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The Trail Of Transfers

PROMISES, EXPECTATIONS COLLIDE

By Victoria Sun
Special to Recruiter’s Handbook

October 25, 2008

No matter how irritated he became, former Oregon forward Drew Viney heeded the advice and encouragement from his parents, Mona and Jamie.

They told him to be patient, trust his coaches and things might work out.

Unfortunately, they never did.

So before last season ended, Drew decided he needed to transfer to salvage what was left of his collegiate basketball career.

After averaging 31 points and 12 rebounds per game as a senior at Villa Park High School (Calif.), he turned down scholarship offers from Cal, Florida, USC, Washington, Washington State and Arizona to attend Oregon.

According to Viney, Ducks head coach Ernie Kent and his coaching staff convinced the 6-feet-7 Viney that he would be a starter or at least the first guy off the bench. But after playing in only 12 games and averaging just 6.9 minutes per contest for the season, Viney’s expectations never blossomed to fruition.

Viney spent the year dealing with a broken foot that wasn’t discovered until months after he arrived on campus, dispelling the notion that he was lazy due to the injury. He also watched his playing time fluctuate drastically even after he was completely healed.

"I had higher expectations than what actually went down," said Viney. "I was promised some things and they didn’t happen.

"Then a lot of little stuff built up and it just got worse as it went on. When I first got there I was told I was going to be one of the top five guys or the top sixth man. Then the first couple games, I was one of the last people off the bench so it was kind of demoralizing."

A few months later came the final blow that compelled Viney to eventually transfer to Loyola Marymount, where he says he is very happy with Lions’ first-year head coach Bill Bayno.

In the days leading up to the Ducks’ game at USC, he was told that he would get major minutes. Playing in front of family and friends, and perhaps most importantly, USC head coach Tim Floyd, was supposed to be a special moment for Drew. Floyd was the first one to offer him a scholarship, and this was a chance for Viney to show that he made the right decision.

But he never made it off the bench.

"I was in better shape than I was before they found out my foot was broken, and he didn’t even put me in the game. At that point I decided it’s time for me to go."

Viney is one of approximately 290 Division I players who decided to pack their bags and transfer after the 2007-08 season, many claiming that they were misled during the recruiting process. Conversely, college coaches frequently cite unrealistic expectations heaped onto players by those close to them, creating a toxic environment that threatens to spread to the rest of the team.

Clearly, coaching changes, the quest for more playing time, irreconcilable differences and the desire to be closer to home all are factors in the annual mass exodus.

But the increased numbers also indicates a shift in the way a player transfer is perceived.

In the past, when a player transferred he was generally labeled selfish or considered a pariah off the court.

"Today, it’s not considered a bad thing at all," said UNLV head coach Lon Kruger. "You try to find out why it didn’t work at the other school, and sometimes transferring is a good thing.

"If a young guy is in a situation that’s not emotionally good or if he isn’t getting enough playing time, I wouldn’t want a kid to be stuck with a decision he made as a 17-year-old."

A COMMON LANDING SPOT FOR REBELS

UNLV has three players on its roster, Derrick Jasper (Kentucky), Steve Jones (Arizona State) and Chace Stanback (UCLA), who are sitting out this year after transferring and one, Tre’Von Willis, who is eligible to play this season after transferring from Memphis.

Tre’Von said he left Memphis so that he could be closer to his mom, Andrea McDonald, who suffers from an undisclosed illness.

Willis acknowledged that limited playing time was a small factor in his decision, but he struggled the most with being far away from home. During Christmas break he was unable to fly home because of a snowstorm, rendering him stuck in Memphis for 10 straight months.

"My mom wasn’t feeling too good so it was in my best interest to be closer to her," said Willis, who averaged 2.6 points and 1.0 rebounds per game while appearing in 17 games for the Tigers during the 2006-07 season.

When it came time to decide at what school he would finish his college career, UNLV was an easy choice because he was familiar with the coaching staff and players. If Willis hadn’t gone to Memphis originally, he said he would have attended UNLV.

"Coach Kruger is a very good coach, and the program had everything I was looking for," Willis said. "(Assistant) Coach (Lew) Hill is a straight forward guy and I liked that honesty.

"Plus my mom and family like it here."

Though he didn’t feel misled by Memphis, Willis has heard stories from other players who later believe they first chose the wrong college.

"I think guys feel like the coach sells them a dream sometimes because this is a business," Willis said. "They can feel like they weren’t offered the same opportunities they were told when they were being recruited.

"The reason is because most of the time the head coach doesn’t do all the recruiting. They talk to you when you take your official visit, but you talk the most to an assistant that does your recruiting. So that’s your guy and who you really know, so I can see how guys say they don’t know the head coach or what they’re getting into."

UNREALISTIC DEMANDS

Coaches, however, certainly aren’t the only ones responsible for the increased number of transfers.

Sometimes a player arrives on campus saddled by delusions of one-and-done grandeur. Perhaps the player isn’t as good as he was hyped up to be or doesn’t understand that it may take him longer to become a star in college, even though he may have been a dominant high school player.

Then there are the players who believe they are better than Carmelo Anthony, the Syracuse player who led the Orange to the 2003 NCAA championship as a freshman, because their mom, dad, uncles, aunties, AAU coaches, cousins and friends all told them so.

"In basketball if you’re not a star right away and you think you should be, you leave," Syracuse head coach and Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim said. "There’s no patience; kids want to play right way and they’re leaving if they don’t get that chance.

"It’s a huge problem."

Cal State Fullerton senior guard Josh Akognon readily admits that he wasn’t as ready to be a college star straight out of high school like he thought he was.

Now that he has competed for three years and spent one year sitting out, it’s safe to say he has developed into a more complete player.

"In high school, you’re sheltered and think you’re a lot better than you are," said Akognon, who began his career at Washington State. "That was the case with me.

"I got to college thinking I was going to be a first round pick the next year. That was the turning point for me, knowing I’m not as good as I thought I was but continuing to work hard."

Akognon didn’t leave Washington State because he wasn’t getting enough playing time — he led the Cougars in scoring as a sophomore — he transferred to Fullerton because he didn’t like the slow pace of the Cougars’ offense.

Whether a player has a legitimate reason for transferring or simply is unable or unwilling to undertake realistic self-assessment, his departure could negatively affect a school’s Academic Progress Report. If players aren’t in good academic standing when they transfer, the school can incur penalties including a loss of scholarships.

Even so, many coaches say they haven’t and won’t change the way they recruit.

THE TREND CONTINUES TO BUILD

Given two recent developments, the number of transfers only figures to increase.

The first is the NCAA’s decision to grant Tyler Smith a hardship waiver so that he didn’t have to sit out last season after transferring from Iowa to Tennessee.

Smith, of Pulaski, Tenn., had a legitimate reason for leaving Iowa. He wanted to spend more time with his father Billy, who had terminal lung cancer and died last September.

The ruling, however, seems to have encouraged an increased number of players requesting the same waiver. Combined with NCAA president Myles Brand’s push to make the organization more player friendly, the attempted hardship cases continue to swell.

This season, Julian Vaughn, who transferred from Florida State to Georgetown, is eligible to play immediately because he was granted a hardship waiver. Herb Pope (New Mexico State to Seton Hall), Keon Lawrence (Missouri to Seton Hall) and Alex Stepheson (North Carolina to USC) are just a few other notable players who applied to be eligible this season. (Pope was denied, while Lawrence and Stepheson still awaited word at press time.)

"The worst thing is they’re all trying to get the hardship waiver," Boeheim said. "Some kids have legitimate reasons, but then there are kids applying for the wrong reasons.

"Once you start handing them out, where do you stop?"

The other incident that could cause an even higher number of transfers is the NCAA legislation that doesn’t allow college coaches to attend AAU and traveling-team tournaments during the April recruiting period, a month that arguably had surpassed even July in importance for college coaches.

"In the past you could go to a tournament in April where you can see 20 kids and have 50 coaches watching them, and that was the best setup," Xavier head coach Sean Miller said. "It gave kids the opportunity to be recruited at the right level and was at an effective cost level for a school.

"This is the most senseless rule you can come up with if you’re the NCAA, because it hurts everybody involved."

By further restricting the amount of time college coaches get to gauge which players are best-suited for their team, it increases the probability that coaches recruit the wrong kids.

"We keep making rules that don’t allow us to make a thorough evaluation of players anymore," said Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton, who is entering his 21st season as a head coach. "We are allowed to communicate with players less on the phone and we can’t talk to them as often.

"This trend (of players transferring) has been going on because you don’t have enough of an opportunity to get to know kids like you used to, where kids know what you expect from them and you know more about them."

The NCAA will reconsider its stance on the April evaluation period during winter meetings, and vociferous opposition is expected from all sides.

THE GUESSING GAME

Georgia State junior forward Trey Hampton called choosing the right college a "guessing game."

Hampton is one of five Division I transfers who are eligible to play for second-year Georgia State head coach Rod Barnes this season.

Coming out of high school, Trey went to Ole Miss due to his affection for Barnes, who spent eight seasons as the Rebels’ head coach. Hampton averaged 4.5 points and 2.2 rebounds per game as a freshman during the 2005-06 season and was happy with his decision.

Then something totally out of his control changed everything. Barnes was fired and replaced by former Cincinnati assistant Andy Kennedy.

Despite the upsetting news, Hampton and teammate Xavier Hansbro decided they would give Kennedy a chance and stay at Ole Miss.

By the time the Southeastern Conference tournament was played in Atlanta, Hampton and Hansbro wanted to relocate. The question of where was answered when the news that Barnes had been hired at Georgia State flashed across the TV. Between games during the SEC tournament, Trey and Xavier walked around downtown Atlanta thinking how great it would be to play for Barnes again in a big city instead of a rural college town.

"I went to Ole Miss only because of Coach Barnes," said Hampton. "They always tell you don’t pick a school just because of a coach, but almost every kid does it.

"When they made the change, I thought I could stick with it and vibe with the change, then I saw him (Kennedy) bringing in his players. I understand that coaches are going to want to roll with the guys they want to bring in. That’s just the nature of the business.

"Sitting out a season was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I’m very happy with my decision. I kind of feel like Coach Barnes threw me and Xavier a lifeline that let me know I was right to pick him in the first place."

When Chris Lutz agreed to attend Purdue, the only time he spent with the coaching staff was during his official visit. Like other kids, his relationship with the men charged with his development basically was forged over the phone.

"Different coaches are trying to sell you their school and trying to have you come to their school any way possible," said Lutz, who is from Bedford, N.H. "You have no choice but to put your trust in them."

Two years later, Chris decided to leave. He transferred to Marshall after last season to play for former Florida assistant coach Donnie Jones.

For Lutz, playing time was not the problem. He started 24 of 28 games as a freshman and set a school record with 53 3-pointers to earn all-Big Ten freshman honors. During his sophomore year he started 10 of 34 games while averaging 21.9 minutes and 6.1 points per game.

"I just wasn’t happy there," Lutz said. "They saw me as just a 3-point shooter. I didn’t want to be stuck in that role my whole career.

"I’m definitely happy with my decision. Even though at Purdue they were genuinely good guys, these coaches have your best interest in mind on and off the court."

KING OF THE TRANSFERS

In the best-case scenario, player transfers benefit both the athlete and his new school.

Two notable success stories are Delray Brooks’ departure from Indiana to Providence and Derek Anderson’s transfer from Ohio State to Kentucky.

More recently, several players Brian Thornton (Vanderbilt), C.J. Anderson (Manhattan) and Drew Lavender (Oklahoma) all flourished under Miller at Xavier while helping the Musketeers to the NCAA Tournament three straight seasons.

At Florida State, junior guard Toney Douglas led the team in scoring (15.4 ppg), steals (90) and assists (98) last season after transferring from Auburn, where he had averaged 16.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. And preseason SEC player of the year candidate Tyler Smith helped Tennessee reach several milestones including the school’s first-ever No. 1 ranking and a record 31 wins after arriving from Iowa.

Perhaps the greatest example of how transfers can positively impact a team is the way Cal State Fullerton reached the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in school history and first since time since1978 last season. The Titans’ roster consisted entirely of five Division I transfers and junior college transplants.

Fullerton head coach Bob Burton jokingly professes to be the "king of transfers." He tells a humorous story of how he instructs his assistant coaches to scan the waiver wire for transactions instead of chasing high school recruits.

Having spent more than 20 years as a junior college coach, Burton is familiar with how juco players develop and is realistic about Fullerton’s chances of landing a blue-chip recruit directly out of high school. So instead of routinely fighting for kids he can’t get, he has turned Fullerton into a sanctuary for Division I transfers.

"It has just been a great way for us to go," Burton said. "When I came to Fullerton, I knew when we started out it was going to be very hard for us to recruit the top high school kids.

"We always try to do that and still spend a lot of time with it, but for us, I loved transfers because you had a pretty good idea of how good they are. It was a way for us to get high level players we couldn’t get out of high school."

Two of these players are Akognon, who led the Titans with 20.5 points per game last season and former Kent State forward Scott Cutley, the co-Big West player of the year who was third on the team with 14.6 points per game and led it with 7.4 rebounds per game.

To Burton, another benefit of landing players who have competed at higher profile Division I schools is that they won’t be shell-shocked in pressure situations such as when the Titans made it to the NCAA Tournament.

"They enjoyed going back and playing in tough environments instead of being awestruck," Burton said. "I really felt my team was mature and prepared because they had experienced those situations before.

"When Josh came I said, here’s a kid that scored 20 points at UCLA in the second half, so I don’t think he’s going to get nervous playing against UC Riverside."

A SLICE OF THE PIE

Now that Barnes doesn’t have the lure of playing in the SEC to sell to recruits, he has had to be more creative in getting players to Georgia State.

He didn’t plan on having six Division I transfers like he does now. He simply told his staff to recruit the best players they could realistically attract.

Given the escalating rate of players leaving schools, Barnes believes the trend will continue to affect schools at the mid-major level.

"Now those transfers actually help a group of other teams who may not have been that competitive. The big dogs still have the big slice, but the little guys are getting a chance now."



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