Guards Mason, Sumler looking for new homes
For every college basketball program in the country, the official end of the season promptly ushers in the inevitable chaos that is the NCAA Transfer Portal. As the old adage goes, a new season begins when an old season ends. In that vein, the Northern Kentucky University men’s 2023-24 basketball team is now two players lighter as sophomore guard Isaiah Mason and freshman guard A’lahn Sumler have both opted to leave the Norse squad and test the waters of the transfer portal.
Due to the newfound flexibility of the transfer portal, players can come and go from one team to the next without sitting out a year as in years past. For players looking to jump ship for a fresh start or a more attractive opportunity, their recruiting process essentially starts over like an hourglass that’s been inverted. As of this writing, there are now more than 600 players in the Transfer Portal, with many more being added not just every day, but every hour.
As the Norse continue to recover from their narrow NCAA First Round loss to top-seed Houston, they will look to replace the two guards with either incoming freshmen or transfer portal players of their own.
In losing the 6-5 Mason, the Norse lose a loyal Kentucky-born player who committed to the program back in 2019 after NKU was the first Division I program to show substantial interest and offer him a scholarship. While the Bowling Green, Ky. native went on to receive additional offers from fellow D-I programs Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and SIU-Edwardsville, he stated his plan was always to take NKU’s offer because he wanted to reward them for being the first program to show confidence in him and his skills.
In addition to the firm offers above, Mason was also reportedly hearing from the likes of Bellarmine, Belmont, Dartmouth, Evansville, IUPUI, Middle Tennessee State, Stetson, Toledo, UNC-Wilmington, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Western Carolina and Western Kentucky.
When Mason was being recruited in high school, scouts noted that Mason was long and lanky in build, played elite-level defense, ran the floor well, could jump through the roof, was a sure and accurate passer and had a very quick release on his shots. His movement can best be described as “slippery” or “dodgy” and he has the agility to weave his way through traffic and still manage to get shots up and off from awkward angles, while also being sneaky and athletic enough to snare tough rebounds from anywhere on the court. Because of his height and quick release, his perimeter shots are difficult to block. You can see many of these skills and traits through his highlight videos and training tape.
At Bowling Green High School in southwestern Kentucky, the left-handed guard built up quite a storied playing resume while leading the Purples to the Playoffs multiple times, accruing the following stats and honors:
- Career – Scored nearly 1,700 points for BGHS
- Nabbed over 800 rebounds
- Kentucky Region 4 Player of the Year
- All-Region honors
- Senior – Prep Hoops’ #3-ranked player in Kentucky’s 2021 class
- Senior – Mr. Kentucky Basketball finalist
- Senior – Led BGHS to a 24-3 record and an appearance in Kentucky’s KHSAA Sweet 16 Quarterfinals while averaging 17.7 points and 7.4 rebounds
- Junior – Averaged 16.1 points and 9.4 rebounds while also passing 1,000 career points as a junior
- Junior – Honorable Mention All-State from Lexington Herald-Leader
- Junior – 3rd Team All-State from Louisville Courier Journal
- Junior – All-4th Region accolades
At NKU, Mason found steady playing time on game day very difficult to come by both his freshman and sophomore seasons. Over the course of his two-year career at NKU, Mason only saw 84 minutes of playing time on the court, averaging just 3.8 minutes per game over the balance of 22 games played between both seasons. During those two seasons, Mason accumulated minimal statistics: 12 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 steals. The limited time on the court was puzzling to fans because Mason was highly prized by NKU coming out of high school.
That all said, his strong play in the AAU circuit with Team Manimal was drawing raves, and he was a dynamic, selfless teammate who led his high school team to multiple seasons of success on his way to being considered for the state of Kentucky’s greatest individual high school basketball award. With his impressive high school accolades and two years of experience in a winning program, Mason should likely anticipate garnering interest from fellow D-I programs quickly.
The 6-3 All-State guard from Buford, Ga., was a late signee who inked on with the Norse late into the Fall signing period, not long before the team started practices for the new season. As a senior at Buford High School, Sumler led his squad to a 27-5 record, a Georgia Region 8 Championship, a No. 17 state ranking and a spot in the Georgia 6A state championship game.
That same season, Sumler served as an on-court leader and shot 49% from the field while averaging 16.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals per game for a program that won the Georgia 5A state title just two years earlier. This production earned him All-Gwinnett County, Atlanta All-Metro and All-State honors in the high school basketball-rich state of Georgia.
Sumler was wading through the recruitment process during a challenging time where most college coaches were looking for seasoned college players from the Transfer Portal to plug directly into their roster. Because of the focus on scanning Portal players, Sumler was very lightly recruited by D-I and D-II schools coming out of high school, but he did hold firm offers from Harcum College (PA), Miami (FL) Dade College and Independence Community College (KS) prior to being offered a scholarship to play for Head Coach Darrin Horn’s Norse.
During an interview with Sumler shortly after his signing with NKU, he stated that he was discovered by NKU during one of World S.M.A.S.H’s (his AAU club) spring tournaments at the Hoop Group Showcase in Pittsburgh. At this tournament, he had breakout performances throughout the weekend that put him on the map of coaches in attendance. According to the showcase producers with Ryze Hoops, Sumler was one of the event’s standout players at the late-March Ryze 17U Tip-Off Classic in Atlanta, and published a glowing report of Sumler after the dust of the tourney settled:
“Coming off of a terrific season at Buford, Alahn Sumler showed why he’s one of the best unsigned players in the state (Georgia). He averaged over 18 points per game on the weekend, and went over the 20-point mark both games on Sunday. He’s a very gifted perimeter scorer and is a big time shot maker, averaging 2.5 threes per game on the weekend. He also has the ability to put the ball on the floor and create for others as well as play both backcourt spots.”
At NKU, Sumler was able to break into the Norse lineup in the 85-77 win over Tennessee Tech, the team’s seventh game of the season (and perhaps not coincidently the first game after the Norse dropped three straight games in the early season Florida Gulf Coast Showcase). In the TTU game, he only played two minutes, but this all but eliminated any doubt about whether he was going to Redshirt his freshman season.
He went on to record the following stats on the season:
- 28 games
- 284 minutes played
- 10.1 minutes per game
- 2.9 points per game
- 36.3% FG shooting
- 0.9 rebounds per game
- 9 assists
- 5 steals
Sumler was often the second or third man off the bench, but he did have a stretch in mid-January Horizon League play where he played 33 minutes versus Detroit Mercy on January 8, 26 minutes on January 12 versus Milwaukee and 23 minutes on January 14 versus Green Bay. He had three double-digit scoring games on the season, with his marquee game being a 14 point/7 rebound effort against Detroit Mercy (1/08/23) in which the Norse won 78-76 in Overtime.
His minutes were scattered a bit throughout the game schedule – and he did make brief appearances in the Horizon League Championship Game as well as the NCAA First Round loss to Houston – but Sumler did show glimpses of becoming a strong contributor in the making when he had the opportunities. Averaging 10+ minutes per game as a true freshman isn’t exactly pocket change as it relates to playing time on a team that breezed through its conference tournament and made a trip to the NCAA Tournament. But it seems Sumler had multiple stretches of games where his playing time dipped into the single digits – including just 7 minutes in the last 4 games – possibly prompting him to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
While the Norse did lose guard Trevon Faulkner, point guard Xavier Rhodes and post Chris Brandon to graduation, NKU does have at least four signed incoming freshmen lined up for next season – all of which are guards – to go along with current players Sam Vinson, Marques Warrick, Trey Robinson and Hubie Pivorious…who are all also guards. So needless to say, despite the departures of Mason and Sumler, the guard spot may well end up being a proverbial overflowing cup, assuming there are no more departures from the current roster. Considering the average D-I school lost three players to the transfer portal last year, it would be reasonable to anticipate that there may be one or more players still planning their departure – it’s still early, stay tuned.