Increase in players transferring is here to stay — forcing teams like DePaul to adjust


Eric Henry

Former DePaul guard Ray Salnave is one of nine players to leave the program last season.

Many people saw Baylor make college basketball’s best team this season, Gonzaga, look pretty ordinary during the national championship game three weeks ago. The Bears routed the Bulldogs, 86-70, en route to their first men’s basketball title. 

Baylor made the victory look simple, knocking down 10-of-23 3-pointers and holding the lead for all 40 minutes. The Bears never gave the overall No. 1 seed a chance to breathe, let alone get back in the game. 

With a performance like that one on April 5, you might assume that Baylor’s starting lineup had been together for multiple years. 

Well, not necessarily. Some of those players in the lineup against Gonzaga — Jared Butler, Mark Vital and Flo Thamba have been with the Bears’ program since graduating high school. But two other important players, Davion Mitchell and Macio Teague, transferred to Baylor two years ago. 

Mitchell and Teague combined for 34 points and eight rebounds against Gonzaga. Baylor, however, isn’t the only school to build some of its roster through the transfer portal with other programs now following the trend. 

“I think that roster management is going to be more important than ever,” said Jeff Borzello, ESPN college basketball insider. 

Each team in this year’s Final Four had at least one transfer in its starting lineup. The trend of players entering the transfer portal has only grown over the last few years, with the current number of players in the portal sitting at 1,455. By comparison, in 2020, there were 1,025 players looking for a new school.

The influx of more players leaving their schools is a combination of multiple things: some players want a fresh start, some are looking for more playing time, their head coach either gets fired or takes another job and the new NCAA one-time transfer rule. 

“A coach pointed this out to me in February, he said, this is not going to be a one-year trend, this is going to be felt for four or five years just because there’s going to be a trickle-down effect from getting an extra year,” Borzello said.

The new one-time transfer rule that the NCAA passed last week makes players going to a new school immediately eligible to play in the following season. Previously, transfers had to sit out a year unless they had a specific reason as to why they decided to leave their previous school. 

In addition, this rule only applies to first-time transfers, which means a player transferring for the second time will still have to request a waiver in order to be eligible next season.

Also, the NCAA is giving this year’s seniors an extra year of eligibility because of the shortened 2019-2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The expectation is that rosters will be more bloated next season since seniors can stay for an extra year, along with incoming freshmen and transfers looking for new schools. 

“I just think we are going to see this happen more often,” Borzello said. “The one thing that we won’t see is we will see fewer two-time transfers. I think some of those guys will come out of the portal, but I think these numbers are kind of here to stay.”

Programs from all over the country are seeing their players leave this time, however, it’s in larger numbers. The Big East is no exception. 

St. John’s has lost eight players to the portal. Georgetown, who won the Big East Tournament in March, lost its starting center — Qudus Wahab. DePaul leads the entire country with nine players entering the portal, including eight since the end of the season. 

“St. John’s only has a second-year head coach, Mike Anderson, and Anderson did not recruit some of those players who have transferred into the program they were brought in by [former head coach] Chris Mullen,” Big East analyst John Fanta said. “I think part of it is you want to have all of your players.”

Each of those three schools are in a much different place right now, which leads to different reasons why players are leaving those programs. For St. John’s, like Fanta mentioned, Anderson is still looking to build a roster that features players he recruited. 

In the case of Georgetown, however, the situation is more complicated because the program just came off of reaching the NCAA Tournament — which makes it more surprising that a key starter like Wahab would decide to transfer. 

And then there is DePaul. The Blue Demons went through a coaching change recently, with Dave Leitao getting fired on March 15 and being replaced by Tony Stubblefield on April 6. Nine players transferring isn’t all that surprising considering the coach that recruited them, Leitao, is no longer with the program. 

“Tony Stubblefield has a knack for building rosters and was that guy for Dana Altman in Oregon, he reeled in really good recruits, he knows what talent looks like,” Fanta said. “It does become easier in that you have more names to choose. But is it easier for DePaul? Not right now, because you haven’t been able to win. So when you don’t have a track record of winning, it’s still difficult to get kids into the right system at DePaul.”

Stubblefield has already landed two recruits since getting hired — Tyon Grant-Foster and Jalen Terry — but the Blue Demons’ roster is still short of at least five or six players for next season. With fewer names remaining in the 2021 high school class, Stubblefield and his staff will most likely have to keep recruiting inside the transfer portal when building next season’s roster.

“We obviously got to start recruiting and recruit very hard, with the transfer portal being as it is with transfers being eligible immediately, I definitely think we are going to look at that route,” Stubblefield said. “We are going to look at the high school route, so I’m not going to eliminate any options at this time. I’m just looking forward to putting the best roster that we can put together to be very competitive in the Big East next year.”