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Jack Williams

College Basketball: The Graduate transfer Impact 2019

A growing number of division 1 college basketball coaches are turning to the graduate transfer to fill their rosters. What type of an impact did the graduate transfer have on teams in division 1 college basketball in 2018-2019?

The NCAA studies shows that in 2017, the number of graduate transfers in men’s sports is four times what it was in 2011. The study reported that 2.1 percent of the current division 1 college basketball players were Graduate transfers. So that means out of 4,589 division 1 college basketball players, only 96 of them were graduate transfers – and in College Football the numbers were much smaller. The NCAA report shows that only 0.5 percent of division 1 college football players were graduate transfers.

So why was the NCAA administrators trying to change the graduate transfer rule? That’s a relatively small number of players effected. Let us look at some graduate transfers from the 2018-2019 season. What type of impact did they have?

Graduate Transfer impact in the SEC

We are going to look at two (2) power conferences, the SEC and the Big 12 to get a sample of how the graduate transfer had an effect on teams in their conferences. Starting with Coach John Calipari’s Kentucky team.

Kentucky’s John Calipari was not a big fan of the graduate transfer for some reason or another. He hardly ever recruited them prior to last season. But because of all of the changing rules regarding freshman and the NBA and also student athletes and the new transfer rules, he’s practically forced to have to rely on a grad transfer or two (2) to fill hi roster. At the end of the season he’s stuck with trying to figure out who is returning and who’s not. You see, a coach can’t rely on freshmen alone. He needs some experience on the roster if he’s looking to lead his team deep into the post season tournament. But now that a student athlete can hire an agent without being penalized, more and more freshmen are jetting for the pros, even if their names aren’t on the NBA radar - and that’s a problem for Coach Calipari. Its’s a problem because he has no clue as to who’s returning to the team or who’s going to keep his name in the pros. So what does a coach do if he can’t afford to wait that long? He’ll bring in a couple of graduate transfers.

In 2018-2019, Coach Calipari brought on power forward Reid Travis from Stanford. How did Reid Travis do? He played in 32 games and started in 28. He had four (4) 20+ games prior to conference competition. He averaged 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He was also very instrumental in the post season. To add on to that, Kentucky finished in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. Therefore, the graduate transfer worked out for Coach Calipari.

I guess that it worked out so well for Coach Calipari in 2018-2019 that he decided to invest in a graduate transfer once again with Bucknell’s graduate transfer Nate Sestina.

Sestina was the 2nd best scorer for Bucknell in 2018-2019 averaging 15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. Sestina is a big man, just like Reid Travis. He’s also 6’8” – and I’m pretty sure that we will be seeing him in the starting lineup.

Can we see more than one (1) graduate transfer on Kentucky’s roster in 2019-2020? Kentucky has four (4) scholarships remaining and I’m pretty sure that most of his freshmen will be keeping their names in the draft. Kentucky doesn’t use the traditional way of building a team, which is to get old and stay old. He’ll keep a couple of layovers here in there just to have some experience and for depth purposes. But his niche is the one and done- and the graduate transfer is just a one and done in reverse.

Another team that utilized the graduate transfer in the SEC in 2018-2019 was Texs A&M. Despite their dismal record, Texas A&M got a lot of production out of grad transfer big man Christian Mekowulu, a graduate transfer out of Tennessee State. Mekowulu started in all 32 games last season and averaged 8.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He was the ninth best rebounder in the SEC. But Mekowulu wasn’t enough to keep Texas A&M out of the basement of the SEC.

Graduate transfer Tre Campbell worked out well for South Carolina, especially after freshman guard T.J. Moss was sidelined early in the season due to a high ankle sprain. Campbell played in 32 games and started in 29. He averaged 7.1 points and 2.7 assists per game that season.

These were your grad transfers in the SEC - Not many, but what each of them added was quality minutes and were instrumental in keeping their teams competitive.

Graduate Transfer impact in the Big 12

Now looking at the Big 12, no body utilizes the graduate transfer system better than Coach Beard at Texas tech. This is how he won quickly in Little Rock and this is how he’s winning at Texas Tech right now. Coach Beard is one of very few coaches to have two (2) graduate transfers in his starting lineup - shooting Guard Matt Mooney, transfer from South Dakota and power forward Tariq Owens graduate transfer from St. John's. Both fit into the Beard system perfectly. The both of them were high energy and very good defenders in their own right. Owens was the second best rebounder in the Big 12 last season. He also averaged 8.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

Matt Mooney was 2nd best in the Big 12 in steals behind Barry Brown Jr. of Kansas State. He was also Texas Tech’s 3rd best scorer.

However, for the first time since watching Coach Beard’s rosters, he’s going to be depending on several top ranking freshmen to move this team forward in 2019-2020. There will be a couple of transfers on the roster but I don’t believe that there is a graduate transfer on the roster thus far. But he should have two scholarship still available after losing Jarrett Culvert to the pros. So it’s going to be interesting to see what he does with the two (2) scholarships. He could probably use a couple of more big men after the loss of Tariq Owens and Norense Odiase. The question is, - is he going to go back to his niche and utilizing the graduate transfer?

Baylor’s point guard Makai Mason, a graduate transfer from Yale played a huge role in Baylor making it to the NCAA Tournament. With so many new players, Baylor needed Mason’s experience. Mason really found his place under a coach drew system. He flourished in Coach Drew’s motion offense. He averaged 14.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. Almost similar to his freshman year numbers. Baylor finished in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament.

Prior to his injury, Mason, helped Yale to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 54 years. He was Yale’s leading scorer in 2015-2016. He averaged 16 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game that season.

In conclusion, graduate transfers are a very good tool for division 1 college basketball coaches. They can immediately fill a need that a coach has presently. In addition, the graduate transfer has earned his stripes and has earned the right to play a large role on a major division 1 college basketball team.

He may never get the opportunity to play in the NBA but at least he’ll get the opportunity to live his dream – to play for a major division 1 college basketball team, being in the spot light, and to possibly win an NCAA Tournament championship. There is no real problem with the graduate transfer, just one person who believes that the grad transfer should actually receive their graduate degrees. But that’s not our choice. It’s the choice of the grad transfer. If he decides that he doesn’t want to continue with his graduate degree after winning a national championship that’s his prerogative.

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