ST. LOUIS — When Jim Crews played at Indiana in the 1970s, the only year he says he started consistently was his freshman season. Though he still saw plenty of minutes in his other seasons, the fact that he lost some playing time led a local sports writer to speculate that Crews might be longing for another situation.
After one game, the writer approached Crews and said he had heard he was transferring. Crews was stunned. "It never had even come across my mind," Crews says.
Wow. Transferring had not entered the thinking of an undergraduate whose minutes weren’t going up. How times have changed. It’s not like players didn’t transfer back then of course. You might have heard that Larry Bird went to Indiana before moving onto Indiana State. But the number of players to change schools even 20 years ago was nothing like the "epidemic" Crews says it has become today.
Missouri coach Frank Haith said last month that he heard 42 percent of all freshmen and sophomores will transfer. A recent Sports Illustrated report backed up such a stunningly high number, stating that 40 percent of 1,039 freshmen who enrolled at a Division I school in 2010 either transferred or left their initial school.
Rare indeed is the program that doesn’t rely on at least one transfer. The best three players for Haith’s Tigers, Jabari Brown, Jordan Clark and Earnest Ross, began their college careers at another school. Missouri has three more transfers sitting out this season, including St. Louis’ Cam Biedscheid.
One of the senior starters for Crews’ Saint Louis Billikens, Jake Barnett, is a transfer. So is SLU’s top scorer off the bench, junior guard Austin McBroom. Three of the country’s most established programs, Duke, Arizona and Florida, count a transfer among their most important players. So do San Diego State, Villanova and Iowa State, all programs ranked in the top 15.
The trend has made the recruitment of transfers as important as the pursuit of blue-chippers. Don’t look for it to slow anytime soon, either.
"I don’t think it’s a sport thing. I think it’s a societal thing," Crews says. "People don’t stick with things as much, they make decisions quicker. If they don’t have instant success or happiness, they try something else."
Adds Haith, "We live in a microwave society. Kids want it quick. They want it fast. If it doesn’t work for them, they want a change."
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What’s usually not working is playing time. When a player isn’t getting what he thinks he should be getting, he’s likely to move on to a place where he will. The price of sitting out a year isn’t steep enough to deter many from trying a different situation.
Sitting out, in fact, is an overlooked advantage for both the transfer and his new school. When an 18-year-old transfers, he returns to the court as a 20-year-old who has had a lot of time to grow up. He’s been out of the limelight, often for the first time since he picked up a basketball, with nothing on the court to do but practice. If he uses this time wisely, he should return a much better player and often with a much stronger attitude.
"Taking away something you love to do is hard," says 6-6 Tigers transfer Deuce Bello, who left Baylor after his sophomore year. "It’s been tough but it’s helped me a lot physically and mentally. It’s definitely going to help me appreciate getting out there next season."
"It’s been a difficult route," adds 6-10 Tigers transfer Zach Price, who left Louisville after it won a national title to come to Missouri. "You want to get out there, you want to play. But at the end of the day, you have to be supportive. And every day I’m getting better. That’s the best thing I can see out of this."
Transfers are allowed to practice and attend home games, usually sitting behind the bench. But when their team goes on the road, they stay behind. For most, this isn’t easy.
"The most difficult part was watching my team without being able to help, especially the away games," says SLU’s McBroom. "I had to stay (on campus) and could only communicate on the phone or text so I wasn’t able to be there to support them."
For Price and Bello, the finish line for their sit-out season is in sight. While both say they would like for the Tigers to play well into March, they also admit that they won’t be disappointed when the season is over.
"It’s time to put all those naysayers to rest and prove what I’ve been doing this off year is going to make me effective next year," Price says.
Adds Bello, "I’m ready for my time."
It’s coming soon enough, for him and hundreds of other transfers.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.