One of the biggest changes in college sports over the last few years is the prevalence of the graduate transfer. It is making an impact in college football, but basketball players seem to be utilizing the option with even more frequency. And SEC schools have gotten on board in a big way.
Eighteen players have entered the Southeastern Conference for their last season of eligibility over the past three seasons, and with rosters not yet finalized for 2016-17, that number could still go up. None of the 18 have been huge difference-makers or even made an all-conference team. But most have had a positive impact on their teams. Texas A&M was arguably the best team in the league last year, and starting point guard Anthony Collins quietly provided what the Aggies needed: a steady experienced hand who could distribute the ball to the Aggies' plethora of scorers.
No team has tried to take advantage of this rule more than Auburn. Since Bruce Pearl took over, the Tigers have lured five graduate seniors, including two this season: Bethune-Cookman's LaRon Smith and Houston's Ronnie Johnson. Last season Tyler Harris provided nearly 14 points and 8 rebounds on a team that was falling apart at the seams (though none of that was Harris' fault). Two seasons ago, Antoine Mason and KC Ross-Miller also helped buoy a decimated Tigers roster.
Six teams have given their roster a bump of experience with a grad transfer this year:
- Alabama - Corban Collins (Morehead State)
- Auburn - Ronnie Johnson (Houston), LaRon Smith (Bethune-Cookman)
- Florida - Canyon Barry (College of Charleston)
- Ole Miss - Cullen Neal (New Mexico)
- Tennessee - Lew Evans (Utah State)
- Texas A&M - J.C. Hampton (Lipscomb)
Coaches and media members have decried this trend. Perhaps the most famous coach in college basketball, Mike Krzyzewski, called graduated seniors playing without having to sit out a year a "farce," and CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein took to Twitter last week to basically say the same thing. Rothstein cited coaches paying buyouts, forcing players to deal with "adversity" as reasons to make kids sit out a year. My favorite:
Some programs who RS a kid also may have to think about making him take less classes so he CAN'T graduate/transfer. https://t.co/t9fahzrosh— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) May 13, 2016
So a school should think about sabotaging a student's academic career for athletic gains? Sounds right up the alley of something the NCAA would do, all the while somehow pass this off as "good" for the student-athlete. As if the whole "Academic Progress Rate" wasn't meaningless enough already, let's just force kids to work their way slowly through school so they can't graduate in four years. Let's also make them take summer classes on top of that so we can stay on top of their workouts. Good plan!
Why some people are so anti-transfer when students all over the country leave schools for a hundred different reasons is beyond me, particularly when coaches are almost as likely to over-sign and show kids the door as the kids are to leave on their own.
The NCAA says it wants athletes to get an education. Well, these players have done that. They've gotten their degree. They've graduated. If this gets players to graduate -- so they can play without sitting out if they want to change schools -- then I think that's a pretty good incentive. On top of that, the majority of these players are going from small to mid-sized programs and getting a chance to play for a high-major program with a real shot at playing in the NCAA tournament. Isn't that most kids' dream when they think about playing college basketball? Just look at the list of schools the players came from above, Houston is the only program from a league that has the potential for more than one bid, and even that has been questionable lately with the lackluster AAC.
Rothstein's comment regarding coaches having to pay buyouts to change jobs is rather puzzling. Usually, as part of a contract, to get out of it there is some sort of penalty. Think about your cellphone contract: If you want to cancel it, you probably have to pay something to do so. Meanwhile, players sign a grant-in-aid with a school to get all the fixings of a scholarship. It pays for their school and books and meals and whatnot. There is no buyout, because it covers the cost of schooling. Coaches are employees of the school, and the NCAA has been very careful as to say that the players aren't. So comparing these two situations is just stupid. Players either have a job, or they don't.
Once again, the coaches and their media friends are attempting to do one thing by limiting these kinds of transfers: assert control. Anytime athletes gain a little bit of power, you see those who have traditionally held that power start to freak out. Suddenly something as positive as a player graduating from his institution is becoming a "problem" in college basketball.
Teaches kids how to handle adversity and work through it, minimizes potential tampeing, eliminates an epidemic. https://t.co/OAQvvNHPwq— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) May 13, 2016
What if we teach kids something else: that getting an education and graduating with a degree is important. Pretty sure the path to a degree is fraught with adversity you have to work through.
Quick recruiting update: The big news last night was this:
Still have a shot you guys! pic.twitter.com/UnrjX39Zxk— Sam Snelling (@SamSnellingRMN) May 24, 2016
UW (the favorite to land Porter by a lot), Mizzou, Indiana, Oklahoma and Virginia all made the final cut for the top-five wing. Can we still say Porter is Columbia's own at this point? He's moving to Seattle, you know. So the breakdown of the list is easy: UW is there because of his father, the newly appointed assistant coach, and his godfather, head coach Lorenzo Romar. Virginia is there because of his close relationship with 2016 wing Kyle Guy. Indiana is where he grew up, and he obviously has affinity for the area. Oklahoma is there because the Sooners are in the running for Trae Young. Mizzou ... I dunno, maybe some nostalgia.
At this point I don't expect Mizzou, Indiana, or Virginia to land Porter. I'd be surprised but not shocked if he ended up at Oklahoma. But everyone thinks he's going to UW. Keep hope alive if you want, but I get the impression that Missouri has not really allocated its resources to continue to recruit Porter at this stage of the game.
In 2016, there's still stuff going on. Missouri obviously missed on two of its last big targets with UNLV sneaking in to steal both Cheickna Dembele and Djordje Sljivancanin out from under the Tigers' nose. With Mizzou still on the market, there aren't a whole lot of options left, and the possibility of Missouri finishing the 2016 class without landing one last big man is still high. Still, there are a few possibilities out there, and only one we haven't talked about to date.
2016 prospect Eric Vila has signed with Texas A&M, a source tells Scout. Played for FC Barcelona in Spain this past year.— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) May 23, 2016
Eric Vila came off the board last night to Texas A&M, so you can cross him off the list. We've talked about Khalea Turner previously. He's a real possibility.
One player who we haven't talked about is Link Kabadyundi:
Link is a former TCU Horned Frog, originally from Canada, and the older brother of Jordy Tshimanga. He's by no means a polished, complete player, and he has fought injuries during his brief collegiate career. He did average over 11 rebounds per game at Blinn College this past season in 17 games. He scored a hair under nine points a game as well. At this point, at 7'1, he would provide exactly what Mizzou is looking for: a rotational big who can rebound, play defense and give them 8-14 mpg.
Kabadyundi and Turner may not be very inspiring, but that's what the staff feels it wants to cap things off: someone who can fill a role. If the Tigers don't land one of these last two, it looks like they'll go into next season with three scholarships to give for 2017. Either way I've been told the staff feels good with the current roster.