At last count (yesterday), 881 men’s basketball players are in the transfer portal with well over 1,000 expected in the near term. After the University of Denver did not renew former head coach Rodney Billups’ contract, four Pioneers entered the portal, including Jase Townsend, Robert Jones, Sam Hines, Jr., and Taelyr Gatlin. About 60% of those who entered the portal came from the Power Five and are leaving for a variety of reasons. Under the current rules in light of COVID and additional eligibility, student-athletes have been granted one-time transfer waivers. In fact, a number of NCAA Tournament teams had players on the court who were simultaneously playing for their team while listed in the transfer portal.
You can track the exits up to the minute here.
— Verbal Commits (@VerbalCommits) March 4, 2021
The reasons for entering the portal are numerous, including more relaxed transfer requirements, an extra year of eligibility allowed by the impact of COVID-19, dissatisfaction with the current team or staff, playing time, and a need for a change of scenery to name just a few. Some players may be covering their bets with a coaching change and entering the portal in the event there is not a positive match with the new, incoming bench boss.
The Summit League has been particularly hard hit with over 30 players in the portal and the number is growing by the day. Kansas City (UMKC) has a whopping nine players in the transfer portal and their star defensive player, Brandon McKissic, appears to be heading to the University of Kansas. North Dakota State has five players in the portal but they will still return each of their five starters from last season. North Dakota has six players in the portal, including their leading scorer and Summit League Freshman of the Year Tyree Ihenacho. Omaha’s leading scorer Marlon Ruffin is testing the portal waters while South Dakota, South Dakota State, and Western Illinois are losing a handful of bench players. ORU, playing in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, is the only Summit League team so far with no names in the portal. However, expect ORU’s leading scorers Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas to receive plenty of interest if they decide to explore the hoops world outside Tulsa when their Cinderella run is over.
The list above of Summit League portal players is probably already outdated as of this writing.
DU does not have to always be on the short-end of the stick. Denver is an attractive destination for graduate studies and players interested in upgrading their undergraduate degrees. DU benefitted from the addition of CU’s Frank Ryder in basketball this past season. However, mid-major programs with high-end players will face future risks of becoming farm teams for the Power 5. The reality is that talented DU players like Jase Townsend and Sam Hines, Jr. may have departed DU anyway – even if Coach Billups had been retained.
A partial solution is creating a program environment and culture that is positive and provides reasons for players to stay, develop and succeed both on and off the court. Portal mania has benefitted DU as well with talented transfers to DU lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, hockey, and others. In the future, agile coaches will adjust to this trend by allocating resources to the portal and balancing this against more traditional high school recruiting.
The portal has already become a regular feature of college sports and it will only grow in importance in the future. Schools that adapt to the new rules will be the most likely to succeed. The Denver basketball head coach opening likely prevents Denver from being a preferred destination for many transfers as many have already committed to new teams. Over time, however, if the next head coach pays attention, Denver basketball should be able to hold their own in this transfer portal era.
Top photo of Jase Townsend: Courtesy of University of Denver Athletics