Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, May 25, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Transfers: What's the big deal?
The Rebels’ mass exodus this season has brought more local attention to the overall number of college basketball transactions these days. It’s easy to look at the numbers, shake your head disapprovingly and say kids just aren’t committed like they used to be.
That would also be far too simplistic. There wouldn’t be this many maneuvers if some players didn’t find happiness and success at their new institutions.
UNLV fans especially are in no position to tsk-tsk transfers. Arguably the best player in program history, Larry Johnson came to UNLV after two years at a junior college. More recently, the team’s leading scorer in four of the past five seasons started at a different Division I program.
Transfers are part of the program’s foundation, so it’s disingenuous to welcome players with open arms while scolding them if they or others later decide to leave.
The Rebels should have at least three transfers coming in this season: Ben Carter (Oregon), Cody Doolin (San Francisco) and Jerome Seagears (Rutgers).
There are a lot of ways to build a team. And while most would argue against relying too much on transfers, they almost always factor in.
UNLV basketball fans will need to keep their rosters close at hand early on this season. It’s the only way most of them will recognize all the new faces.
So far, the Rebels are replacing at least eight rotation players who started the 2013-14 school year with the team. Six are leaving the program with eligibility remaining, which reflects a national trend highlighted by more than 500 Division I transfers each of the past two seasons.
The Rebels’ departures run the gamut from end-of-bench guys to leading scorers and include pro decisions as well as transfer destinations.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing about the transfer numbers among coaches, who often come off as tone-deaf in the current anti-NCAA fan climate. Coaches can change jobs pretty much whenever they like, the response goes, so why not players, too?
The recent uptick in transfers, from about 10 percent of Division I players each year to approximately 12 percent, has roots in the grass-is-always-greener theory. Many of the moves are made in the name of playing time by young athletes and their handlers, who have done the same thing on teams in high school and on the summer circuit.
Of course, “more playing time” can also be used as an excuse by a program looking to make room without making itself look bad. Pushing a kid out of a program happens more often than fans realize, because it rarely becomes public knowledge.
Other factors include up-transferring, which small-school coaches also refer to as poaching, and the popularity of the grad transfer year, which allows a student-athlete to play immediately if he graduates and then selects a grad focus not offered at his current institution.
UNLV is hardly the only program with a lot of transactions in recent years. Oregon is probably the most interesting case study, because according to CBS Sports’ count, Coach Dana Altman has had 41 moves in or out of the program since 2010. That doesn’t include anyone going pro, and yet, Altman is 97-47 with two NCAA Tournament trips, including a Sweet Sixteen.
The Rebels’ moves under Rice — 20, including players declaring for the NBA Draft — seem modest by comparison. But 10 of those have occurred since August, including the most recent departure last week..
Here’s a look at the 12 players who have left UNLV with eligibility remaining during Rice’s tenure, what went into their decision and the impact on the program:
2012-2013 season: Reggie Smith
In: 2011, from Marquette
Out: 2012, to Eastern Illinois
Impact on UNLV: Minimal. Smith came in as a midyear transfer under Lon Kruger and never found a place in Rice’s rotation. His departure is typical of an athlete who came to play for one staff only to end up with another.
2012-2013 season: Karam Mashour
In: 2010, from St. Joseph High in Nazareth, Israel
Out: 2012, to Morehead State
Impact on UNLV: Minimal. Much like Smith, Mashour was recruited by one staff, then stuck with another. The new staff likely valued Mashour’s scholarship over what he could do at UNLV.
2013-2014 season: Anthony Bennett
In: 2012, from Findlay Prep
Out: 2013, No. 1 pick in NBA Draft
Impact on UNLV: Significant, mostly in a good way. Both sides always figured that Bennett would spend only one season on campus. In that time, he did enough to persuade the Cleveland Cavaliers to draft him No. 1 overall, which is a good selling tool for the program.
2013-2014 season: Mike Moser
In: 2010, from UCLA
Out: 2013, to Oregon
Impact on UNLV: Moderate. Moser’s junior season was billed as his final one from the start because Moser and the staff figured he’d get another shot at the NBA. An elbow injury derailed that plan, and Moser wanted a fresh start for his final season. UNLV had Roscoe Smith to fill a similar role.
2013-2014 season: Katin Reinhardt
In: 2012, from Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.
Out: 2013, to USC
Impact on UNLV: Significant. Timing here was the most important factor. After denying transfer rumors in March, Reinhardt waited until the end of May to jump ship for USC. That left a big hole in the Rebels’ rotation, which the team tried to fill with senior transfer Kevin Olekaibe.
2014-15 season: Savon Goodman
In: 2012, from Constitution High in Philadelphia
Out: 2013, to Arizona State
Impact on UNLV: Minimal. Goodman’s offseason, off-the-court transgressions sealed his fate. He was involved in a break-in, allegedly lied to coaches about it and couldn’t stay out of trouble from there. His minutes were going to be absorbed by freshmen Christian Wood and Jamal Aytes.
2014-15 season: Jamal Aytes
In: 2013, from JSerra Catholic High in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
Out: 2013, to BYU
Impact on UNLV: Moderate. This had to be the shortest tenure of anyone who actually played at UNLV. Aytes signed in August, then left in December after being unsatisfied with his playing time. Goodman and Aytes’ departures are a big reason UNLV now is shallow at forward.
2014-15 season: Bryce Dejean-Jones
In: 2011, from USC
Out: 2014, to Iowa State
Impact on UNLV: Moderate. It’s impossible to properly quantify this departure. It could be minimal, because UNLV is bringing in a lot of shooters to improve on its leading scorer’s inconsistent production. Or it could be significant because, while it’s unfair to blame Dejean-Jones alone, the Rebels could do without his locker room battles.
2014-15 season: Roscoe Smith
In: 2012, from Connecticut
Out: 2014, to NBA Draft
Impact on UNLV: Significant. This wasn’t a surprise to those who follow the program closely. But it doesn’t help UNLV when the Rebels are lacking bigs. It’s understandable to try to capitalize on his double-double stats, but having a guy who’s unlikely to get drafted leave the program to go pro isn’t a good look.
2014-15 season: Khem Birch
In: 2012, from Pittsburgh
Out: 2014, to NBA Draft
Impact on UNLV: Significant. This is the one that really hurts. UNLV has a top-5 recruiting class coming in but almost no one sticking around. Birch could have been the piece holding them all together while also improving his own draft stock. Instead, he decided to test his luck now — Birch is regarded as a potential second-round prospect — and the outlook for UNLV’s 2014-15 season is bleaker without him.
2014-15 season: Demetris Morant
In: 2012, from Bishop Gorman High
Out: 2014, to Florida Gulf Coast
Impact on UNLV: Moderate. Who knows what Morant, a high jump and triple jump state champion at Bishop Gorman, would have turned into as a basketball player. His move was family-based, so there’s no faulting his decision, but it likely locks in the Rebels to a smaller, quicker lineup this season.
2014-15 season: Deville Smith
In: 2013, from Southwest Mississippi Community College
Out: 2014, to TBD
Impact on UNLV: Minimal. This move was expected as soon as the Rebels received a verbal commitment from Rutgers senior transfer Jerome Seagears. They play the same position and both have one season of eligibility remaining. His departure leaves UNLV without all five of its main starters from the 2013-14 season.