke, Georgetown, Kansas and Texas,” Larrañaga said. “He had everybody recruiting him and he ended up going to Kansas.

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, this kid’s transferring, there must be some baggage.’ No, these kids are prime prospects, 21, 22, 23 years old, only one year left, they can come in and get you over the hump.”

It doesn’t appear the trend will cool anytime soon. The NCAA has taken note, although there doesn’t seem to be any quick solution.

“The issue of transfer rules, whether it’s for undergraduates or graduates, is one of the most hotly debated and discussed, I think, in sport right now, whether it’s football or basketball,” Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, said at the Final Four. “The challenge is, it’s really hard to figure out a right way to resolve this issue.”

The revolving door

Every year, more and more college basketball players are choosing to transfer in the hopes of more playing time and other reasons. Ten years ago, there were 200 transfers nationwide. The past two seasons, more than 700 have transferred — an average of two per school. Here is a look at who transferred in and out at the University of Miami, University of Florida, Florida State, Florida International and Florida Atlantic over the past few years:

UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

Transferred IN

2013: Donnavan Kirk, Jr., (grad student) from DePaul; Angel Rodriguez, Soph., from Kansas State; Sheldon McClellon, Soph., from Texas.

2014: Joe Thomas, Jr., (grad student) from Niagara; Kamari Murphy, Soph., from Oklahoma St.

2015: Rashad Muhammad, Soph., from San Jose State.

Transferred OUT

2013: Bishop Daniels, Fr., to ASA Jr. College.

2014: James Kelly, Jr., to Marshall.

2015: Manu Lecomte, Soph., to Baylor; Deandre Burnett, Fr., to Ole Miss; Omar Sherman, Soph, to Paris (Texas) Junior College.

2016: James Palmer, Soph., to Nebraska.

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

Transferred IN

2013: Eli Carter, Soph., from Rutgers.

2014: John Egbunu, Fr., from South Florida; Jon Horford, Jr., from Michigan; Schuyler Rimmer, Soph., from Stanford (walk-on); Alex Murphy, Soph., from Duke

Transferred OUT

2013: Cody Larson, Fr., to South Dakota St.

2014: Damontre Harris, Soph., to Campbellsville.

2015: Eli Carter, Jr., (grad student), to Boston College.

FLORIDA STATE

Transferred IN

2013: Adrian Diaz, Soph., from Kansas State.

Transferred OUT

2013: Braxton Abueze, Fr., to Charlotte; Terrance Shannon, Jr. (grad) to Virginia Commonwealth; Terry Whisnant, Soph., East Carolina.

2015: Dayshawn Watkins, Soph, to Arkansas-Little Rock.

FIU

Transferred IN

2013: Adrian Diaz, Soph., from Kansas State.

Transferred OUT

2013: Malik Smith, Jr., to Minnesota.

2014: Jerome Frink, Soph, to Long Island University.

2015: Dominique Williams, Soph., Radford.

FAU

Transferred IN

2014: Adonis Filer, Soph., Clemson; Solomon Poole, Georgia Tech.

2015: Frank Booker, Soph., from Oklahoma.

Transferred OUT.

2013: Cavon Baker, Fr., to Lee College; Chris Bryant, Fr., to College of Central Florida.

2014: Tyler Pate, Fr., Blinn Junior College.

2015: Maceo Baston, Fr., Southeast CC; D’Andre Johnson, Soph., Texas-Permian Basin; Justin Massey, Fr., Brown.

Michelle Kaufman

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