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Lazerus: Revolving door of transfers not fun for hoops fans

Head coach Bryce Drew

Head coach Bryce Drew

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Updated: June 4, 2012 11:38AM



As a fan of college basketball, I don’t like what Bryce Drew is doing as Valparaiso’s coach. At all.

But I can’t blame him for doing it.

Call it the mid-major version of the Kentucky model: renting transient players for a year or two (maybe even — gasp! — three) and then replacing them with more short-term solutions, and then replacing those guys with more transfers, on and on in perpetuity.

In Kentucky’s case, John Calipari babysits NBA-bound high schoolers for a season, then fills up the roster with another group of one-and-dones for the following season.

In Valparaiso’s case, Drew scours the country for talented-but-disgruntled Division I transfers, stocking his roster with recruits Valparaiso probably couldn’t have landed out of high school, but whom have now been humbled a bit by their higher Division I experience.

They’re not recruits. They’re ringers.

Just look at next season’s VU roster. Of the 13 players on scholarship, less than half are homegrown Crusaders. The rest — Mississippi’s Will Bogan, Virginia Tech’s Ben Boggs, Indiana’s Bobby Capobianco, South Florida’s Lavonte Dority, Hawaii’s Jordan Coleman, Rice’s David Chadwick and Cal’s Alex Rossi — are transfers.

You can’t argue with the results. Homer Drew was never shy about picking up transfers, and Brandon Wood (Southern Illinois) and Cory Johnson (Iowa State) helped make Valparaiso a contender in the Horizon League. Bogan and Boggs were major contributors to the team’s first conference championship. And the addition of Capobianco, Coleman, Dority (the latter probably at the semester break) and potentially Rossi to a team that returns its entire starting lineup makes Valparaiso the team to beat next season, too. Possibly beyond that, too, now that Butler is moving on to the Atlantic 10.

And it’s not as if Drew is some sort of a trailblazer here. This is how Division I college basketball works now — at all levels, but particularly at the mid-major level, which has become a safety net for high-major kids who feel slighted by their coaches.

“I saw a stat that said 40 percent of Division I basketball players will transfer at some point,” said Drew, who himself is losing Richie Edwards, Jay Harris and Hrvoje Vucic to transfers. “I think it’s kind of revamped how we recruit. You have high school kids, who used to make up the majority of recruitment. But now you’ve got high school kids, prep school kids and all these transfers — and when 40 percent transfer, you’re talking about a large number of kids.”

The transfer cycle is sort of a perpetual motion machine of misery. A freshman comes in after being a megastar at his high school and wants to play right away. But there are veterans and transfers standing in his way. So when he doesn’t play much as a freshman or as a sophomore, he transfers — and stands in the way of another underclassman, who then decides to transfer, and, well, you get the idea.

In other words, it’s only going to get worse, as more and more coaches lean toward transfers over high school seniors.

“In our society, everyone wants instant gratification,” said Drew, who was a rare player who was good enough to get major minutes right away. “Ten years ago, freshmen knew they’d have to wait until they were juniors to play a lot of minutes. Now, sometimes freshmen transfer after the first semester if they don’t play. … Everyone thinks they should be a superstar.”

So they try to find a new home where they can be a superstar. It’s tough to blame them for wanting to be happy. And it’s tough to blame coaches for capitalizing on it.

There are undeniable advantages to recruiting men instead of boys. They’re physically and mentally stronger. They’ve already dealt with the rigorous year-round schedule of a Division I basketball team. They know how to balance the dueling pressures of athletics and academics in a college setting. And they might even bring a useful outsider’s persective as a veteran of another coaching staff’s style.

Whether they’re straight Division I transfers who have to sit out a year (such as Johnson, Capobianco and Chadwick), or junior college transfers who can play right away (such as Wood, Coleman and possibly Dority), they often can contribute immediately.

Freshmen often can’t.

I get that.

But you know what freshmen can do? They can learn. They can grow. And above all else, they can develop a real relationship with a team’s fans and help forge a program’s identity.

Think of what next season’s Senior Night will be like. Think of the sustained ovations Ryan Broekhoff, Erik Buggs and Matt Kenney will get. Fans got to watch every minute as Broekhoff went from a gangly 3-point specialist into one of the best, most well-rounded players in the country. They got to see Buggs go from a speedy but turnover-prone freshman into a lockdown defender and savvy distributor. They got to follow Kenney as he turned himself from an athlete into a basketball player.

Even Kevin Van Wijk, who lost a year of eligibility because of his overseas play, will get a prolonged and deserved cheer, as he stuck around town in the offseason to convert himself from an injury-prone sub to the best big man in the league.

Bogan and Boggs will get warm ovations that night, too. But it’ll be more polite than anything. They’re good guys, great teammates and solid contributors. But two years (one and a half, in Boggs’ case) isn’t enough to really endear yourself to a program, to really become a part of the family.

When you think of all-time fan favorites — guys who made being a Valparaiso fan fun — you think of lifers like Buggs. Like Howard Little and Brandon McPherson. Like Dan Oppland and Ali Berdiel. Like Lubos Barton and Raitis Grafs.

And like a certain homegrown kid named Bryce Drew.

Those are the guys you remember. Those are the guys you become attached to. Those are the guys who become forever associated with a program.

“No question — it’s nice, especially when you see a player like Ryan come in as a freshman, see his improvement and his growth,” Drew said. “People can become more attached to him because they’ve seen him for many years.”

Will Kentucky fans always be fond of Anthony Davis? Maybe. But every single year, they have to reacquaint themselves with pretty much their entire roster. There’s no attachment, no bond — just a revolving door of extremely talented players. They’re just rooting for laundry.

Sure, it works. Incredibly well. But it doesn’t sound like much fun to me, no matter how many national championships you win.

So, no, I don’t like what Drew is doing at Valparaiso. And deep down, I bet he probably doesn’t, either.

But he’ll keep doing it. He has to. Because like it or not (and how could anyone?), it works.



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