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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Redefining Rosters: Transfer Portal Surge Is Transforming College Hoops

  • Activity thus far on the transfer portal is up by more than 25% compared to last year.
  • Coaches lament that ‘poaching is real’ as players pursue more lucrative NIL deals.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the transactional era of college basketball.

Even before the final game of the season is played tonight with the men’s March Madness championship clash in Phoenix, the sport has been turned upside down by an unprecedented expansion of the transfer portal. As of Sunday, 1,450 men’s Division I players had entered the portal, according to Verbal Commits, up by more than 25% from a comparable point last year, and recently boosted with the addition of Bronny James, son of NBA superstar LeBron James. Ultimately, that number is expected to reach 2,000, amounting to nearly half of all college basketball players. 

That surge in the number of players looking to change schools has created two very specific dynamics within the sport, both of which are being widely criticized:

  • NIL bidding: There’s been a sharp rise in the number of players operating on a year-to-year basis with a given school, and it’s openly pitting programs against one another in search of the best deal financially for their name, image, and likeness rights. Prep Scouting’s Chas Wolfe reported last week that former Wisconsin guard AJ Storr is seeking $1 million to transfer. Kansas, according to Wolfe’s report, countered with a $750,000 bid that Storr declined. Storr’s next school, if he doesn’t enter the NBA draft, will be his third after starting his collegiate career at St. John’s. Storr’s former coach, Wisconsin’s Greg Gard, told WNRW-Radio that in this new era, “poaching is real.”
  • Veteran experience: There’s currently a movement within college basketball toward older players, many of whom are exercising their additional year of eligibility granted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Early in the tournament, Kentucky coach John Calipari lamented, “All of a sudden [the sport has] gotten really old. So we’re playing teams that our average age is 19, [and] their average age is 24 or 25. So do I change because of that?”

Even this year’s Final Four showcased how the sport has quickly changed. NC State’s DJ Burns (above, right), one of the breakout stars of March Madness, is also at his third school and will turn 24 this fall. The Wolfpack, meanwhile, built their entire starting squad out of the portal as opposed to traditional recruiting of high school players.

“I like the portal a lot, [but] I wish we didn’t have to deal with it at this time,” said NC State coach Kevin Keatts, prior to the team’s semifinal loss on Saturday to Purdue. “We’ve done pretty good in the portal, so I’m excited about it. I got [Burns] out of the portal. All five of our starters are from the portal. I got to be a big fan of it. But I do say this: You have to be careful who you get from the portal. You have to get guys who fit into what you believe in and have the same vision that you have.”

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