The transfer portal has thrown College Basketball’s offseason tracking on its head. We’ve updated the Transfer Tracker almost daily since the portal opened on March 20th. How we keep track is by tapping sources, and a lot of twitter follows. Twitter accounts like VerbalCommits, PortalUpdates, ThePortalReport, 247HSHoops, and others are essential for following the updates. And there are a lot of updates to follow.
Few things surprise me in the portal these days. Name, Image, and Likeness rights have completely changed high major recruiting. So much so that you see players going into the portal you’d never imagine would leave their situation just 2-3 years ago. Players like L.J. Cryer leaving Baylor, Hunter Dickinson leaving Michigan, Ryan Nembhard leaving Creighton, and even now Matthew Cleveland leaving Florida State.
Cleveland chose FSU two years ago when Charlton “CY” Young was on the sidelines with Leonard Hamilton. Young was the primary recruiter who lured the former 5-star prospect to Tallahassee. So your first instinct when he hits the portal amounts to this:
The idea of Mizzou adding a player like Cleveland, a former 5-star prospect, a prototypical NBA level wing with the ability to score at all three levels is exciting. But before anyone gets excited about a player of Cleveland’s caliber landing on any roster, much less Mizzou’s roster, we need to talk abot this transfer portal thing.
Guys like Cleveland are often lured into the portal by promises or interest given from coaches at other schools, with potential of how much NIL money may be involved. How it works isn’t technically illegal, but a coach can always be recruiting other players and talk to a Grassroots coach or even a close relative and basically say “if Player A would get into the transfer portal we would take him and if he came here our collective might be able to pay around X.”
Many players enter the transfer portal for other reasons. Maybe it’s playing time, or wanting to get closer to home, or they want to see what other NIL opportunities exist. But the top players are usually recruited into the portal. From the information we’ve been able to gather around Mizzou’s transfer portal efforts, and the Cleveland recruitment, it’s our belief that Mizzou is very unlikely to be the destination for Cleveland. The main reason is that the recruitment is supposedly further along than you might expect before he entered the portal.
It’s important to remember Dennis Gates and CY both owe a lot to Leonard Hamilton and certainly would not try to lure one of his best players into the transfer portal. I’d say that’s a pertinent point because it would automatically mean that they’d be playing from behind whoever did lure Cleveland into the portal. I’d be watching Michigan closely, along with Georgia Tech since he has personal ties to the school and they just hired Damon Stoudamire. Miami may also be a threat, possibly Kansas as well.
Another reason to be skeptical of Mizzou’s ability to bring Cleveland to Columbia is the NIL side. The Tigers plan to have two official visitors this weekend join along with recent JUCO signee Curt Lewis. Tamar Bates committed last night, and Caleb Grill is also expected to have made the trip. We’ll get to those players more in a moment, but it’s believed Mizzou will be looking to fill out their roster with two more guards and a big. Then hope for either or both of Kobe Brown and Isiaih Mosley to return. I don’t know the Tigers’ exact budget but this tweet (and hint from Dennis Gates) should lead us to understand where Mizzou is coming from:
Dennis Gates on roster/scholarship limits, which is increasingly complicated:— Calum McAndrew (@C_McAndrew95) April 13, 2023
"You cannot any longer assume that players are just operating under 13 scholarships. ... Because certain kids are qualifying for in-state tuition. And some kids are now able to pay their own way."
And then his follow up statement: “You can’t assume that because, ultimately, there’s ingenuity into building rosters more than ever before, and you can’t count the way that we all have been counting previously.”
I learned this the hard way last year trying to figure out how Texas A&M had 15 scholarship players. Turns out they didn’t! Knowing who is and isn’t on scholarship may forever be an impossible task. With NIL, you can basically pay a player to pay their own way. But an easy way for us to look at it is this... Gates and his crew can recruit like Brown and Mosley will not be back. And if they come back they can likely be moved to a walk-on role and use the scholarship elsewhere. It solves the issue of not knowing if a player will return by simply planning on them not being there. Then if they show up? Great!
From our understanding, the money is there for both to return.
Now with that said, the money likely isn’t there to support a player like Cleveland, plus Brown and Mosley. It may be an either or situation. At least with what could happen over the weekend.
For some additional context here is a recent post from On3sports.com regarding some of the budgets on the higher end, and what some players are reaching with their contracts with the NIL collectives, the entire post is worth reading but I’ve highlighted three passages I think are worthwhile and pertain to how we judge Missouri:
High-quality players who entered the transfer portal – or their representation – are often hoping the players will sign agreements worth $250,000 to $400,000 per year, with some of the most in-demand players hoping to earn at least half a million dollars.
During the sport’s current and first-ever transfer portal window, the high end of the market for a reported offer from a collective to a transfer men’s basketball player is believed to be in the high six figures and nearing $1 million – specifically, at or around $800,000.
“For basketball, I would say the biggest pots are in the $3 to $4 million range,” [Jason] Belzer said. “There are probably five to 10 programs that have, you know, $2.5 million-plus for basketball.”
After launching last October, LinkingCoogs had facilitated more than $2 million in NIL deals for Houston athletes by March, according to spokesman Landon Goesling. Goesling told On3’s Pete Nakos that Houston men’s basketball players received a “good chunk” of that revenue. The Cougars earned a No. 1 seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, and they recently received commitments from high-profile transfers LJ Cryer and Damian Dunn, who quickly signed with LinkingCoogs.
Now, as long as Collectives are run privately, it’s not likely we’ll ever fully know the money being thrown around. But at least now we have something of a framework thanks to the On3 reporting.
This is all a long way of saying I expect Missouri to do their diligence with Matthew Cleveland, but in the end I think he ends up elsewhere. That may come down to simple finances. There are other programs with more wiggle room in their budget, but Missouri appears to be trying to maximize things for this season. They want to create an environment where a returning Brown and Mosley could be surrounded with the type of talent that could help them compete for a League title.
So how do they do that?
Well let's take a clue from another quote from Gates press conference this week: “I’m not changing my style of play,” Gates said. “I’m still trying to lead the country in 3-point shooting and positive assist-to-turnover ratio. We had the right guys in the locker room last season, and we have to make sure we have to right guys in the locker room this season.” He went on to talk about positional size, and putting pressure on both ends of the floor.
There are things you want to improve (REBOUNDING), but the focus is going to remain the same. Find players who can play fast without turning the ball over, and collectively who can shoot at a high percentage.
There are three players on campus this weekend who fit that mold. The first is Curt Lewis, the JUCO player of the year who shot (per the Mizzou release) 48.3% from 3PT range. According to the John A Logan Athletics site he made 70 of 145 3FG.
The next player is Caleb Grill. The Wichita native and Iowa State transfer shot 36.8% from behind the arc with just 15.4% usage. His turnover rate spiked to 19.2% last year but he was also dealing with some back issues which may have caused some of that. As a junior he had just an 11% turnover rate. Grill is also a very good defender, and a plus defensive rebounder. He told The Portal Report he was making a visit to Mizzou Friday and Saturday, then going onto check out West Virginia.
There are questions about Grill since he was dismissed from Iowa State. I fully expect Gates and his staff have done their homework on the situation and feel comfortable enough to bring Grill in for a visit. If they’re bringing him in for a visit, they will take a commitment from him as well. We’ve been told it’s possible Grill doesn’t make it to Morgantown.
And late on Friday night, MU scored a pledge from Bates.
We got word earlier in the week that Bates would be in town this weekend, but for the most part, his recruitment played out quietly. Back in the 2020 recruiting cycle, Bates was a huge priority for Cuonzo Martin, but MU’s program struggled to make inroads. Bates committed to Shaka Smart and Texas but backed off once Smart went to Marquette. In April 2021, he chose Indiana.
Bates entered the transfer portal after failing to meet up to his lofty recruiting ranking his first two seasons in Bloomington. Also being stuck in an antiquated offense as Mike Woodson ran everything through Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino. Bates improved each season, his three point shooting went from 29.8% to 37.4% last year. His turnover rate went from 16.2% to 13.0%. He was just average at the rim though, so he’ll need to work on his finishing, but Bates made his name as an elite defender.
Bates has some areas to improve. Still, he automatically upgrades your defense and his 3-point shot making and lack of turnovers fit right in with how Dennis Gates wants to play.
So one signed player on campus, a new commitment, and one who seems primed to pull the trigger. Mizzou would take both Grill and Bates. With the current scholarship situation, that would leave one left. That scholarship will go to a big, ideally Gates wants Kadin Shedrick. Jamarion Sharp is still out there, but more focused on professional opportunities at the moment.
The roster math says with Bates, Grill, and a post player, there aren’t really many other spots left for Mizzou to lure Cleveland if both Brown and Mosley want to return. I’d say if there’s hope, the longer Cleveland goes through the process the better.
I know that’s a lot to take in. I didn’t plan on writing nearly 2000 words on Matthew Cleveland and Bates and Grill. But this is an important weekend. And we’ll be keeping a close watch for any additional Bat Signals.