The Transfer Portal.
At this stage in college basketball, it is not only a well known commodity, it is a part of the every day landscape of a team. As a fan you start to wonder if players look unhappy, wondering if maybe they’re playing too well and likely to be poached by another school, start to second guess minute distribution by a coach and think the worst at every turn. It has changed the game for players, coaches, fans and athletic departments.
But at some point, it needs to be discussed if transferring is really working out well for players in the long run.
The Horizon League offers multiple perspectives on the transfer portal and if using it is working out for those that transfer. To do so, we need to suspend some reality though. There are multiple reasons why a player may choose to transfer and many of those cannot be quantified. It’s impossible to measure wanting to be closer to home or unhappiness with a coaching staff and the way they treat people. But with that caveat, it’s time to break down some recent Horizon League transfers and how things are going for them on the other side of things. No final conclusions intended to be drawn, just comparison for you to decide for yourself. These are also just a handful of transfers you could discuss, so to help weed through them (there was 1740 players that entered into the portal in the past offseason) we are going to stick with Div 1 to Div 1 transfers. And in the Horizon League, this isn’t even close to all the possibilities.
The tale of AJ Bramah began last year mid-season, when the senior who was averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds decided to leave Robert Morris. It was a big blow to the RMU program but read to the outside as he thought he had one last chance to retain some eligibility and gain some exposure on a bigger stage to set himself up for success playing professionally. He also stated that the RMU 8 game losing streak at the time was a factor in his leaving. With the NCAA granting a free year to all for last year, it gave Bramah the opportunity for one more full season. He chose Arizona State as the place he would finish out his college basketball career. However, only two months after committing to ASU, he chose to leave as some pieces of ASU returned. For a player looking to showcase their skills for a future job, he clearly saw that opportunity diminishing there. After decommitting, he landed at Nevada. However, after only 4 games, he was dismissed from the team.
“Due to conduct detrimental to the team, AJ Bramah has been dismissed from the Nevada Men’s Basketball program”
Bramah seemed to be looking for two things. He wanted to win, and he wanted to play and be a part of the winning. However, he never seemed to get there. He must now try to find a job overseas playing basketball, without much recently to show and having left 3 teams in a year. Would he have been able to put together a better resume for playing professionally had he stayed at RMU? Winning may not have improved but a good attitude and averaging a double-double probably would look better to some teams looking for size outside of the US.
Up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a new head coach took over last season. With the arrival of Will Ryan, a slew of transfers were expected. This is not uncommon with a new coach. Two players that stuck around last year to lead the new look Phoenix were the 2019-20 Freshman of the Year Amari Davis as well as his backcourt teammate PJ Pipes. But after just one season under Ryan, both players took the portal to find a new home.
Davis landed at Missouri, where he has played in all 12 games, starting in 10 of them. He is one of only two Tigers for the 6-6 squad averaging in double figures at 10.4 PPG. While this year’s Mizzou team may not be great, as they have losses to Liberty and UMKC in the non-conference play, Davis is getting the chance to continue to show his skills on a bigger stage. He will need to improve over the next few years to get back to the contribution he was having at UWGB, but it seems he found a good landing spot to be able to do that.
While Davis has played well and found himself a part of the Mizzou program after transferring, PJ Pipes has taken his opportunity for one more year and is trying to turn into future gold as a big piece of the 10-5 Santa Clara Broncos. Pipes has started in all 13 games he has played in, while averaging 10.5 PPG, just over 33 minutes a game and four assists a contest. He averaged 14.5 points per game as a member of the Phoenix, so the dropoff isn’t much. However, now he’s doing it on a winning team and if nothing else, it has to be more enjoyable playing basketball in the winter in California versus Wisconsin. With both Pipes and Davis, it is difficult to predict what their future would have held if they have aspirations of playing professionally, but it seems that these moves likely didn’t hurt their futures and may have only improved their outcomes. And back in the cold climate of Green Bay, there’s no question their scoring and leadership is missed.
Naz Bohannon and Darius Quisenberry both opted to transfer from Youngstown State heading into this season. It seemed a bit surprising in some ways, as together they had been a formidable tandem and seemed likely to be successful if they could stay healthy for a full season. Quisenberry is having a season for Fordham that is right on track with his previous work at YSU. He is averaging 16.3 ppg, a slight uptick from last season while seeing a slight decrease in his assists per game through the non-conference season. Fordham is 7-5 heading into A-10 play. He should have the opportunity to show he can stay healthy and be seen enough to have future opportunities overseas. Is that any different than he would have had in Youngstown? That’s where it’s hard to quantify some of these things that go into a player’s decision to transfer.
While Quisenberry has more or less transferred his stats from YSU to his new home, Bohannon has seen a decrease in his production since joining the team at Clemson. He was a near automatic double-double as a Penguin but is averaging just 4.9 PPG and 3.5 rebounds. While he has seen the floor in every game for the Tigers, he is yet to make a start and averaging just shy of 20 minutes per game. Horizon League fans know Bohannon has a motor that never stopped and you always knew he would be in the middle of a scrum for a rebound and working down low. It was easy to see him getting chances to play overseas despite being a little undersized at 6-6, but will those chances still exist when this season is done? It’s likely he saw the opportunity to play better competition more consistently, but it was a gamble leaving for a new destination in the ACC.
Many players cite wanting to play in the NCAA tournament as a reason to transfer. Last year, Jalen Tate took the chance to leave Northern Kentucky to join Arkansas. He already had an excellent Horizon League career having been named to the All-Freshman team, a 3 time All- Defensive Team member, All tournament team and Tournament MVP. However, he made the most of his year at Arkansas chipping in 10.9 PPG and playing just under 30 minutes while continuing to play the tenacious defense he was likely recruited for and starting all 32 games for the Razorbacks.
When it came time for the NCAA tournament, Tate shined bringing his experience with him. He averaged 15.5 points 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while helping Arkansas reach the Elite 8. He also found himself as a member of the South Regional of the NCAA tournament All Tournament Team. All these things to say, Jalen Tate had a great season at Arkansas and turned it into a pro career as he is playing professionally for Jobstairs Giessen 46ers in Germany. Would that opportunity have existed had he not left NKU for Arkansas and had the season he had including shining on the stage of the NCAA tournament?
When it comes to Oakland University, their relationship with the transfer portal has been well documented (See?). So how could there possibly be more to talk about? Oakland had 3 transfers this past offseason that cannot be ignored. The question becomes, were those good choices for the players or the team?
Oakland had two players leave this offseason who were seemingly big pieces of the team. The first one was forward Daniel Oladapo, who left for Pittsburgh, and the other was guard Rashad Williams, who left for St. Louis. Both seemed to have an ax to grind with the school on their way out, but none more apparent than Oladapo. He tweeted a picture of head coach Greg Kampe and Associate Head Coach Jeff Smith with clown emojis over their heads. He was a good player for Oakland averaging 11 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a Golden Grizzly, but most of his tenure was a rollercoaster. From committing and decommitting three times before arriving on campus, to throwing a chair in frustration during a timeout last season, he was a player that seemed fueled by emotion. And at the end of the day, his emotions told him leaving an Oakland team he didn’t believe in, especially as he was awaiting a transfer big but instead got another “wing” coming in, and going closer to home was the right move.
However, sometimes the right move may have a diminishing return on the court. While he played and started in every game last year for OU, he has only started in 4 games for Pitt and even recorded a DNP in Pitt’s recent loss to Notre Dame where they only went seven deep and Oladapo found himself out of the rotation. He is averaging 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds as a Panther. It was easy to see Oladapo with another good year having a chance to play overseas as an undersized but athletic big, but now, that seems very unlikely.
Exiting the OU roster with Oladapo was Rashad Williams, the former Cleveland State guard transfer. Last year saw Williams play his only full season in the black and gold where he averaged 13.6 points in 28.5 minutes. Where did things go wrong for the 3 point shooting guard, who made 34% of his threes last year? The issue seemed to come in roster makeup. Rashad had been brought to Oakland having been told he was the point guard they needed.
However, after not showing the ability to run the point the way Kampe expected, they brought in Jalen Moore. It was clear at times last year that while Rashad was seeing success shooting the three thanks to Moore, he wanted to be more than a volume 3 point shooter and that opportunity wasn’t going to present itself at Oakland. But to leave for St. Louis, a guard heavy team that brought back much of their roster seemed a bit perplexing. He has appeared in just 6 games for the 8-4 Billikens with most of his work coming against NAIA Harris-Stowe. A player that has found himself making treys for two different Horizon League schools and drawing attention from scouts for his shooting ability, now finds himself not seeing the floor in St. Louis.
And sometimes, a transfer involving Oakland works out for the better. That “wing” that Oladapo wasn’t too happy to see coming to campus was the Marquette transfer, Jamal Cain. While the other transfers discussed here were leaving Horizon League programs hoping to find success, Cain is story of a Div 1 player at a high major transferring to the mid-major level hoping to find a future payday. Through the non-conference schedule, Cain is looking ready to cash in, and not just overseas. Greg Kampe has scouts in regularly watching his 6’7″ forward who is averaging 21.1 ppg and 10.1 rebounds heading into conference play. Cain is regularly the best player on the floor, including against high major programs like West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Michigan State, and looks every bit the part of a future pro. Cain was nearly an afterthought at Marquette, but has used the portal to not only come closer to home, but also ensure he will be having a pro career.
These are just some of the MANY examples in the Horizon League of recent transfers and how they’re working out for those players. As the portal continues to shape the landscape of all college sports, many of these stories will be used by coaches to help attract new players or maybe try and keep one on your campus. Hopefully, whoever is in the ear of many of these athletes start to document these stories too. The portal can be a great tool for an athlete in the wrong situation. Being able to properly evaluate the situation versus your future aspirations is where the real decisions will come in.