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May 2, 2008

Plenty of transfers searching for new homes

MORE: Top transfers of last season

Much of the focus in college basketball right now is on the 49 players who have declared for the NBA Draft. Only 11 have signed with an agent or definitely plan to sign with agent, leaving the future of several of the top players and several programs uncertain.

But another pressing issue is who will transfer and where will they land. Forty-nine players already have announced plans to leave their current Division I school, and only five of those have picked a new school. Many players are trying to gather info on prospective schools, while coaches are scrambling to get in touch with them.

Expect more players to try to find what they perceive as greener pastures. The number of D-I transfers from the end of the 2006-07 season to the end of the '07 fall semester reached 105.

Oklahoma junior forward Ryan Wright and Xavier sophomore forward Jamel McLean can let the latest transfers know all about what they are getting into. Each recently finished sitting out the mandatory season that all D-I transfers must miss under NCAA rules.

The 6-foot-9 Wright, a Canadian native, was a highly recruited power forward out of high school. He signed with UCLA over scholarship offers from Michigan State and Stanford. He averaged 9.8 minutes per game as a freshman on a team that reached the national-title game. But he played just 5.4 minutes per game as a sophomore in 2006-07 and decided to transfer.

"I knew I wanted to leave before the season ended," Wright said. "I tried to focus on getting better and helping my teammates get better, but by the end of the season, I knew I'd be happier if I moved on.

"Playing time was not as big a reason as many think. If I was still at UCLA, I would be in line to play a lot next season since about half their team is leaving (four Bruins have entered the draft). I really wanted to be somewhere I was more comfortable."

Wright said he approached UCLA coach Ben Howland about the idea of transferring a week after the Bruins lost to Florida in a national semifinal in 2007. Howland told him to think about the decision a little longer and that if he still felt the same way, the coaches would support the move.

Transfers generally have a lot more suitors if the former school is OK with the decision. Under NCAA rules, a player can't talk to a potential new school unless the previous school's athletic director has given written permission. Players can appeal if the school denies permission.

Soon after Wright and Howland met, UCLA announced that Wright had been released from his scholarship and was seeking a transfer. He started receiving calls from coaches across the country almost instantly.

"It was a lot like being back in high school," Wright said. "I got just as many phone calls as I did when I first went through the recruiting process. It got a little crazy."

Transfers are allowed five official visits paid for by the schools. Wright took three, to Baylor, Oklahoma and Purdue. He also made unofficial visits to Fresno State and San Diego State.

Wright settled on Oklahoma in late May 2007, less than eight weeks after the Bruins' season had ended.

"I always favored Oklahoma from the beginning," Wright said. "I really liked Coach (Jeff) Capel. He had seen me play back in Canada, and I knew he was a young and upcoming coach. He made me feel comfortable. He had a plan for me and felt that if I came here, I'd be playing more."

GEORGIA STATE A TRANSFER HAVEN

No coach is banking more on the help of transfers next season than Rod Barnes, who is coming off his first season at Georgia State. Five transfers become eligible for the Panthers in 2008-09, including two from Ole Miss - Barnes' former school.


The quintet: guards Dante Curry (USF) and Joe Dukes (Wake Forest) and forwards Trey Hampton (Ole Miss), Xavier Hansbro (Ole Miss) and Bernard Rimmer (Mississippi State). Curry is the only one who won't be eligible for the season-opener; he enrolled in January and must sit out the fall semester.


Barnes says the influx of transfers was not intentional.


"When I got here, it was late in the recruiting process," Barnes said. "We visited some junior colleges and recruited some high school guys, but when we started putting the available student-athletes on our board and looked at who would be best, the transfers happened to be the best at each position. We knew we were probably going to take a little setback this year (2007-08), but that it would be better for our future."


With almost half the team ineligible to play in games, the Panthers went 9-21 this past season and finished in a tie for last in the Colonial Athletic Association. But with the addition of five players with experience at the high-major level to a team that returns guard Leonard Mendez, who was fifth in the league in scoring at 16.0 points per game, and big man Rashad Chase, who was fifth in rebounding at 7.6 per game, the Panthers could be one of the CAA's most-improved teams in 2008-09.


"I think we can be really good," Barnes said. "We're adding a talented group. The biggest job we have is getting these two groups together. How quickly can we put it all together? I'm not sure, but there's no doubt we are a whole lot closer to getting the job done than before."


ANDREW SKWARA

McLean wasn't as highly coveted a prospect as Wright. The 6-8 forward was a late bloomer, picking up attention after some impressive performances on the AAU circuit during the summer before his senior year at Bethel High in Hampton, Va., where he played alongside five-star recruit Duke Crews who is now at Tennessee.

McLean signed with Tulsa after receiving some attention from a host of high-major schools. But after a promising freshman season with the Golden Hurricane, which included averages of 6.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and a team-high 1.1 blocks, he realized he wanted to play for a more-visible program.

"I just thought it was the best thing for me to move on," McLean said. "I felt like I wanted to play somewhere else. All the reasons don't really matter."

His decision didn't sit too well with Tulsa coaches.

"It is unfortunate that Jamel has decided to leave the University of Tulsa and his freshman classmates," Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik told The Tulsa World last year. "We will continue to build this program with student-athletes whose goals are consistent with the values and standards that we established."

One of the first calls McLean received was from Xavier assistant Chris Mack, and McLean ended up choosing to play for the Musketeers soon after making a visit to the A-10 school in early June. His only other visit was to Old Dominion, which is close to his hometown.

Choosing your second school is the easy part of the transfer process. The most difficult part is sitting out a season. Transfers can practice but aren't allowed to participate in games. No eligibility is lost.

"It was a lot harder than I thought it would be," Wright said. "Not only can I not play, but I couldn't travel with the team, either. I would have to watch the road games on TV."

Still, Wright and McLean said they significantly improved in the past year. During game days, while many reserves were riding the bench, coaches would put the transfers through individual workouts.

In practice, Wright had to guard one of the Big 12's top inside tandems, freshman phenom Blake Griffin and senior Longar Longar. McLean competed against a veteran-laden Xavier team that spent much of the season ranked in the top 15 and went on reach the Elite Eight.

McLean used the year to add muscle to his frame. McLean now weighs 240, an increase of 14 pounds from when he arrived at Xavier.

"I'm unbelievably better from where I was a year ago," McLean said. "My body has changed and my skills have improved. I got a year to find out all the things our coaches wanted from me and worked on them.

"If someone was considering transferring, I would tell them you get a lot of benefits. The year you are sitting out goes by fast and the following year you will be a lot better."

It remains to be seen how much better Wright and McLean are, but both can certainly attest to the advantages of transferring. Wright is set to compete for Longar's old starting job on a Oklahoma team that should open the season in the top 25.

"Ryan brings a great deal of leadership and experience," Sooners assistant Mark Cline said. "He's the only guy on our team to have played in the Final Four. No other player on our roster has won more than one NCAA Tournament game. He knows how hard you have work and what it takes to get there.

"He's extremely athletic, big and strong and plays hard. He can score around the basket and has improved his shooting range out to 15 feet. He will compete for a starting job."

Xavier is firmly on the national radar after its deep NCAA Tournament run. With the loss of two starters, the Musketeers will be counting on instant help from McLean.

"He should have a big splash," Xavier assistant James Whitford. "He's one of the best athletes in our conference, and honestly one of the best athletes in the country. We look for him to have an impact scoring around the rim, whether it's on put backs, post moves or finishing off another player's miss."

FITTING IN NICELY
Here's a look at 10 transfers who made big impacts in the first season with their new teams in 2007-08:
G Josh Akognon, Washington State to Cal State-Fullerton
Averaged 20.2 points for a Titans team that reached the NCAA Tournament. He scored 31 in a first-round loss to Wisconsin. All 13 players on Fullerton's roster were either JC transfers or transfers from other four-year schools.
F C.J. Anderson, Manhattan to Xavier
Anderson was a solid all-around player for the Musketeers, averaging 10.7 points and 5.9 rebounds for a team that reached the Elite Eight.
G Tasheed Carr, Iowa State to Saint Joseph's
He averaged 10.8 points and 4.0 rebounds and led St. Joe's in assists to help the Hawks get to the NCAA tourney.
This undersized big man put up solid numbers (13.0 ppg and 6.7 rpg) for a Tigers team that endured a rocky season.
New Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn doesn't need to worry about finding a point guard. This dynamic junior-to-be ranked in the top three in the SEC in scoring (third), assists (second) and steals (first).
Despite having to sit out the first nine games, Prince captured the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year award. He likely will start next season.
F Darryl Proctor, Coppin State to UMBC
Proctor averaged 15.1 points and 8.4 rebounds while leading surprising UMBC to its first NCAA Tournament bid in school history. He was one of three transfers who started for the Retrievers.
This versatile forward proved to be an ideal fit for the fast-paced Vols, who won a school-record 31 games. Smith was first on the team in rebounding, assists and field goal percentage.
Vaden looks smart for following Mike Davis to UAB. He emerged as one of the nation's top shooters at UAB, making a school-record 142 3-pointers.
G Jeff Xavier, Manhattan to Providence
Xavier led the Friars in scoring at 12.4 points per game. But he made his biggest impact on defense, leading the Big East with 2.3 steals per game.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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