Nzekwesi and Kurnaz Enter Transfer Portal

Last week, forward Alperen Kurnaz (6’8″, 220 lbs.) announced his intention to transfer from DU. Kurnaz was a positive force on the squad but his overall contributions on the floor were modest last season with 3.4 ppg. and 2.8 rebounds in 16.6 minutes per game. Then, this week, center/forward David Nzwekwesi (6’9″, 240 lbs.) joined Kurnaz in the transfer portal. He scored 5.7 points last season with 3.3 rebounds in 16.6 minutes.  Kurnaz and Nzekwesi mark the third and fourth Pioneers to transfer this offseason, as the first transfer was sophomore shooting guard Joe Lanzi, and the second was little-used freshman forward Owen McGlashan. None of the four have announced a destination after leaving DU.

What started as a promising five-man freshman class two years ago has now shrunk to two: guards Taelyr Gatlin and Jase Townsend. Kurnaz was a good teammate who always put his best effort on the floor despite lacking top tier skills. On the other hand, Nzekwesi was never able to scratch the surface of his vast potential and talent while at DU. And, no doubt, losing these two juniors-to-be leaves the DU team short on experience and depth. Denver will have only one senior next season, seldom-used guard Ray Kowalski.

At last season’s Summit League preseason coaches meeting, Billups stated that David Nzekwesi has the tools to be “the best player in the Summit League”. Unfortunately, Nzekwesi came into the season overweight and unprepared to play for extended minutes. His play regressed during the season, losing his starting job and leaving freshman Robert Jones as Denver’s sole low-post presence. His regression last season clearly exasperated the coaches — as a Freshman,  Nzekwesi scored 8.1 PPG in only 13 minutes, but could not reach six  PPG in 16 minutes per game this past season. Had Nzekwesi stepped up this season, ala Daniel Amigo, and added a third reliable defender and scorer, the Pioneers would have been much better. This transfer marked an unfortunate end to what should have been a promising sophomore season for Nzekwesi. David’s brother, Emmanuel, a starter for Oral Roberts, has maximized his talent and physical tools, graduated last year averaging over 16 points per game as a senior.

Nzekewsi follows in the footsteps of former DU players like Drick Bernstine, Cam Delaney, and Rosey Bankhead who never achieved their full potential at Denver. The Denver frontcourt now includes big man Frank Ryder at 6-’10” who just transferred in from CU, up-and-coming  6′-10″ sophomore Robert Jones, 6′-9″ junior Tristan Greene and 6′-8″ wing Javonni Bickham.

15 thoughts on “Nzekwesi and Kurnaz Enter Transfer Portal”

  1. It’s going to be a longgggg season. There must be a back story as to why these players are transferring.

  2. Rosey Bankhead….Going old school!

    Seriously, only one of the four transfers is a bone-fide DI player, and that one is Nzekwesi. The others are not likely going to see D-I offers to transfer. I would imagine the back story here is that the coaches may be nudging (if not outright pushing) at least some of these players out the door because they aren’t playing at the level that was expected. That’s poor recruiting. If they are leaving on their own, it’s likely because they aren’t happy with playing time or role on the team. About 35% of D-I players transfer these days, as the portal has made the process easier and more transparent.

    Nzekwesi should be a dominant Summit League player by now, but he got worse as a sophomore last year which is rare – that’s usually the year players make the big leap as they adjust to the college game. Obviously, he didn’t develop, and that’s on him as well as on the DU coaches. Few players are going to succeed at this level without proper nutrition and conditioning. Nzekwesi should have stayed in Denver after his freshman year to train, but he didn’t. Now, he’ll need to develop at another school.

  3. this transfer portal is ridiculous. not commenting on whether DU basketball is better off because of it. I don’t know the answer to that. but this transfer portal cannot be good for college athletics. how the hell is a college program supposed to plan and recruit (especially struggling basketball programs, like DU)?

  4. Good point, Anon. Because all the good high school players are snapped up by now, DU has been forced to load up on JUCO players (5). You lose 2-years of production and there are often academic mismatches. As a mid-major like DU, you are left with the crumbs at this time of year.

  5. As a mid major, it’s very hard to to build a program when you are losing a third of your roster each year to transfer and those players never really develop to become contributing upperclassmen in your program.

    In football, red shirts are common for freshmen, but not as much in hoops. Hoops Freshmen expect to play, and sophomores expect to start, and if those things don’t happen, chances are the kid may move on by junior year.

    In order to keep your players, you need to build a very special culture that players want to be a part of more than they want personal playing time. It really comes down to recruiting character kids as much as getting great athletes. Other sports programs at DU have figured this out long ago, but it’s just harder with basketball, the sport with the highest transfer rate.

    Another factor is a ticking socio-economic clock for some. Almost D-I players have pro dreams (even just to play in Europe), and I think there is a socio-economic reality that sets in for some that believe they don’t have time to ride the bench – they’d just rather transfer and play somewhere else. We live in an instant gratification society…

  6. While I wish both these guys well, I don’t think any fans are losing sleep over these two transfers. Kurnaz was a role player at best and appears better off at the D II level. Nzekwesi, as we all know, was a complete enigma. He certainly had the size and ability to be an impact player, but never seemed to have the stamina/conditioning to log meaningful time, and his compete level just wasn’t there. Difficult guy to figure out. But who knows, maybe a change of scenery will do him some good.

    COVID aside, I’d like to be a fly on the wall to hear what Rodney and his staff are discussing this offseason. Is there a reason to be optimistic at all heading into the 2020-21 season?

    1. DU’s season really keys on a big leap from Robert Jones from a good player to become a star player (at least 15 PPG/8-10 RPG), and for Jase Townsend to become more consistent in shooting the ball, and Gatlin/Eastmond to run the team well in the backcourt while reducing turnovers. If those three factors all happen next year, DU grows to be a .500 team. And if Greene and/or Ryder develop into double-digit contributors on top of the first three factors, and some other players step into reliable contributions, DU could contend for the Summit.

      BUT….that said, there is only one senior next year and it’s Ray Kowalski. Getting all of those good development factors to happen at the same time seems like a tall order, and an under .500 season is the more likely for DU. The Pio brass will then need to decide if they saw enough progress to extend Rodney or if they need to let him go and start over again…

  7. Someone said it above. Culture. I get that building one takes time — but developing it and setting the tone has got to fall on the shoulders of the coaching staff. I’m not even sure what it is that Billups wants – maybe he’s unsure too. Uncertain he has had the command or respect from his players – it hasn’t ‘felt’ like it from the stands over the last few seasons. These are young men eager to win and succeed on and off the court – and to be shaped and molded as student athletes – but the turnstyle door that’s been rotating lately makes it difficult for the team and the coaching staff. Some say its poor recruiting, some say it’s depth of the coaching staff, etc. But the buck stops at the top — the leader — and i’m hard pressed to see or hear accountability from him on all of this.

  8. Hard to believe Billups is still the coach. Despite the coronavirus pandemic other D1 colleges have made coaching changes. As pointed out in other comments the buck falls on the head coach and his staff. He’s been a failure on all accounts and to even suggest, “extend Rodney,” is laughable. His record, recruiting, retaining players speaks for themselves.

  9. To be clear, I was not suggesting that anyone extend Rodney at this time. What I said was that the school will likely decide on extending him at the end of next season, which is when his 5-year contract expires. If he doesn’t make the amount of progress that DU requires, he’ll likely be let go and the school will need to start over.

  10. I’m up for giving Billups a chance to build. But that chance would be limited to one or two more years beyond this contract, with a decrease in pay. Unfortunately, he has done nothing to merit any kind of a long term extension.

  11. Have to believe this is it for Rodney. 2020-21 is his last opportunity to prove he’s the man for the job. I think the question is what will it take for that to happen? What is the administration looking for? Is it simply more Ws? A better product? More fans in the seats? At this point what does progress even mean and how do we measure it? I’d be curious what kinds of things are being discussed by the senior leadership at DU.

    3 seasons ago DU was a .500 team and had a good record at home and had a winning record in the conference. Things appeared to be looking up. Two seasons ago a couple transfers joined the program and, at least on paper, gave the Pios a boost. Those guys plus the returners (guys like Rosga) gave us all a reason to get excited. Unfortunately that season was a trainwreck. Pios only won 8 games overall and were abysmal in the conference. Furthermore, it was a bad product. No chemistry, sporadic effort, especially defensively, and what seemed to be a real lack of leadership and direction doomed that squad. Last season, while the team actually won one fewer game and had the same lousy conference record, I would argue they actually took a step forward. The effort level was there on a consistent basis, the team competed hard and showed a lot of fight, and Murkey was a very bright light in terms of leadership, his work ethic, and will. He galvanized the team many nights. Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough support around him. He’s now gone and those are big shoes to fill.

  12. Great points, Twister. I also liked the fight in last year’s team far more than the team two years ago. They played a lot of teams close last year, and with just one senior and no juniors, it’s hard to win at any level. DU gave top-seed and Summit tourney champ NDSU all they wanted in the SLT, and showed that they cared about the game and about each other. They played their hearts out in Sioux Falls, and in the process, showed that Denver could play D-I ball.

    But here we are now, and four more players have transferred out. The coaches may have pushed some of them out, and some of them weren’t very good players, but we’re back to a revolving door roster. And that’s concerning after another poor year overall.

    I don’t see people going to sporting events in big numbers next year due to the pandemic, so judging him on crowd size probably isn’t fair.

    I really hope Rodney can get a good season out of what remains. I think he needs to show that he can win with the guys he’s got, even though the team is still young. If DU gets back to .500 with the current crew, I would give Rodney another guaranteed year, with perhaps a team option for a second option year. I think that’s fair.

    If he does better than .500, I’d probably extend him 2 more years to keep the upward curve going. And if he gets DU to the big dance next year, I’d extend him 4-5 more years.

    But if he’s under .500 here in year 5, I would expect DU to move on and start fresh, unless there was were intervening circumstances that were beyond Rodney’s control – pandemics, major player injuries, etc.

  13. Wow, you have alot more patience than I do. How much time and money can afford to be lost over a stretch of years? In a crazy pandemic year let alone a typical one, strong Hockey & Gymnastics can only fund so much. Time to cut the losses (in every sense of the word) and move on.

    1. Hockey and Gymnastics profits are relatively minor in the grand scheme of DU athletics – they throw a couple of million in ticket revenues back into the athletics pot. Both sports do pay for themselves and give the extra money back to DU athletics. But the total DU athletic yearly budget is about $35-40 million and the majority of that money comes from tuition dollars.

      The point here is basketball’s financial losses are annoying but minor for DU. Rodney needs to start winning because that’s how his job effectiveness should be measured, and because DU funds (and expects) its sports programs to win in the leagues where they compete.

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