A wise man once said, “Change is the only constant in life.” While that wise man was 6th Century BC Greek philosopher Heraclitus, it doesn’t take a sage prophet to know that in college basketball today, constant change is one of only a few definitive givens. As such, today’s college basketball coaches have a multitude of hats to wear on any given day… “Agent of Change” is now near the top of the proverbial hat rack. As the college basketball season reaches its conclusion in the coming days, Division I coaches around the country are hard at work, managing change as best they can while navigating and scouring the Transfer Portal for players to fill vital needs left behind by graduating seniors…as well as coping with the loss of rostered players of all classifications who chose to leave the program in favor of seeking new life at a new program.
While the infamous Transfer Portal on the surface seems like a human logistical nightmare for coaches losing players they would have preferred to keep, it also provides a fresh talent pool of mostly experienced players who feel a change of scenery would potentially increase their visibility to pro hoops scouts. One must only look at former wing Jalen Tate’s decision to leave the Norse for the University of Arkansas prior to the end of his eligibility to see that sometimes you have to leave somewhere in order to go somewhere. In Tate’s case, he left NKU with a year left in order to play under the much brighter SEC spotlight. Tate’s stock soared at Arkansas, consequently leading to a valuable opportunity with the NBA Houston Rockets G-League summer team. Soon after his NBA summer stint, he landed a pro contract to play in Germany with the Giessen 46ers of the Basketball Bundesliga, widely considered to be one of the best pro basketball leagues in Europe.
As it stands today, Head Coach Darrin Horn’s program has lost three players (David Bohm, Adrian Nelson and Seybian Sims) to the Transfer Portal – three players that would have seemingly played a sizeable role in a run at another 20+ win season and postseason consideration.
At face value, this would appear to be catastrophic news for a program forever trying to stick out in an overcrowded field of mid-major programs seeking elevated recognition. In reality, losing three rostered players to the Transfer Portal is right on par with the national average. As of right now (3/31/22), the Transfer Portal of players looking for a new start is 1,048 deep, and that number will be even larger by the end of business day today. That said, there are currently 350 Division I basketball programs in 32 conferences in the country, which equals out to (1048 players/350 programs) 2.99 players lost per program. While the impact of losing these three talented players will be felt, NKU is certainly not alone in losing talent to other programs.
The question now is, how will the Norse use the Transfer Portal to fill in gaps left behind by not only three departing established players transferring out, but also a complete lack of any signed high school players for 2022 and beyond? Up until 3/20/22, NKU only had one offer out to a high school athlete graduating in 22’ in the form of L.J. Wells, a shooting forward from Wisconsin who has garnered predominately Division II offers. For a team that routinely carries 14-15 players on its active roster, the Norse appear to have only 10 players returning next season, and that number counts walk-ons.
Below is a “wish list” of players (we’ll call them the “Portal Starting 5”) I would consider attracting to NKU for the 2022-23 season, players that have entered the Transfer Portal, are listed as “Immediately Available” and are looking for a program that meets their needs on various levels. Naturally, these would also be players that the Norse could use to fill critical gaps on the roster based on their typical “Two Guards and Three Wings” formation:
Mike DePersia, 5’11’, 175, Guard – IUPUI:
Tough times abound at Horizon League rival IUPUI – this past season at one point they only had 6 active players on their roster and were advertising for Open Tryouts on campus, essentially recruiting students to fill spots on the roster just so they could play their scheduled games. What DePersia doesn’t give you in substantial size or gaudy stats, he makes up for in leadership, on-court IQ and unrelenting consistency. As a high school athlete at Haddonfield Memorial H.S., DePersia was starting point guard and four-year varsity starter on a two-time New Jersey high school state championship team. DePersia was the 2019 South Jersey Hoops three-point champion and crossed the 1,000 point mark for his high school career as a junior, eventually landing firm offers from IUPUI and Delaware State.
At IUPUI, DePersia has been named to the Horizon League Team multiple times over, was named team Captain as a sophomore and junior and ranked third in the nation with a 3.74 assist-to-turnover ratio (71 assists, 19 turnovers) as a sophomore. As a junior DePersia shot 38.3% from behind the arc while sporting 85 assists to just 30 turnovers. Coming to NKU, DePersia seems the type who would be content to earn his playing time while being entrusted to handle the ball late in close games…a facet where the Norse struggled a bit this past season.
Khristian Lander, 6’2”, 185, Guard – Indiana
Placing Lander on this list was tough, because the odds are likely very slim that a 5-star recruit who was being courted by all the power conferences in the nation would choose a Horizon League school who didn’t extend him an offer out of high school. But one can wish, so let’s take a closer look at this top tier prospect who left the Hoosiers program recently. Lander was originally the No. 11 ranked recruit in the nation according to 247Sports in the class of 2021. At Evansville Reitz High School in Evansville, Indiana Lander was an All-American third team selection by MaxPreps, as well as second-team All-State and Indiana Junior All-Star and first-team All-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference as a senior.
Despite being recognized as one of the highest rated players in the country, Lander played very sparingly as a freshman guard at IU where he averaged 2.1 points per game. As a sophomore this season, Lander was named to the Academic All-Big10 Team. Despite his impressive high school resume and ratings, his minutes were again very limited during his sophomore campaign, playing only 13 games and averaging 2.9 points per game. The Norse did play IU this past season in Bloomington, but Lander played only four minutes in the blowout win, recording only one foul and one turnover.
Through two seasons of college hoops and not much of anything to show for it, what Lander may need is a step down in competition where he can regain his confidence and have a fair chance to show what kind of player he can be. In order to lure a player of Lander’s reputation, Coach Horn would likely need to hand the keys of the offense over to him, which might not be that unrealistic if senior PG Bryson Langdon chooses to leave NKU for any reason or enter the Transfer Portal. If Langdon leaves NKU, Lander could come in and split time with PG Jake Evans and would be a player that could come in and quickly make for a very physical scoring attack alongside returnees Trevon Faulkner, Sam Vinson and Ques Warrick.
Jack Clark, 6’8”, 200, Wing – LaSalle:
What you get in this 6’8”, 3-star rated (per ESPN) wing from Pennsylvania is a dynamic athlete who would still have two full seasons of eligibility left as he missed the 2019-20 season due to injury. As a high school senior in PA, Clark was voted Team Captain, invited to the prestigious Under Armour All-America Camp and selected to the Mr. Pennsylvania Mr. Basketball ‘Tremendous 25’ team. Clark chose LaSalle out of high school, but he held official offers from the likes of Dayton, Penn State, UMass, George Mason and Tulane among many others.
Based on Clark’s statistics and the conference from which he comes (Atlantic 10), you get an experienced, effective player that can come in on Day 1 and play – and potentially start – right away. Clark was healthy during the 2021-22 season, and his numbers reflect that as he averaged 12 points and 5.8 rebounds per game – he scored double-digits in 17 games and played his best basketball in the second half of the season. Given a chance to play meaningful minutes every game, Clark could blossom into a very real threat from behind the arc as well as around the rim.
Isaiah Bigelow, 6’7”, 200, Wing – Wofford:
Bigelow could be an intriguing piece to the 2022 Norse puzzle, as he would bring a nice combination of length and hoops pedigree to the roster. What might draw Bigelow to Highland Heights would be his desire for a fresh start at a program that recently lost length in the form of wings Seybian Sims and David Bohm, both of whom left via the Portal in late March. What you get in Bigelow is a player that wants to play right now, as he missed two full seasons of college ball already as a redshirted freshman and then a lost junior season due to injury. This could be a player who has yet to play his best college basketball as his chances have been limited due to playing time. His pedigree is strong, showing flashes of dominance as a First Team All-State selection and Conference Player of the Year in basketball-rich North Carolina, where he averaged 18.4 points and 10.7 rebounds as a senior for an accomplished 28-4 Ben L. Smith High School squad. Coming out of high school, it appears that Bigelow was mostly recruited regionally from Carolina schools, as he held firm offers from: Wofford, Charlotte, North Carolina A&T, Chattanooga, Norfolk State, Radford, Western Carolina and North Florida.
At Wofford, Bigelow had a highlight reel game against Western Carolina on 1/15/22 where he posted up 19 points and 5 assists…four days later against The Citadel he shot 4/8 from beyond the arc and dragged down 14 rebounds in route to a Terriers win. When healthy and given time and space to shine, Bigelow could be very dangerous for a team willing to give him a chance to prove himself.
Courvoisier McCauley, 6’5”, 212, Wing – DePaul
Rounding out the “Portal Starting 5” lineup is a player who would be familiar to the Norse coaching staff, a big-bodied wing who faced NKU on 11/26/21 on DePaul’s home court. McCauley is a big, strong G/Wing who originally transferred to DePaul in May 2020 after playing his first two seasons at NCAA Division II Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.) where he garnered All-American status. At Lincoln-Memorial, McCauley averaged 15.3 points per game and hit from beyond the arc at a 41% clip while pulling down 5.1 rebounds per contest.
At DePaul this past season, McCauley played in 18 games off the bench, with 47 of his 61 field goal attempts coming from behind the arc, shooting 32.4% from deep, while averaging 5.7 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. McCauley’s best game this season was at Xavier where he scored 21 points (4/8 from deep), hauled in five boards, snagged two steals and added three assists in a crucial road win for the Demon Deacons. At season’s end, McCauley was named to the Big East All-Academic Team and NABC Honors Court. What you get with McCauley is a strong, physical player who is smart and willing to work for his position as evidenced by his steady rise through a year of post-grad academy training, the Division II ranks and on to D-I Big East basketball. McCauley’s maturity in weathering a steady rise through the various levels of basketball while proving to be a very strong student in the classroom could prove to be valuable to the Norse both equally in the locker room and on the court.
While these player movement projections are purely hypothetical based on one person’s research and preferences, they may not be terribly far off. There is a veritable treasure trove of quality basketball players on the move, and it never hurts to create scenarios where the home team is able to improve its roster through a series of well-reasoned recruiting tactics. The Norse are losing some talent that will be hard to replace, but seek solace in the fact that there was once a Chris Brandon waiting to be called, emailed or texted. The coaching staff is doing its best to provide the program with a strong and entertaining roster, let’s do our part by remaining supportive and curious through the process.
(While we are quite certain Norse fans would be looking for Dontaie Allen to appear on this list, he was in consideration but it was decided that he would not be a realistic catch for NKU. All eyes point to him trying to stick with a program on the Power 5 level, and not dropping down to a mid-major program. His signing would be an absolute coup, but there is just no practical way that will happen)