One year in, NCAA's transfer portal has mixed reviews for basketball

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News
Eric Williams Jr.

After one year -- despite its futuristic name -- the NCAA’s transfer portal has not quite taken college basketball into a distant utopia, free of its myriad issues of the past.

While players have often benefited from the mainstreamed mechanism to switch schools, rising transfer rates and unrest in the player-school relationship continue to put programs in a lurch.

It’s impacting state Division I basketball programs and players in a big way.

Take Detroit Mercy, for instance.

The Titans basketball program is ineligible for the 2019-20 postseason because of the high turnover rate, the nation’s only Division I men’s basketball program banned for failing to meet minimum standards in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Report.

The attrition was over a four-year period. Coach Mike Davis is entering his second year at UDM.

“Everything needs to be tweaked,” Davis said. “All the NCAA is trying to do is make sure coaches don’t run people off. But, you see, they don’t. They leave on their own. Of the 10 that gets run off, there’s 800 that’s leaving on their own.”

Oakland coach Greg Kampe agrees a mixed message is sent by the APR trying to limit departures and then the transfer portal encouraging it.

“At one point, they’re telling us they don’t want kids leaving, and don’t run them off,” Kampe said. “The next thing is we’re opening up an easy path for kids to leave.

“I think we’re at a real dilemma, and I think wiser heads have to get together and figure it out, because you can’t have both.”

More: Michigan tops CBS Sports' college athletics rankings for 2018-19; Michigan State 11th

According to reports, more than 700 players were in the Division I men’s college basketball transfer portal one week after the NCAA Tournament in April.

Michigan State is one school benefiting, as Joey Hauser came to East Lansing from Marquette, where he was a steady starter as a freshman. Hauser will sit out this season but figures heavily into the Spartans’ plans going forward.

As for the Titans, Davis points out his team lost another player after the postseason ban was determined. The player will try to make the NCAA Tournament in his senior year, which will impact UDM’s future APR score.

“So we’re going to lose a point for our APR if he goes to the tournament, but that’s the rule that you made,” Davis said.

Two ideas

The transfer portal secure online database was established last year for all NCAA sports.

Possible transfers request access from their school’s compliance department. When registered, their contact information is available for coaches across the country.

Kampe said last week the number of players in the transfer portal was closer to 900; there are 353 teams in men’s Division I basketball.

Greg Kampe and Mike Davis

Entering season No. 36 as head coach of Oakland, Kampe has an idea to curb the transfer epidemic: Players can transfer right away, so long as the receiving school pays the former school any scholarship money already granted to the player.

“You want my player, and he wants to go? Fine. He was here three years. It cost $100,000 for Oakland to give him three years of his education, give (Oakland) $100,000,” Kampe said. “That’ll stop everything except the players they really want. The great players, the ones that should be, could be playing? Go ahead. University of Michigan, you want my player? Well, he’s a senior, he graduated, that cost me $140,000.

“Michigan pays Oakland University $100-and-whatever-thousand: He’s yours, free and clear.”

More: Unheralded Michigan State freshman Julius Marble generating sky-high comps

In addition, Kampe said coaches could also release players in mutually agreed upon transfers -- typically those who want more playing time on lower-tier teams.

Kampe was especially hit hard this summer. Role players James Beck and Stan Scott left the program, but then Braden Norris (Loyola) and Jaevin Cumberland (Cincinnati) -- players expected to be heavy contributors for the Golden Grizzlies -- also surprisingly left, in addition to guard Karmari Newman.

Kampe’s approach to transfers is a throwback, one he recognizes likely earns him scorn in the modern basketball world, which features the so-called “player-empowerment era” of the NBA.

“Life is not an individual sport; life is a team sport,” Kampe said. “For 42 years in this profession, I’ve tried to teach athletes about commitment, honoring commitment, what commitment means, what being part of a team means.

“One of the things I’ve told our athletes through the years is if you understand what team is, you’ll have a really good chance of making it in the business world. Because businesses are looking for people that understand team, and understand giving of one’s self for the greater good and the greater cause of the group.

“That’s what we’ve always tried to teach, and now we’re spinning out of control.”

Kampe said the promise of becoming Matt Mooney -- the grad transfer who made the Final Four with Texas Tech after starting with South Dakota -- is the exception.

Jaaron Simmons

Tales like Jaaron Simmons -- an All-Mid-American Conference player with Ohio and a bit player as a grad transfer at Michigan -- are more the norm, Kampe said.

“Do we, in the real world, do we want to improve ourselves? Sure,” Kampe siad. “But you do that because you’re a great teammate, you get promoted, you move on. 

“Because you understand commitment, you understand the importance of working together in life. Because nowhere do I know in life where you’re not on a team, where it’s not a team sport.”

Davis, who before coming to UDM guided a perennial Southwestern Athletic Conference power at Texas Southern largely because of transfers, has another idea.

He says players should be able to transfer once in their careers and play right away without penalty.

Davis said that player empowerment will curtail the false promises on the high school recruiting trail.

More: Breaking down Big Ten basketball after offseason of many changes

“It’s really, really difficult in these days of recruiting because a lot of coaches tell kids that they’re this special player who will do special things, and they say that to get you there. So then once you get there, it’s the same thing (for every kid),” Davis said. “And kids talk to each other, the parents talk to each other, and they know what you told them.

“To me, it’s more of a two-way street. And there are some coaches who tell the kids straight how it’s going to be, so forth and so on. And those kids get there and still want to leave.”

When the postseason ban was announced, UDM said during the last four years, nine players had left the program, causing the loss of APR points due to the retention factor.

“I understand the NCAA, don’t get me wrong,” Davis said. “But there’s certain situations where you look at it and say, you know what? That’s OK, we’ll let it go.”

Sitting out

Michigan State’s Hauser joins a loaded program with the Spartans, who will enter the season among the nation’s top teams, even with Hauser sitting.

It’s all smiles for Spartans like senior Cassius Winston, an All-American and leader of a returning Final Four team.

Hauser will likely be antsy watching his teammates this season, but for now, the biggest challenge is Winston ribbing him about his taste in music: The Stevens Point, Wis., native is a country music fan.

Joey Hauser transferred to MSU from Marquette.

“Great guy, he fits right in,” Winston said Tuesday about Hauser. “He’s good, played with us. He can shoot the ball. He’s going to be really big for the Spartan program. We just need to embrace him into the family. 

“Laugh with him, have fun, all that stuff happens off the court. The on-the-court part is easy.”

Things are similarly rosy for Port Huron native Eric Williams Jr., who will sit this season after a transfer from Duquesne to Oregon.

A late bloomer at 5-foot-7 heading into high school, Williams started his prep career at St. Clair but moved on to New Haven after two seasons, helping his new school to the 2017 Class B state championship.

A lightly regarded recruit before his senior season, Williams was committed to Division II Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia.

His rise earned him a chance at Duquesne, where he said he essentially had to try out for the scholarship on an official visit.

Williams earned the spot, and at the Atlantic 10 school in Pittsburgh, Williams took off.

“They threw me in the fire when I was young,” Williams said. “Me coming in my freshman year, at 17 in the summer time, that helped me to get that run and helped me to get loose my first two years.”

Eric Williams Jr.

Now at 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, Williams averaged 14.1 points per game in 64 games at Duquesne, entering the portal this year as a sought-after recruit with two seasons of eligibility remaining.

There, he received interest from such schools as Iowa State, Butler, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona before settling on his finalists: Nebraska, Missouri, Oregon and Houston.

“It was kind of hectic at first,” said Williams, rated by as the No. 9 sit-out transfer in the country. “I never really expected anything because I’ve never really been recruited before, so having this happen -- schools recruited me before but it’s kind of different when it’s like this.

“There’s so much roster turnover every year, I felt like this was the best opportunity to be here."

At Oregon, Williams will play for a Pac-12 program that has reached the NCAA Tournament in six of the last seven seasons under coach Dana Altman. Since he’s still just 19, Williams said the year off won’t bother him.

“I feel like I’m getting better each day,” Williams said. “It’s much different being out on the West Coast, but it’s a good feeling.

“It’s more pro-oriented. You’ve got to do the right thing every day. They’re more on top of everything, like nutrition. Just everything is a little different.”

Playing right away

After sitting out of a season at Wisconsin, Taylor Currie was hoping to play right away.

The 6-foot-9 Clarkston High School graduate redshirted his one year for the Badgers and is itching to get on the court.

After entering the transfer portal, Currie decided on powerhouse Mott Community College in Flint, with hopes that one year under coach Steve Schmidt will get him back to Division I after graduating with his associate’s degree in the spring.

Taylor Currie

Since Currie is dropping to a lower level, he'll be immediately eligible.

Currie will stay home in northern Oakland County and drive north 25 minutes for class and practice with the Bears, with hopes of helping Schmidt to his fifth national championship.

“I was looking for a coach that would develop me as a player and as a person and push me to my limits,” Currie said. “It’s great to be back home with the family, back for the year. I miss them a lot.”

In high school, Currie reclassified to graduate a year early. Despite not playing for Wisconsin, Currie is thankful for his time there and the way his transfer process progressed.

“I went there and it was a great learning experience and I’m grateful for my time there, but I decided at the end of the year I wanted to go a different direction,” he said. “My goal is developing into the best player I can possibly be and we’ll see what happens from there.”

Currie, who was committed to Michigan when he reclassified in high school, said the slate is clean for his recruitment going into next season.

“I knew I didn’t want to sit out another year after sitting out one year,” he said. “So having the ability to come home and play for a year, and get developed for a year instead of spending another year sitting out, I saw that as a major advantage.”

If Davis had his way, players like Currie and Williams could go straight to another Division I program and play right away. The UDM coach said it would shift the power to players, and force coaches to treat them fairly throughout their careers.

“Now, I've got to treat you a whole lot better when you get there,” he said. “And I have to recruit you the whole while. Some kids don’t like it where they are, but they don’t want to go sit out somewhere else. So give them one free one.”

Kampe said, often, the coaches are the only ones dealing with players in honest terms.

“My problem with all this goes back to the parents are telling them this, social media is telling them: ‘Go, you’re good,’” he said. “All we do is tell players how great they are. As coaches we tell them the reality of it.

“It’s a real issue and a real problem.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.