Saddi Washington on Michigan's transfers: 'It was normal attrition'
Michigan’s offseason has been nothing short of eventful.
The Wolverines saw big man Colin Castleton and guards David DeJulius and Cole Bajema all leave for different programs. They landed three new faces from the transfer portal in backcourt players Mike Smith, Nojel Eastern and Chaundee Brown.
But the way assistant coach Saddi Washington sees it, all the roster comings and goings aren’t out of the ordinary.
"I think it was pretty normal attrition,” Washington said on WJRW’s “The Huge Show” on Monday. “I know a lot of people reacted pretty strongly like the house was burning down or something. It's no different from guys just transferring because they're looking for a different situation that they feel meets their needs, or we got guys like Isaiah (Livers) who is still going through the (NBA) draft process and have that opportunity. To me, it was normal attrition.”
DeJulius, who was a key reserve as a sophomore last season, was the first to depart. He entered the transfer portal on April 7 and transferred to Cincinnati on April 16. DeJulius told The Athletic that while he was in line to play a bigger role at Michigan next season, he “wanted to be in a position where I can be myself, spiritually, mentally and trickling down to the physical aspect.”
Castleton, a junior-to-be who saw his role dwindle toward the end of the season, and Bajema, who received limited playing time as a freshman, opted to head closer to home. Castleton, a Daytona Beach, Florida native, put his name in the portal on April 9 and committed to Florida on April 27, while Bajema, a Lynden, Washington native, entered the portal on May 5 and committed to Washington on May 17.
According to data compiled by the NCAA, there have been around 700 transfers in Division I men’s basketball in 2017, 2018 and 2019, which averages out to two transfers per program.
Since the start of last season there have been more than 800 transfers, according to Stadium.com. In the Big Ten, Maryland (five), Nebraska (five), Ohio State (three), Illinois (two), Indiana (two), Iowa (two), Minnesota (two) and Purdue (two) have all had multiple players enter the transfer portal. Only Michigan State has avoided the transfer list.
In other words, what has happened at Michigan this offseason isn't out of the norm.
However, Michigan’s roster departures and additions were sandwiched around a pair of recruiting blows that occurred 12 hours apart. The first dose of bad news came when five-star guard Joshua Christopher committed to Arizona State on April 13. The next day, five-star forward Isaiah Todd announced his decommitment from Michigan before signing a deal with the NBA’s G League.
Despite those misses, coach Juwan Howard was still able to secure a four-member recruiting class that ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 13 in the nation, according to 247Sports.
“I think the excitement with the potential of signing some of the guys we were in the mix with and ultimately did not get, it was just a lot for Michigan fans and supporters to take all in because it almost seemed like everything happened all at once over the course of a week,” Washington said. “To Coach Juwan's credit, he was poised throughout it. Having been through this before, it's like it's going to work out how it's supposed to work out.”
Michigan has filled out the rest of its roster by adding Smith, a graduate transfer and high-scoring point guard from Columbia; Brown, a productive guard from Wake Forest; and Eastern, a wing and lockdown defender from Purdue.
The program has officially recognized Smith’s addition but has yet do to the same with Eastern and Brown, who announced their commitments on social media on May 15 and May 19, respectively, and are seeking waivers for immediate eligibility next season.
“We're trying to build this thing the right way,” Washington said. “Come hopefully in the fall or whenever practice starts, we’ll be putting the right pieces in place to help us win a Big Ten championship and hopefully put ourselves in a position for a national championship. That's our focus right now. We’re making sure guys are doing their due diligence, return back to campus healthy and then whenever we can start getting back in the gym just putting those pieces back in play.”
And one of the biggest pieces remaining is Livers. The forward will have until Aug. 3 — or 10 days after the NBA Combine, which still has no date set — to decide whether he wants to return to Michigan for his senior season or pursue a professional career.
Washington said he spoke with Livers on Monday and noted he’s still going through the interviewing process with NBA teams.
"Because the timeline got extended and we're still in this phase of when players are returning back to campus, it's still kind of open-ended,” Washington said. “But we support him in this process because it's a fact-finding process and he has the opportunity to get more information that will help lead to a decision.
“It's the nature of our profession now. We're constantly recruiting and re-recruiting our own rosters to keep that intact. It's ever-evolving. We are happy and trying to be very productive with the time that we have with our guys this summer and building culture and teaching leadership so that when we get back in the gym, we all hit the ground running in the same direction."