Duke basketball: How the transfer portal has changed college hoops

Duke basketball (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) /

Duke basketball and many more are feeling the effect of the transfer trend.

One of the best parts of the NBA season takes place when the games are not even being played. The NBA free agency period has become like reality television. Every NBA team scrambling to find ways to upgrade their rosters. While big-name players get to experience being recruited again.

Now, the free agency fever has trickled down to the collegiate game. The transfer portal has created an NBA-like free agency opportunity for many players and has changed college basketball.

More than ever, with the NCAA Division I Council’s expected final vote in April allowing players to transfer one time without having to sit out a year, coaches have to not only recruit new players out of high school but also the players already on their own team. It obviously works both ways; if you lose a player to the transfer portal, you have the opportunity to replace him with another transfer.

ALSO READ: Duke players react to Jaemyn Brakefield’s transfer

Transfers have always been a part of the college game, but now they are more prevalent than ever (currently, just from the ACC alone, there are 29 players in the transfer portal, which is an average of about two per team).

It used to be that players would only transfer if they were stuck on the bench or had some sort of internal issue with the coach or teammates. Now, we see transfers by players who play meaningful minutes and are part of the regular rotation.

A noticeable shift in the type of Duke basketball transfers over the years

Here is an example that directly relates to the Blue Devils. Only the real Duke basketball fans will remember players like Taylor King and Olek Czyz. King transferred in 2008, while Czyz transferred in 2010. Both King and Czyz were ranked players coming out of high school but never cracked the rotation at Duke.

A few years later in 2014, Semi Ojeleye, another highly touted freshman, transferred out of the Duke basketball program after spending a year buried on the bench.

Recently, the Blue Devils have seen players like Derryck Thornton, Alex O’Connell, and Jaemyn Brakefield leave the program. What’s different about all three of Thornton, O’Connell, and Brakefield is that they were all rotation players and logged meaningful minutes at certain points of their careers.

Duke is just one of many programs that have lost key players to the transfer portal this year.

Just in this last week, UNC’s Walker Kessler, Georgetown’s Qudas Wahab, Florida’s Noah Locke, Indiana’s Kristian Lander, and West Virginia’s Emmitt Matthews, just to name a few, have all entered their name into the transfer portal. All of these players I just mentioned either started or played a significant role on their team this past season.

There is a myriad of reasons why we have seen a constant uptick in the number of quality players in the transfer portal.

One reason is that coaches value experience. Every coach in America would want a player who has some experience playing on the biggest stages at the highest level. There is a much easier learning curve for players who transfer in from another college versus players coming from high school. Players know that some team out there will want them.

Another of the primary reasons for the high number of transfers is the kids themselves. It seems like now more than ever, the players are far less willing to stick it out through a tough situation. Players do not want to wait a year or two to start seeing action on the court. Players want to be somewhere where they know they can get minutes right away.

Players also seem to be less welcoming of competition. A backup point guard, for example, is not likely to stick around if the starter and another five-star point guard are coming in the next season.

A lot of players don’t want to earn their minutes. They want their minutes to be guaranteed.

Every player has a different reason to transfer. Every player also believes that transferring will lead to better opportunities for their career. But that is not always the case. Few players seem to believe that sticking with their original school of choice will be best for them. Nowadays, it seems like players bounce at the first sign of adversity.

But there are of course times where a player transfers and it ends up being a great move in the long run.

Transfers are only going to become a bigger part of the game, especially if the NCAA indeed decides to permanently eliminate the rule that has always required players to sit out for a whole season.

Going all-in on transfers has the potential to either make or break a program.

It can be difficult for a coach to build a strong culture in his program if players are constantly transferring in and out. On the flip side, it is much easier for a coach to quickly turn a program around through transfers. Most transfers are able to step right in and contribute while players straight from high school take a year or two to really figure things out.

With all of this being said, I believe that the players need to do what is best for themselves. If a player believes that transferring to another program is the best thing, then more power to them. Watching the NCAA Tournament this year, you can see that many of the teams still playing feature multiple transfers.

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The transfer portal has already begun to change college basketball. It will only continue to change it more moving forward.