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Hochman: College basketball 'free agency'? It's madness this spring, with underclassmen transferring ... and seniors staying?

Hochman: College basketball 'free agency'? It's madness this spring, with underclassmen transferring ... and seniors staying?

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It’s getting to a point where it’s more newsworthy if a men’s college basketball player stays at his school.

Did you hear who’s transferring?

Everyone.

Everyone is transferring.

This already is one of the wackier offseasons in college hoops history, and the NCAA Tournament still is going on. If the grass always is greener on the other side, well this perfect storm sure is going to brighten the landscape — there already are 1,000 players in the NCAA hoops transfer portal, according to CBS Sports.

Players all got an additional year of eligibility (the “COVID season” of 2020-21 doesn’t count against their four years), so they have more time to develop elsewhere if desired. An NCAA ruling likely passing in April will give players a chance to transfer one time without siting out a year. Oh, and 2020-21 seniors are allowed to return for another year. That’s a whole other storyline — should seniors stay or go pro? Some are staying, some are transferring — such as Mizzou guard Mark Smith, who entered the transfer portal.

Another reason for so many transfers? Around college hoops, in a season of quarantines and stops-and-starts, the fatigue soured some players who now want a fresh start elsewhere. And there is enticement for studs from smaller schools to transfer, because there are so many success stories lately.

In Columbia, there was one involving a grad transfer — Kassius Robertson left little Canisius for Mizzou and was a first-team all-Southeastern Conference selection in 2018 — and one regarding a traditional transfer — Dru Smith left Evansville and was a first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick this year.

Still, these numbers are staggering. There are 357 teams in Division I, so multiplied by 13 players per team, there are (not counting walk-ons) 4,641 players. So nearly one-fifth of all the players are transferring!

What will be the impact of all of this on the sport? Right away, the concept of building a college program is being altered. Coaches like to set a foundation and grow a culture. That was hard enough with the one-and-done NBA draftees-to-be. Now, you’ve got numerous players transferring out of programs just because they’re mad about playing time or the way a coach coaches.

So how does a coach put his stamp on a program, recruit his “type” of player and instill his beliefs if the roster names are in a revolving door?

Mizzou is a prime example of this. Coach Cuonzo Martin has done some successful things — two NCAA Tournament appearances in four years after taking over a broken program. His team this year reached the Top 10, made the tourney and lost No. 8-seeded Oklahoma. But seven players are leaving. Five seniors plus transferring players Xavier Pinson and Parker Braun.

Yes, Martin has five freshmen coming in and already received a transfer commitment from guard Amari Davis of Green Bay in the Horizon League (he averages 17.2 points per game). Martin will have to find more offense from the transfer portal.

And so, Mizzou is a perfect example of a team altered by these modern trends — and it’ll be fascinating to see if things turn out bad, good or even better than before for the Tigers.

Should the seniors have stayed? This is a question that lingers in every program.

Sure, any player could benefit from another year of coaching and to fix a hole in his game. Over at St. Louis University, Javonte Perkins will use his extra year to become the offensive fulcrum for a younger Billikens team next season. But unless a player has a really good case for staying — it’ll significantly help his draft stock or he’ll secure a degree — it wouldn’t make much sense for a player to return.

At Mizzou, center Jeremiah Tilmon has lived out the journey of a four-year college player. And with professional hoop dreams and a young son, it makes sense to start that new journey now. A player such as Dru Smith already achieved first-team all-SEC status. He’s set to get married in the summer and began a professional life.

For someone such as SLU’s Jordan Goodwin, another season would’ve been fun to watch, but he’s already accomplished so much as a college player. Sure, his shot could improve. But would that be worth being a 23-year-old college basketball player, when he could begin a professional career in some league, somewhere, right now?

The reality is — every player’s situation is uniquely his.

And here we are. Think March is nuts? April will be madness — so many transfers and decisions to come. So many teams will look so different next season.

It takes some of the fun out of it. Takes some of the traditional aspects of college hoops out of the equation — freshman growing and going through a career in front of our eyes. But with players not making money, college basketball is one of the most unfair systems in our country, so players deserve any chance they can get to improve their personal situations. And if that means transferring, than such is life in 2021.

And the one good thing is — while your favorite player might see greener grass at another school, someone else’s favorite player might see the greenest of grass on your campus.

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