By Etan Thomas

Once upon a time, not too long ago actually, a college athlete transferring from school to school was an anomaly, mostly due to the fact that said player would have to sit out a year before joining a new team, with a penalty put in place to deter it from happening. Those days are over as a new system has led to 1,000 names currently in the NCAA transfer portal.

Much discussion and debate have focused on whether this is a good system for college basketball.

There can be many determining factors for student-athletes wanting to leave a university. For instance, they could be being mistreated by a coach, something that happens far more often than many people are probably aware of. Maybe families simply believe their son’s or daughter’s talents would be better utilized elsewhere, or maybe the players are homesick and want to go to a college closer to home due to that familial support for their mental well-being. Or, if their coach leaves for greener pastures, their desire to transfer schools is because their commitment, comfort and connection were with that coach who will no longer be there.

Another rising phenomenon is a player at a smaller school who had a successful season or a big tournament run being given the opportunity to transfer to a bigger school on scholarship. Case in point, St. Peter’s Doug Edert. His school had an amazing March Madness this past season with seemingly almost the entire country rooting for the underdog Peacocks as they made it to the Elite Eight (the first No. 15 seed to do so).

Edert’s coach, Shaheen Holloway, left St. Peters soon thereafter to take a job with his alma mater, Seton Hall. So why shouldn’t Edert be able to leave to go to a bigger school with potentially more opportunities and platform and play right away? (Edert settled on Bryant University.)

The transfer rule has been a very controversial topic from the moment it was implemented. Some hold the position that players should have the freedom to easily transfer schools to find the best fit for them (just like coaches do). Others believe that athletes should be required to “honor their original commitment” to a school and that the negative consequences if they fail to do so (i.e., sitting out a year or losing a year of eligibility) should be retained to deter transferring.

Etan Thomas, a former NBA player and now a freelance writer, sat down with two assistant coaches at Louisville, former Duke assistant Nolan Smith and former Maryland interim head coach Danny Manning, to hear their thoughts on this topic.

“If these head coaches are not treating these young men and young women right, they need to have the freedom to leave,” Nolan Smith, a University of Louisville assistant coach, says. (Courtesy of

Etan Thomas: What are your overall thoughts on the transfer portal?

Nolan Smith: “My initial thoughts were that ‘If a coach can leave a kid after they’ve recruited that kid and promised him and his family that he will be their coach for the duration of his college experience, why shouldn’t the players be able to?’ But now, obviously, you’re seeing kids at different colleges and universities, and they’re not sticking around for a long time, and you’re wondering, ‘Why isn’t this kid staying?’ So, a few things here: Kids, together with their parents, need to start making better decisions about the schools they’re choosing. We’re dealing with a lot of transfers here now, and we’re seeing that a lot of kids are coming in beaten down mentally and emotionally. So if that’s leading to the transfer, I have no issue with a player removing himself or herself from an unhealthy situation.

“But, I will also say they need to do a better job of doing their homework first. Don’t rush decisions. If you ask the questions that need to be asked and really do your homework on a lot of these coaches, you will know which coaches you need to stay away from, no matter how much they wine and dine you while they’re recruiting you.”

Thomas: I definitely agree with that. Some of these coaches present a false image of themselves and their program during recruiting, and the kid gets there, and they see they were lied to. But like you said, that’s where you have to do your homework. Ask around, research, ask the non-starters on the team how the coach treats them, ask former players … like, really research.

Smith: “Exactly, you have to do your research before. But also let me say this: Sometimes, parents and players don’t have patience. They want everything to happen immediately, and it doesn’t always work like that. You know sometimes there is a process. Some players come in with a preconceived notion that they should be one-and-done or two-and-done, and things don’t always work out according to your plan. Sometimes you gotta be patient, and your time will come.”

Thomas: Did y’all have a lot of transfers at Duke while you were there? I’m trying to remember because we had a lot at Syracuse. And all for different reasons, but a lot of turnover happening all over.

Smith: “We brought in a couple. We lost two kids who were playing a good amount of minutes their freshman year. It worked out for one of them; the other is basically playing the same amount of minutes he was playing with us and same position. But yeah, we were losing guys just like every other program — two to three a year I would say.”

Thomas: Do you think it’s getting almost like AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] where guys just leave situations regularly? And do you think that’s good for the game as a whole?

Smith: “It’s definitely becoming a fad. You see starters transferring. Or you factor in NIL deals (name, image and likeness) and a kid may be in a mid-major [school] averaging 20, and he could stay there and the next year maybe average 25 and improve every aspect of his game, but he can [also] transfer to a bigger market — an ACC or Big 10 school — and has the opportunity to get a bigger NIL deal in a bigger market, and I understand that as well. Not everyone will be turning pro, so capitalizing on their earning potential is their ceiling, so you have to factor that in as well.”

Thomas: That’s a great point. Does it make it difficult to build your program when there is so much turnover?

Smith: “It’s extremely difficult. Okay, so at Duke, we were planning on recruiting four [prospects], but then you have to factor in the two transfers, so now you’re recruiting six. So you have to either go out and get a grad transfer or [use] the portal, so now you’re bringing in six new guys to the team, so that’s, in essence, starting over. I think a lot of teams are going straight [to the] transfer portal. We saw in the tournament against Arkansas and Texas Tech, [we] were playing some old veteran grad-transfer-led teams. They were really good and really old. But I’m sure there were a lot of team-building things they had to do with a whole new team.

Smith: Do you think that hurts the overall college game, or do you think that helps it?

Smith: “I think overall I would say yes [it hurts it] because teams are rebuilding every year; it’s essentially AAU. And as a fan of the game, you’re not getting to know the players and see them grow and really root for them because you’re gonna have a whole new group of players the next season. Now, let me be clear, I am an advocate for athletes and them having the freedom and flexibility to move as they do choose. But, there are some aspects from a coaching standpoint and from a fan standpoint that does make it problematic.”

Thomas: I definitely understand that, and at the same time like you opened up with, it allows players not to feel trapped, so to speak, when they’re with coaches who aren’t who the players thought they were when they recruited them.

Smith: “Definitely, 100%. With all the problems and issues and concerns, it always comes back down to that. If these head coaches are not treating these young men and young women right, they need to have the freedom to leave. So much goes on that people have no idea about, of [coaches] abusing their power, literally tormenting players both mentally and emotionally, or playing mind games with them, holding their scholarship over their head or playing time over their head. So now, they can’t do that because a player has the option to leave without penalty or repercussion, and they can no longer have that power over them so at the end of the day, it always comes back down to that.”

Thomas: Do you think the transfer portal is getting out of hand? There are over 1,000 players currently in it.

Manning: “Regardless of what anyone thinks about the transfer portal, the fact is it’s here. And we have to now navigate with this being the new reality. It’s a part of college sports, and it’s going to be here whether people complain about it or not. I’m a fan of the portal; there are a lot of things that do go into it. Of course, you have to do your research and see why a guy is transferring; you definitely don’t want to recruit any problem players, but sometimes, things just simply didn’t work out in their previous situation and they are looking for a better fit, a better opportunity. And there is something to be said about having the ability from a coaching standpoint to bring in a player who has some college experience who can help out your team immediately. I do think there are more people in the portal than there are scholarships available, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.”

Thomas: Yes, that definitely is a problem. How does the portal help or hurt the recruiting process?

Manning: “Well, again from a coach’s perspective, it helps. Let me give you an example. Back in the day, the recruiting process could drag on and on, but now with the portal, it widens the pool so it would be in the player’s best interest not to drag his process out because that position has a higher potential of being filled. Of course, the top high school athletes may be in a different situation, but for the majority of the high school players, they can’t let it drag out and enjoy the recruiting process and waste a lot of coaches’ time when they aren’t really interested in that particular school. So now, the pressure is turned up quite a bit on that player making his decision because the pool has widened with the addition of the transfer portal.”

Thomas: So from the standpoint of you recruiting other players, you like it. But what about from the standpoint of you retaining your players and your roster? It seems like a lot of guys leaving are rotation players, starters even. Has that become problematic?

Manning: “Yes, that’s definitely problematic, but that’s part of what we’re dealing with in this new reality of the transfer portal. There are players who are in pretty good roles and pretty good situations who feel that they want to be in better roles and better situations. And they have a right to exhaust those avenues. The days of putting together a college team with the mindset of when we were in school — of bringing in this high school player and this young player is going to develop and get better over time — that’s almost out the window. We’re putting together teams now like a professional organization on a year-to-year basis.”

 “High school players need to understand that this is a business, and they need to treat it as such, and with the transfer portal, they’re actually at a disadvantage, and that’s just the reality of this new norm,” says Danny Manning, a former NBA player who was recently hired as an assistant coach for the University of Louisville men’s basketball team. (Courtesy of

Thomas: And you don’t see it going backward? Initially, I thought it was more that the NCAA decided to allow players the freedom to transfer without having to sit out because of COVID — at least that’s what I thought. But you keep referring to it as the “new reality” or “new normal.” So you think it’s here to stay?

Manning: “I do. I don’t think they can backtrack at this point once they’ve given it to them. They opened Pandora’s box now, so that’s why I keep referring to it as the new reality because college basketball as we once knew it — where a player transferring was an aberration — is no more. It’s going to be the norm moving forward.”

Thomas: In your opinion, does the transfer portal make it harder for high school players due to the fact that, like you said in your beginning statement, colleges now have the opportunity to recruit an experienced player? Does the portal hurt high school players?

Manning: “Definitely. For that reason alone. You’re a college coach, and sometimes you want someone who has already been through the rigors of college, who understands the academic piece and understands navigating all the other responsibilities that you have to handle as a college athlete. A lot of times, it takes freshmen a while to adjust to that process. They’re away from home, they get homesick, freshman blues, but just overall adjusting to life on your own and handling your business. So the level of maturity is typically already there with a transfer player because they’ve already been through it

“My advice to a high school kid who is being recruited and they feel like this college is a good fit for them, my advice to them is to jump on your offer and claim it right away because that portal changes the game. I know with social media high school players like to post and tweet that they received an offer from this school and that school and let the process drag out. Well, with the transfer portal, you’re going to see high school players lose offers they once had, and a coach is going to call them and say that scholarship is no longer available because we decided to sign a player from the transfer portal because you were dragging your feet to make a decision. High school players need to understand that this is a business, and they need to treat it as such, and with the transfer portal, they’re actually at a disadvantage, and that’s just the reality of this new norm.

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