The way to build a college basketball team used to be patience. Add pieces every year, develop the student-athletes with solid coaching and, with a little luck, you build a contender. However, with the advent of the transfer portal, student-athlete mobility, and win-now approaches at all levels of collegiate basketball, teams can build a winner during just a single cycle of recruiting and transfer portal activity.
In the Summit League, North Dakota State and South Dakota were sitting pretty for solid seasons next year. However, both squads had a mass exodus of talent as players reacted to coaching changes at South Dakota or just wanted to move up in the case of North Dakota State. Even blueblood South Dakota State is losing their star Baylor Scheierman who is reportedly seeking a $500,000 NIL deal with a power-five program.
Baylor Scheierman, Summit league player of the year and arguably the best mid-major player in college basketball, will enter the NCAA transfer portal, a source told ESPN. He is currently testing the NBA draft waters. pic.twitter.com/GwvU1sKzYm
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 25, 2022
Over 1,514 student-athletes have already entered the portal in 2022. We are in the season of ‘pop-up teams’ when struggling programs can become contenders overnight or an entire team can be gutted by a player exodus in a day.
Denver, to their credit, is playing the off-season game as best they can. The Pioneers have landed all-state gunner 6’5″ shooting guard Justin Mullins form Oak Park, Illinois along with 6’9″ forward Yarin Hasson (Israel) and 6’8″ forward Dan Makuna from Germany. Also. Denver hit the transfer portal market and picked up 6’7″ guard Marko Lukic (Serbia), 6’7″ forward Tyree Corbett (Coppin State) and 6’10” center Lukas Kisunas from Stanford. Denver was able to retain a core of returning players including Tevin Smith, Coban Porter, Touko Tainamo while losing Payton Moore and solid point guard Jordan Johnson to the portal. KJ Hunt decided to turn professional and will probably be playing in Europe next year.
Expect more changes as Denver still needs a proven point guard to run second-year head coach Jeff Wulbrun’s offense. But the point remains that more than 50% of Denver’s roster changed after last season, though in this new normal, they’re hardly alone. The reality of mid-major collegiate basketball is that we will see a similar change next season as well as the seasons going forward. If Smith, Porter and/or Tainamo, for example, have great seasons this upcoming season and become all-conference players, expect power-five programs to swoop in and actively recruit them as proven producers. If Mullins comes in and produces big time in his first season at DU, the same will occur. In a peculiar kind of way, the better a mid-major team gets, the more at-risk they become of having their team picked over by larger programs.
That being said, Denver has a lot to offer transfers in the portal in terms of the city, the quality of the education, graduate programs, and a solid coaching staff. Denver may in fact benefit from this new era of basketball, especially in the Summit League. DU is also leveraging the international market to find players who may be less likely to transfer if they find comfort in the Mile High City.
Denver fans are going to have to learn new names quickly. Furthermore, fans are likely to be far less patient because building a team in the mid-major era now is a year-to-year process – not a multiyear building process that you could count on in the past. That outstanding freshman or sophomore that were counted on as next year’s critical building block to take your team to the promised land is likely to be poached. So, we are left to live in the here-and-now. Not a bad thing, especially if you are in Denver. The old way didn’t exactly work in DU’s favor – maybe, just maybe, this will. But one thing is for sure, there simply is no more waiting until next year.
Photo courtesy of Stanford Athletics