A pair of incoming transfers appear All-League caliber despite a sever lack of buzz
The Horizon League announced its preseason All-League teams on Tuesday, and in predictable fashion the league’s promising transfers were left in the cold. Despite having college resumes that suggest the ability to be tremendous players in the Horizon League, neither Milwaukee guard Te’Jon Lucas nor IUPUI guard Marcus Burk was selected as a member of the Horizon League’s Preseason All-League teams.
Te’Jon Lucas is eligible for Milwaukee this year after transferring in from Illinois with stats that suggest he could be a Sandy Cohen III caliber performer. His play in college so far indicates he should lead Milwaukee in assists and steals, and could be the Panthers’ scoring leader as well. Despite having the advantage of a full season of eligibility over Cohen in his first year in the league, Lucas’ name isn’t coming up as an All-League pick by any publications (admittedly including the HoriZone Roundtable) and he wasn’t selected to the Horizon League’s official preseason All-League teams.
IUPUI guard Marcus Burk has shown he can perform very well at this level. He averaged 14.8 points per game and knocked down 40.8 percent of his three-pointers at Campbell before joining the Jaguars. Given Campbell’s methodical style of play and Burk coming in with an extra year under his belt, it’s not out of the question that his numbers could see a noticeable boost this year. Despite this, he’s another player who seems to be an afterthought for Preseason All-League polls.
Rasheem Dunn could have been another player in a similar situation for Cleveland State. Dunn led Saint Francis Brooklyn with 15.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in 2018 before transferring to the Vikings, but he left for Saint John’s in the aftermath of Dennis Felton’s firing this summer.
This isn’t the first year where incoming transfers have been overlooked. Just last year, three members of the All-Horizon League teams were players who transferred into the Horizon League and two were in their first year in the league. While you can make the case that all three had extenuating circumstances that could explain away their lack of preseason hype, they should serve as learning opportunities for players like Lucas and Burk who enter the league with similar bodies of work. These aren’t freshmen with no track record, they’re proven Division I talents that are routinely being ignored by Horizon League pollsters.
Camron Justice transferred to IUPUI from Vanderbilt. As a freshman, Justice looked to be developing into a nice role player for the Commodores. He played in 26 games and averaged just under 10 minutes a night, scoring 3.4 points per game. Injuries and a coaching change caused him to fall out of Vanderbilt’s rotation as a sophomore. He played just seven games in his second season and his numbers dropped across the board. At the end of the year he opted to join his high school teammate Evan Hall at IUPUI. While the promising freshman year should’ve shown Horizon League voters what Justice could do, an argument could be made that his sophomore struggles are what caused him to come to the Horizon League without hype. Still, he’s an example of a player that showed enough to warrant more attention than he did before putting on an IUPUI jersey.
Bill Wampler spent his first two seasons at Drake before joining Wright State last year and earning Second Team All-League honors in the postseason. The argument against Wampler is sound: he averaged just under 10 points per game on a nine-win Drake team that didn’t seem to stack up to the Wright State squad he was joining. His rise to All-Horizon League status was genuinely surprising.
Sandy Cohen transferred to Green Bay after starting his career at Marquette as a Consensus Top 100 recruit. He averaged 5.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game with the Golden Eagles in his last full season before transferring. After transitioning from the Big East to the Horizon League, he predictably went from being pretty good at everything to being a standout across the board. The most likely reason for leaving Cohen off of the Preseason All-League team is valid: the NCAA waiver granting him eligibility at the end of Fall Semester in 2017 was issued just three days before Horizon League Media Day. There wasn’t enough time between news that he was eligible and the announcement of the teams, and most of the votes had probably already been cast. But given that Lucas’ stats compare well to Cohen’s, there’s reason to believe the Illinois transfer should have a significant impact this year.
Arguably the best example of the continued undervaluing of transfers in preseason polls came the same year Cohen joined the Horizon League in the form of a player who actually made the Preseason All-League team. Kendrick Nunn averaged 15.5 points per game at Illinois in 2016 before being kicked off of the team after pleading guilty to domestic battery. He transferred to Oakland and was pegged as a Second Team All-Horizon League performer despite the fact that his numbers at Illinois stacked up very well with the other All-League picks’ numbers in the Horizon League. It’s possible that Nunn was left off ballots as a protest to the serious nature of the crime that landed him at Oakland, but with nobody publicly announcing that reasoning that just seems like a convenient excuse. From a purely basketball standpoint, it was obvious he was going to be better than a Second Team All-Horizon League performer. Nunn was named the 2018 Horizon League Player of the Year after averaging 25.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game at Oakland before going on to play in the NBA G-League. He’s currently a member of the Miami Heat.
If league voters got things right in the Preseason Poll, leaving Burk out may be a fair decision. If IUPUI finishes the year in ninth, he’d have to be a 20+ point per game scorer to get a fair shot at the All-League team. While his work at Campbell was certainly impressive, we don’t have anything to suggest he can produce that type of offensive output. Burk’s candidacy will likely depend on a surprisingly good finish by IUPUI in the Horizon League standings.
The league polls complicate things when it comes to Lucas. While HoriZone Roundtable had Milwaukee a pretty solid 8th place pick in the poll, the Horizon League’s official poll had the Panthers in seventh. The distinction there is small, but it’s often the difference between a five or six-win team and one that’s a couple unlucky bounces from a .500 record in league play. If the Panthers really do pull off seven or eight wins in Horizon League play, it’s easy to see the team having an All-League selection. If he can put up a decent scoring total, Lucas should be the best contender. While last year’s point guard Darius Roy might end up an even more prolific scorer as a senior with a true point guard getting him the ball in good position, all signs point to Lucas being the Panthers’ best all-around player.
Although each of the previous transfers’ cases involves extenuating circumstances, they give Horizon League voters and sportswriters an example of what to expect from the league’s well-established newcomers. Despite this, nothing ever seems to change. Barring injuries both Burk and Lucas should find themselves in the mix for All-League postseason honors, but neither has had their name come up in any preseason publications and neither cracked the official Preseason All-League teams.