The fall semester has drawn to a close meaning two things; the holiday season is well upon us and the free agent market in college basketball has begun.
Student-athletes announcing their intention to transfer have become an annual rite as each fall term ends. USA Today reports that one in every 10 scholarship recipients in NCAA Division I men’s basketball transfers (a total of over 400 last year alone!) a growing trend symbolized last season when UConn basketball player Alex Oriakhi, sent a text message during an NCAA tournament game to prospective coaches letting them know he’s available.
Oriakhi’s actions may be debatable, and the process of transfers is at best a work in progress (the NCAA is attempting to tighten up the qualifications for immediate eligibility vs. the normal requirement of sitting out a year). But the reality is that transferring from one program to the next has become commonplace in men’s basketball.
For an athlete, this probability demands more planning for your athletic and academic career. Carefully selecting the program that is right for you in the first place would help ensure that your inclination to transfer would be less likely. But having a plan in place that facilitates and enhances your transfer opportunities is equally important. Are your statistics and key reference information readily available? You’ll need to inform and prepare your high school, club team and junior college coaches so that they can be prepared to speak on your behalf as well as to utilize their network to obtain exposure to schools and expand your options.
If this is “free agent” season for collegiate athletes, then you need to market yourself as one. Create a profile on Recruiting Sports Network and upload your academic transcripts. Remember, coaches base their decisions on full game evaluations and are much more receptive to an email with full game video that comes directly from student-athletes. If you did not get quality minutes this season, obtain copies of your high school, club team or junior college games to upload on RSN. Through your RSN profile, you will also be able to select your preferred schools and your video links and profile information will be automatically disseminated to these coaches.
For college coaches, attempt to do more due diligence on the front end but you’ll need to plan your season anticipating that at least 10 percent of your squad – sometimes two or three players – will consider leaving. Address this reality proactively by ensuring that everyone is regularly provided a longer-term view not just by yourself but by your staff and trusted mentors surrounding your team. Kids today tend to want immediate gratification, and you need to package the long-term view of things to combat the restlessness that this perspective creates. Carefully and regularly communicate and assess each player’s state of mind.
As a coach, consider pursuing an additional recruit or recruited walk-on each year so that if transfers occur, you have sufficient bodies to practice effectively throughout the season (as injuries will also deplete your stable of able bodies).
And if you are leaning toward taking on a basketball free agent, consider:
- How does the rest of the coaching staff view the player?
- Be sure to speak with his coaches at his previous school to obtain their views and issues as it is often a two-way street.
- Try to get the opinions of their teammates at their former school – often your players or someone else in your circle will have a relationship with a former teammate.
- Does the player have a full RSN profile and videos uploaded for you to access? If they care enough to market themselves effectively, then that is a positive sign are capable of handling the demands of your program as well as providing you with critical information to make a more complete evaluation
- How will that player fit in with his new teammates?
- Transferring brings change and adversity. How will this athlete manage these pressures?
- What does the rest of the team think of taking on mid-season additions? Will this affect team chemistry, especially if they may be a high profile addition who will require opportunities and attention?
For further perspective, I was impressed with what Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien said shortly after Penn State was penalized by the NCAA. He really kept his focus and the focus of his team on the bigger picture.
He told his players that, regardless of the punishment, they still will play before a packed stadium of nearly 100,000 people. They still will be on television every week. They still will be watched by NFL scouts.
That’s grasping the bigger picture. If you can do that, you as either an athlete or coach can effectively manage the temptation and reality of free agency.