KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The preseason Big 12 player of the year began his career at Dayton. The newcomer of the year spent time at Southern California and UNLV before landing at Iowa State.
Welcome to big-time college basketball in the modern era, where four-year transfers are all the rage. The movement between Division I programs, once relatively rare, has become so prevalent that many coaches are even changing the way they build their programs.
Consider Oklahoma State, which had players depart for Miami and Louisiana-Lafayette this past offseason while welcoming high-scoring guard Anthony Hickey from LSU.
"You almost have to keep a scholarship available," Cowboys coach Travis Ford said during the Big 12’s annual media day Wednesday. "You could almost do your recruiting in the spring, as many good players as are out there, as well call difference-makers."
For decades, high school recruits were the foundations of programs, supplemented in many cases by junior college players. Now, Division I transfers are the fashionable way to inject some experienced talent into a roster, often immediately. Players who have graduated from their previous school are eligible to play right away.
According to STATS, the number of players who appeared in at least one game for more than one Division I school has nearly tripled over the past decade, from 122 in 2004-05 to 325 last year. That amounts to nearly one player for every school in the country.
The trend is especially pronounced in the Big 12.
West Virginia guard Juwan Staten, who earned the preseason player of the year nod from the league’s coaches, started 34 games for the Flyers as a freshman. Top newcomer Bryce Dejean-Jones, a dynamic shooting guard, played his freshman season for USC, his sophomore and junior years with UNLV and will finish his college career at Iowa State.
In fact, every school in the 10-member conference has had at least one player transfer to or come from another Division I school over the past two seasons.
That includes 10-time, defending Big 12 champion Kansas. Power forward Tarik Black was the preseason newcomer of the year last season after arriving from Memphis, and swingman Andrew White III, in search of more minutes, transferred in the offseason to Nebraska.
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg may be the poster child for attracting Division I transfers.
Last year, DeAndre Kane was the Cyclones’ second-leading scorer after arriving from Marshall. The year before that, Utah transfer Will Clyburn and Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious helped Iowa State to its second straight 20-win season.
"They’ve really come in with the idea to win basketball games. It’s not about individual agendas, and you have to have that," Hoiberg said. "We’re talking about chemistry all the time. If you’re going to win and beat teams that have more talent, you have to have great chemistry."
Therein lies the biggest hurdle to constantly replenishing a program with Division I transfers.
In many cases, players have only a year or two of eligibility, forcing coaches to find somebody else to fill the hole they leave on the roster. If they strike out, the result could be the kind of down season that often gets a coach fired.
The transfer process doesn’t always go smoothly, either. The NCAA has been known to hold things up if there are any questions about eligibility. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger faces that very scenario as he awaits word on whether Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas will be available this season.
"Expect to hear something soon. Don’t know what that means exactly," Kruger said. "We kind of thought that the last 10 days or so, but really do think it’s soon now."
If Thomas can play, he’ll join a slew of transfers waiting for their Big 12 debuts.
Hunter Mickelson is eligible to play for the Jayhawks after transferring from Arkansas and sitting out last season. Down the road in Manhattan, Kan., Georgetown transfer Brandon Bolden and Maine transfer Justin Edwards are expected to provide important minutes for Kansas State.
Meanwhile, Ford is happy that Oklahoma State’s prized transfer will be ready to play this season.
"We were in a spot to get Anthony Hickey, which was a spot we needed. … But it’s going to be interesting to see how they change the rules," Ford said. "If they don’t change the rules and we stay the way we are, I think you’ll see recruiting change. I think you’ll see everybody holding onto a scholarship, maybe even two."