One of the disturbing trends we are seeing in college basketball this season is the abundance of freshman, who are leaving their respective schools and desiring to transfer early in their first season.
The Pac-12 has seen its fair share with touted recruits Jabari Brown of Oregon and Sidiki Johnson of Arizona leaving their respective programs. Brown has ended up at Missouri while Johnson is still looking.
Yes, there are good reasons to change schools, and coaches are often at fault for over-promising during the recruiting process. But leaving mid-semester of your freshman year? When you’re starting? Former Pitt guard Brad Wannamaker said it best on Twitter after Birch announced his decision: “Guess everybody ain’t built for tough coaching and competing for minutes.”
Birch’s foolish move is the latest example of how the rush to the NBA can warp the minds of young players and, especially, the adults who are in their ears. “If you become a senior in college, in many regards you’re seen as a failure. That’s the starting point,” Arizona coach Sean Miller says. “If things aren’t going according to that timeline, if there’s any type of learning curve or process or hardship or obstacles, then many times the answer becomes, I’ve got to change my environment.”
Miller should know. His program also lost freshman, Sidiki Johnson, a 6-8 forward from the Bronx. Johnson had already been suspended in mid-November for violating team rules. He scored 18 points in the team’s Red-Blue scrimmage, but he had played in just three of Arizona’s first give games as a backup center. Looking back, Miller probably shouldn’t have been surprised Johnson couldn’t cut it. He did, after all, attend four high schools, including two prominent prep schools (St. Raymond’s in the Bronx, and St. Benedict’s in New Jersey), as well as the ultimate prep powerhouse, Oak Hill Academy. Last year, Johnson left Oak Hill after he violated school policy. He returned home to attend Wadleigh High.
Miller concedes he probably should do a better job screening these guys beforehand — especially since last season he coached the ultimate undecider, Lamont “Momo” Jones. A 6-foot guard from Harlem, Jones played for three high schools, committed to four colleges and then transferred from Arizona after one year. He’s currently playing for Iona — this week, anyway.
In an interview with Ian Furness and Jason Puckett on KJR about a week ago, Washington State head coach Ken Bone talked about the trend.
“It’s unusual. But I think unfortunately that’s going to become the norm. I hate to say that. It’s a lot different now than it was 10 years ago. And it was different 10 years ago than it was 20 or 30 years. Back then kids signed up to go college and they went and if they played they played, and if they didn’t, they didn’t, for the most part. Now, doggone it, if you don’t get playing time by Christmas and you are freshman, you are looking to transfer. And I”m not sure if it’s always the young man looking to transfer. But it might be the parents or the youth coach or someone in their camp that says, ‘Hey you know what? You are getting a bad deal. Maybe you should transfer.'”
Why do they leave? Is the outside influences?
“I don’t know exactly why it’s changed. I was just at a game last night in Vegas with two prep schools – one from Phoenix and one from Vegas playing. You sit there and watch and you look these kids and there’s some really, really good players playing. They could all be in high school somewhere else – like the high school they maybe grew up around. It’s crazy that they just up and leave their home and go to another school for the purposes of basketball. Why? In their eyes, it’s obviously something better or they wouldn’t go. AAU teams – things aren’t going well, then jump ship and get on another AAU team. So all of the sudden, those are the exact same kids that are one year away from going to college. Again, they get to college and if things don’t go well, it doesn’t take long before they voice that. I just don’t think that was an issue a few years ago.”
On how he would handle a player who wanted to leave early?
You take situation separately depending on who they are. At the end of the day, they really don’t want to be there, I don’t think it’s worth talking them into staying. I just don’t think it’s worth it. There’s too many times where things can continue to go wrong or it’s just not a perfect situation, and as soon as that adversity hits, it’s like, ‘oh see, it’s just not working out.’ I think the best policy is to sit down and be totally honest with them. And if they don’t want to be there, allow them to go somewhere else. And if they want to be there, then they have to understand sometimes there’s a pecking order and they have to wait. Maybe have they have to get a little bigger, get a little stronger, maybe just get better and wait for someone to graduate.”
Let’s get to last night’s games …
Jabari Brown’s former team, the Oregon Ducks, survived a scare from Prairie View A&M. The Ducks picked up a 74-66 win thanks to the returning players from last year’s squad, who handled the bulk of the scoring and rebounding.
Three are seniors and there’s a junior who is a three-year starter. Even Oregon’s one sophomore letterman has played 49 games and made 23 starts.
All of that experience among Oregon’s returning players could be measured from top to the bottom of the box score Wednesday night after the Ducks (8-3) overcame Prairie View A&M, 74-66, at Matthew Knight Arena.
The Ducks who were with the team a year ago scored 63 of Oregon’s points, led by 20 for Garrett Sim and 19 by Devoe Joseph.
That group of five also accounted for 25 of the 38 rebounds, with Jeremy Jacob leading with seven, along with 10 of the 11 assists and all nine of Oregon’s steals for that quintet.
That didn’t leave many numbers for the four Ducks who joined the program for this season and were used for a combined 55 minutes against the Panthers.
“Our new guys are struggling a little bit,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “The guys who have been in the program kind of helped us survive.
“We’ve just got to get our new guys a little more comfortable. They can bounce out of it, and when they do we can take a big leap.”
Oregon State picked up a 92-66 blowout win over Chicago State in the Windy City.
Arizona State blew an early lead and lost to Fresno State, 68-65.
From Jeff Metcalfe’s story …
“We didn’t play with any great purpose (in the second half),” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “Our defense in the second half was despicable and No. 3 (Olekaibe) really took us to task.
“It’s about playing with passion and energy, it’s about executing fundamentals, it’s about concentrating, it’s not about schematics.”
USC will try to become the first team in the Pac-12 to defeat a team ranked in the top 25 when it faces Kansas. (Yeah, that isn’t happening.)
WSU will play Pepperdine tonight at Key Arena at 7 p.m. It’s a place where Ken Bone built many of his basketball memories.