Tate: All these transfers are making me dizzy
Everybody deserves a second chance. After all, running your life can be complicated. So if you swing and miss the first time, what’s wrong with a mulligan?
But college basketball has taken the second chance to a level with Bruce Willis in “The Fifth Element.” It has evolved into a wild scramble with athletes by the hundreds seeking to find their proper niche.
Here’s a stat: In 11 Illini games this season, more than half of the 55 rival starters were transfers. No wonder we don’t know what to expect. On Saturday night, Oregon started transfers from Houston, Detroit and a third, Mike Moser, who previously played for UCLA and UNLV.
Moser doesn’t hold the mobility record. Earlier, Chicago State came to the Farm with Eddie Denard, who played previously for Kirkwood Community College, Illinois-Chicago and the New Orleans Privateers.
That must be the all-time record ... four schools in five years. Of Chicago State’s top 10, eight enrolled elsewhere out of high school.
Clearly, a lot of these athletes are searching for a place to play, and the education aspect is incidental.
On the move
So if the UI presents two transfers in Jon Ekey and Rayvonte Rice — Ekey will be replaced by three others next season — the current active squad is far behind the average of the teams they’ve played. And look ahead: Next comes undefeated Missouri with key transfers from Oregon (Jabari Brown), Auburn (Earnest Ross), Tulsa (Jordan Clarkson) and UAB (Tony Criswell).
“We’ve always had transfers, but they’re much more prevalent than they were a few years ago,” UI coach John Groce said. “This has changed the mind-set in recruiting. Ekey and (Sam) McLaurin had already been through the rigors and, as fifth-year transfers, had an easy transition.”
Dana Altman has bolstered his Oregon roster in a variety of ways: (1) Moser is making his third stop, (2) senior Jason Calliste transferred from Detroit, his roster spot coming open when the NCAA ruled Brazilian Cristan Felicio had signed a pro contract, (3) top scorer Joseph Young averaged 18 as a sophomore at Houston last season and received a waiver to move when his father lost his assistant coaching job with the Cougars, (4) Canadian Richard Amardi played juco basketball in Iowa and originally committed to Iowa State before becoming Altman’s sixth senior transfer in three years, and (5) sophomore Elgin Cook spent a year at Northwest Florida State Junior College.
Let’s see. Florida to Oregon. Well, that’s closer than Brazil.
For some of us watching this crazy trend, it serves as an off-switch for the game itself. With an annual rate of 400-plus transfers mixing the field, some players barely get their bags unpacked before pulling up stakes.
What happened to the old concept of bringing in high school graduates for four years? Is that idea outmoded, or barely alive at sites like Wisconsin and Dartmouth?
There stands Valparaiso with the former squadmen from USF (point leader LaVonte Dority), Hawaii (Jordan Coleman), Indiana (Bobby Capobianco) and Alabama (Moussas Gueye). There’s Bradley with three starters who began elsewhere.
Among UNLV’s top eight were transfers from USC, UConn, Fresno, Pitt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Fort Wayne’s top two scorers, Luis Jacobi and Steve Forbes, began their careers at Stetson.
Nor did the Illini find it any different with the recent trips to Atlanta. Georgia Tech was led by Tennessee transfer Tre Golden, and sub Stacey Poole tried Kentucky before moving to Tech. Auburn’s top seven featured Virginia convert KT Harrell, two juco transfers and Murray State’s Chris Griffin.
What does all this say about the integrity of a game subsidized by institutions of higher learning? We are kidding ourselves if we think these athletes — OK, not all — are giving serious consideration to the educational side.
The subject of transfers brings us around to next year’s Illini lineup. This has been a year in which the starting five has been obvious since summer and isn’t likely to change ... what with the five juniors and seniors clearly ahead of their freshman backups.
But next year? Don’t try to project it because you can’t. Not after plugging in Nnanna Egwu, Tracy Abrams and Rice.
Guards Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks were double-digit scorers at Seton Hall and Oregon State, respectively, and some insiders insist that Cosby will start.
At the 4, Western Michigan transfer Darius Paul was good enough to be named the MAC’s Freshman of the Year, and incoming freshmen Leron Black and Michael Finke will contend. And then there’s the five current freshmen.
Next year’s team will have a strikingly different look and could be expected to make a major step forward if this year’s rookies make anticipated strides.
Meanwhile, Illini Nation will watch Groce’s personnel moves to see if Illinois can earn the interest of blue- chip preps or will be obliged to take a longer ride on the transfer train.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.