Loyola-Chicago star Clayton Custer is one of many transfers who made a huge impact in the NCAA Tournament
SAN ANTONIO — Clayton Custer’s path to Final Four fame — from a Kansas City suburb, through the heartland of Iowa, to the nation’s third-biggest metropolitan area — has been one of the most popular storylines surrounding a Loyola-Chicago team that seemingly slipped from incognito mode into a central position in the national basketball consciousness.
But Custer’s decision to swap schools, leaving the Big 12’s Iowa State after his freshman season, isn’t the focus.
In fact, college basketball fans have become largely desensitized to transfers. And with an increasing number of transfers each year, as well as the potential for even more relaxed rules in the future, college coaches are starting to ask: Do I have to recruit my whole roster again every summer?
“I think people transferring for the wrong reasons is probably a problem in college basketball,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Sometimes it may be a better fit or a kid wants to take a year and just try and get better.”
Beilein’s roster gets a big boost from junior Charles Matthews, who started at Kentucky before moving to Ann Arbor. Matthews had trouble cracking a potent lineup in Lexington, but he made an instant impact with the Wolverines, scoring in double figures 20 times this season. He’s been instrumental in Michigan’s run to the Final Four.
Other teams have used transfers as a broader strategy, often with remarkable success. Nevada reached the Sweet Sixteen with all five starters coming from other Division I programs. And Kansas, too, has been bitten by the bug — Bill Self’s team has five transfers from four-year schools to go with one junior-college transfer.
“You know, I think it’s unique to each university. It’s unique to each individual that there are some kids that probably may need a change, and that we know it’s going to happen when they go to the second spot, the next coach is going to tell them the same thing (as) the other coach: You don’t work hard enough in the weight room; you don’t practice enough; you don’t play the game the right way,” Beilein said.
“And sometimes people need to hear that. But there’s also situations where the grass is just greener somewhere else and it’s not. There’s a process that people have to go through to become a better basketball player, a better student-athlete. And we have to really work at finding — I don’t know the answer — but to make sure that kids really have, transfer for the right reasons. There’s got to be compelling reasons to transfer.”
Even though Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser has used a steady diet of transfers to build the school’s most successful team in decades, he insists he’s still not one who’s in favor of relaxed rules being floated that could decrease, or even eliminate, the time players sit out before becoming eligible after a transfer.
“Imagine the Missouri Valley. People look at that league, how good of a league it is — it’s just going to be a farm system and they’re going to pick. Where does it end?” Moser said.
Aside from Custer, who was the team’s leading scorer, the 32-5 Ramblers head into Saturday night’s semifinal showdown against Michigan with three transfers from four-year schools and a pair of junior-college transfers.
Still, Moser isn’t ready to change the system to something akin to true free agency.
“It’s a hard dynamic. I’m not going to say it’s an easy dynamic. But that’s not the answer, in my opinion. I just think that transfer rule — it is going to devastate the trickle-down theory of that. You could be sitting there. It could uproot lives,” he said. “You could spend all this time building the program at Loyola. I’ve spent my heart and soul building this program, from getting through all the tough times. And then you could see somebody going into this year, saying: You know what, Donte Ingram was really good last year as a junior, I’m going to take Donte. And now Loyola is not here today. That’s terrible for the game.”
Beilein agrees, and he thinks more players will jump ship if the rule is relaxed, a product of a changing culture inside the sport.
“Guy’s averaging 18 (points per game), probably thinks he should be averaging 24. And the guy averaging two probably thinks he should be getting eight. And it’s really hard to just regulate all that. … I think it’s been pretty good and there’s nothing wrong with the transfer. But it shouldn’t be for the wrong reasons, and many times that’s what happens,” Beilein said.
“People are looking to get … they want to be a pro right away and they’re not getting to be a pro, so it must be the coach’s fault. 'So I gotta go somewhere else.’ And that’s the wrong reason.
“Embrace the process. See what happens.”