January 13, 2014 6:46:38 PM
College basketball players transferring to different schools isn't new.
However, for the first time in the history of Division I men's basketball, the number of players that transferred from their original school to another one eclipsed 500 this summer. The movement of players from program to program also has hit close to home, as redshirt freshman guard Dre Applewhite informed Mississippi State coach Rick Ray last month he planned to transfer. Ray's response was a mix of anger, confusion, and disappointment.
"That's a great question," Ray said Monday when asked why Applewhite would decide to transfer in the middle of the season.
The increase in the number of transfers is an issue no one seems to know how to correct.
Applewhite, who had started six games in a row and was averaging 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 17.5 minutes in 12 games, is one of more than 50 players to transfer following the first semester of the 2013-14 academic year.
According to the latest NCAA data, 40 percent of students who play men's Division I basketball transfer during their careers.
"You're in a tough situation where you have 13 scholarships available and most people are going to play 9-10 people," Ray said. "Nobody comes to recruit a kid and says, 'Hey, I'm going to have you come and ride the bench.' "
Transfers in Division I men's college basketball became so prevalent that Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Vitale compiled an All-Marco Polo Team, a five-man list of All-Star transfers eligible to play in the upcoming season.
ESPN.com college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman has put together a similar list for several years. In the past three years, he said the number of transfers has increased to all-time highs of more than 350 five years ago, to more than 450 two years ago, to more than 500 this past offseason.
"It's gradually gotten worse, but it's not like it's come out of nowhere," Goodman said. "The numbers have increased but, again, it's like not it's gone from 150 to 550 in one offseason. It is a problem for the game, though."
Why have transfers exploded in recent years?
The reasons why players leave schools for another aren't that complicated. Players have transferred for decades, but players are changing schools with a frequency that has coaches concerned.
Doug Gottlieb, a college basketball analyst for CBS Sports, knows what goes through the mind of a player who transfers. Gottlieb signed a National Letter of Intent and was the Fighting Irish's starting point guard for the 1995-1996 season. He started all but the first four games, and led the team in assists, steals, and minutes. But as a freshman, Gottlieb stole a roommate's credit cards and charged more than $900 to those cards. Despite offers from Cincinnati, Alabama, and others to transfer and sit out a season on their campus, Gottlieb chose to sit out his transfer year at Golden West College. In 1998, Gottlieb transferred to Oklahoma State and took over as point guard and helped lead the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament. During his second year, Gottlieb led the nation in assists (8.8 per game). As a senior, Gottlieb ended his career by guiding the Cowboys to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
Despite his success after leaving Notre Dame, Gottlieb sees the increase in transfers as one of the two biggest problems in college basketball.
"Along with the one-and-done rule, it's the biggest problem in the game by far," Gottlieb said. "There's way too many kids that are transferring where you look at it and think, 'What in the world are they doing?"
Gottlieb has a simple explanation for why the numbers of transfers has flooded the game.
"Some of these kids are stupid and parents are stupid and neither of them understand a college basketball season is a six-month process and marathon," Gottlieb said. "Kids are brought up in homes now where they're not taught how to handle things at the first sign of adversity. They're taught to run away and find a better environment."
Sometimes things turn out to be better for a transfer at his new school.
After the 2011-12 season, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy told his assistant coaches to "go find me the best basket maker you can find." Shooting guard Marshall Henderson was at the top of the list.
Henderson signed with Utah before transferring to Texas Tech and South Plains Junior College before arriving at Ole Miss. Despite a background that included serving 25 days at Tarrant County Jail in Texas, Kennedy was willing to add the 2012 junior college player of the year. Why? Because Kennedy transferred, too.
Kennedy was the Mississippi player of the year and a Parade All-American at Louisville High School. He signed with North Carolina State but transferred to UAB, where he was a two-time all-conference player. He went on to become the school's second all-time leading scorer with 1,787 points.
"It was a great move for me," Kennedy said. "That's why I sit down with each kid at the end of a season to talk about it because I know it's a special time in a kid's life, and sometimes you need a change of venue to find where they best fit."
Student-athletes have two ways to maintain their eligibility when they transfer to what they think might be a better fit.
In 2006, the NCAA passed the graduate transfer rule, which allowed players who graduated to transfer and become eligible immediately as long as the school they were going to had a graduate program that their old school didn't offer.
Compliance directors at Mississippi State and the NCAA Eligibility Center officials both told The Dispatch this provision was instituted primarily for student-athletes in non-revenue sports. In men's college basketball, a player's decision to transfer is seen as something else.
"I get the calls and questions every year from coaches, 'So who's graduating?" Goodman said. "It's a subsection of the recruiting market where they all want the player that can come in and make a difference without sitting."
Transfers also have increased due to the hardship waiver rule, which allows players to apply for a transfer to move closer to a sick relative. Players will maintain their eligibility if they can prove someone close to them is severely ill.
"That rule is complete garbage, and at this point, everybody knows it," Gottlieb said. "My issue there is fine, if that's the case, shouldn't your priorities be something other than basketball or school?"
Coaches also claim the culture of today's players has changed. They contend student-athlete want playing time, success, and validation as soon as they arrive on campus.
"I think it's a bit of a reflection of the day in which we live," Kennedy said. "Some kids get a little impatient. I know I still do at 45 (years old), so imagine the mind of an 18-to 22 year-old today where they're all looking for a quick fix."
Technology has contributed to the exodus of players. The Pew Research Center says 31 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds have a smartphone, which gives them access to Twitter, Facebook and text messaging and makes the world a smaller place.
"Kids are listening to that parent, relative, AAU coach or high school coach telling them they should be playing more or starting when the truth is they don't know what they're talking about," Gottlieb said. "I just did a game on CBS at Kansas where San Diego State won with three guys contributing off their bench who didn't play one second in November when they lost to No. 1 Arizona."
With so many ways to move to another school and so many ways to get information, players might receive advice that goes against what their coach is telling them.
"I think one of the things that has happened for kids is communication is done through text messaging and e-mails, and I think in turn, recruiting has changed," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "Kids coming in as a freshman have a shorter fuse in terms of having a freshmen year maybe not going as well as expected."
In the last six years, Donovan has taken transfers like Alex Meyer (Duke), Vernon Macklin (Georgetown), Mike Rosario (Rutgers), and Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) and turned them into solid contributors on his NCAA tournament teams.
"I think when a lot of guys don't have immediate success the solution is to change their environment and scenery, and I think that will continue," Donovan said. "A lot of the time it doesn't have to do with the coach or the school but just with playing time and their role."
A few weeks after Ray took over at MSU on April 2, 2012, he learned Rodney Hood, the team's best returning player, wanted to transfer. Hood became the most sought-after transfer after Ray and his staff granted him a waiver.
MSU fans responded with anger and skepticism because they thought Hood could have been the standout for the Bulldogs then-MSU coach Rick Stansbury recruited him to.
"For Rodney, talk of transferring started two and half months ago," said Ricky Hood, Rodney Hood's father, in April 2012. "We want to thank coach Stansbury and his assistants for giving Rodney a chance, and we wish the best for coach Ray. Like I said, this has nothing to do with him."
Hood selected Duke and is the starting small forward for the No. 23 Blue Devils (12-4). The projected lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft is averaging 18.6 points per game.
"I showed up three or four times in Durham last year and all the coaches and Rodney would say he learned a lot and grew a lot by sitting last year," Goodman said. "He got stronger and grew his game to a point he's able to be a more consistent contributor."
Solutions for limiting the number of transfers
NCAA President Mark Emmert met with the National Association of Basketball Coaches board of directors last summer and reportedly is moving closer to closing transfer loopholes. Emmert said he would put together a process to review the number of transfers and that he would receive input from coaches to make a recommendation that addresses the issue.
"We have different transfer rules for different sports," Emmert said. "We have different transfer rules based upon different circumstances in a sport. We have different authority over transfer rules some at the conference level, some at the institutional level, then some at the national level. I think it's a crazy quilt of messages that are being sent out to the public, but more importantly to the kids. We need to sort that all it. I don't think it's working very well.''
If Ray has a voice in the process, he has a simple message.
"If I had my druthers, it would be if you transfer then you sit out a year no matter the situation," Ray said. "The NCAA has painted itself in a corner where if the NCAA doesn't grant these waivers, they're putting themselves in a bad situation with the law. They should make a blanket statement."
A large number of coaches would welcome a ruling on the transfer waiver situation that doesn't include exceptions.
"I don't think it would be a good idea to allow players to jump from school to school without sitting out ... because what's to change a kid's perception of then transferring two or three times?" Donovan said. "When a guy does transfer, there's a lot to be said for sitting out, going to school, and learning a new system without the pressure of having to perform right away."
NCAA Division I members will contemplate the changes at NCAA Convention, which begins Wednesday in San Diego, Calif.
According to the NCAA, the dialogue is supposed to "provide a forum for the steering committee, a subcommittee of the Division I Board of Directors, to present a possible template for a new governance structure to the membership for reaction, discussion and critique."
In 2011, the Southeastern Conference said a student-athlete must have at least two years of eligibility remaining to transfer to a SEC school. This rule was enacted after former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli transferred to Ole Miss in 2010 to play one year of football for the Rebels.
Those who follow college basketball believe eliminating a student-athlete's ability to apply for a waiver from the NCAA to participate immediately would drastically decrease the number of transfers.
"The only way to rectify it is to say no matter what, if you transfer, you have to sit a year," Goodman said. "Even it's a fourth- or fifth-year guy that's graduated, then you can legislate giving him another year after he sits out this next season to extend the clock."
Former Butler coach Brad Stevens, who is in his first season with the NBA's Boston Celtics, was one of the first to bring up the idea of allowing student-athletes a six-year window to complete four seasons of eligibility.
"That way if somebody is sick then you're able to get closer to home toward that family member and in another year, you get injured then you're still guaranteed four years of eligibility," Goodman said.
Until a new plan is implemented, transfers will remain a major talking point for all Division I coaches.
"We live in a microwave society where kids and coaches want it right now, so that's unfortunately going to continue to be the case in the future," Ray said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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