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Sunday Special: College basketball's transfer game

One rainy summer evening in King of Prussia, inside a building not far from the mall, products were on display as shoppers paid close attention.

La Salle's Ramon Galloway. (Yong Kim/Staff file Photo)
La Salle's Ramon Galloway. (Yong Kim/Staff file Photo)Read more

One rainy summer evening in King of Prussia, inside a building not far from the mall, products were on display as shoppers paid close attention.

Talented basketball players, most of them 16 and younger, played on four courts for an audience made up almost exclusively of college basketball coaches - from all of the Big Five programs and others up and down the East Coast. The coaches were trying to project skills far into the future, looking for players who could possibly lead college teams into the NCAA tournament four or more years down the road.

No wonder there were more than 400 transfers in college basketball this year.

The players were under pressure to perform, but it was a false setting - "meaningless games," one man on the sidelines later put it. "A talent showcase."

Wednesday night at the Palestra, one aspect of the matchup between La Salle and Penn State showed up in the first possession, as La Salle guard Ramon Galloway blanketed Nittany Lions point guard D.J. Newbill.

Galloway started his college career at South Carolina. Newbill began at Southern Mississippi.

"I think transfer recruiting is a normal part of recruiting," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "I don't think it's much different than recruiting freshmen or junior-college players."

If that game had been played after next weekend, Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland would have been eligible and on the floor for the Explorers. Another La Salle transfer, Khalid Lewis, is sitting out this year after leaving Delaware.

Meanwhile, Penn State announced last week that John Johnson, a Philadelphia product, was transferring to the Nittany Lions from Pittsburgh.

In effect, college basketball has free agency now, with two periods of movement, in the summer and between winter semesters.

Giannini pointed out that his last three opponents - Penn State, Rider, and Villanova - each had prominent transfers, and all were Philadelphia players who had originally left the area and returned closer to home. Newbill to Penn State, St. John's transfer Nurideen Lindsey to Rider, Tony Chennault from Wake Forest to Villanova.

Villanova has Chennault and another guard, Dylan Ennis, sitting out from Rice. Temple has Dalton Pepper from West Virginia and Jake O'Brien from Boston University. A key player for St. Joseph's is Halil Kanacevic, who arrived from Hofstra.

For all the additions, there are plenty of subtractions. There wasn't a direct cause and effect, but Chennault's arrival at Villanova had to at least factor into Tyrone Johnson's decision to transfer out, since his playing time was affected. Markus Kennedy left over the summer for Southern Methodist. On North Broad Street, Temple guard Aaron Brown transferred to Southern Mississippi, the same spot Newbill had left for Penn State.

Transfers aren't a new phenomenon. Last year's two Big Five Hall of Fame men's inductees transferred in during the '90s, Marc Jackson from Virginia Commonwealth to Temple, Matt Maloney from Vanderbilt to Penn. Five decades ago, Matt Guokas Jr. transferred from Miami to St. Joseph's and changed the fortunes of the Hawks.

But lately there has been an explosion. According to the latest NCAA statistics, the transfer rate in Division I basketball is more than twice as high as in D-I football, a sport with far more roster spots. There were 445 D-I hoop transfers in 2010-11, about 1.3 per school.

The NCAA said about 40 percent of men's basketball players will not be at their original school by the end of their sophomore years.

These days, fewer players are willing to wait until they are juniors or seniors to see if they can get more playing time. Coaches point to players more frequently transferring high schools as a factor. That movement is more of players' DNA now. One assistant at the King of Prussia event said, "We're in the age of entitlement. They're entitled to play, as opposed to working your [gut] off to play."

The same assistant said transfers do sometimes have more reasons aside from just wanting more playing time than people realize, pointing to a player who found his team cliquish.

A head coach of a Division I team that finished below .500 in a one-bid league estimated he was contacted by representatives for 50 players last offseason checking to see if he was interested in them as transfers.

"It's really not something you like to do," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I'm not really a fan of transfers. But sometimes if you find the right guy for your situation. . . . There would be no reason for Tony Chennault to transfer [in] unless we were very inexperienced at the guard spot. So it's our fault recruiting-wise that we put ourselves into that situation. Once you find yourself in that situation, you have to find the right guys."

The NCAA considers the wave of transfers in basketball an issue and has put together a task force to look at it. To do it right, they have to look at a lot of angles. Some coaches will say privately they need to factor in whether a young player, a future contributor, will consider transferring if he isn't playing a certain number of minutes. Are the people around him telling him he should go elsewhere, that he picked the wrong school?

Playing time doesn't necessarily change because of it - winning games obviously is a higher priority - but the threat of leaving can be real and can impact recruiting future players.

"It's not the recruits you miss out on that hurt you as much as the guys you get who can't play," said a veteran former Division I staffer.

Flooded market

When Neumann-Goretti High graduate Lamin Fulton decided to transfer after his freshman year at St. Peter's, he assumed he'd have options. He had played almost 30 minutes a game as a freshman, averaging 8.9 points.

What Fulton didn't factor in, he acknowledged, was that the transfer market this past summer was flooded. By the end of July, fewer than half of those 400-plus potential transfers had committed to a D-I school.

"It's extremely hard out there right now," Fulton said in mid-July. "I think this was the worst year trying to transfer."

Neumann-Goretti assistant coach John Mosco said he contacted at least 30 Division I schools on the East Coast on Fulton's behalf, but didn't find a taker.

"I told him, don't leave until we get you a place," Mosco said.

Fulton, a 5-9 combo guard, kept his head and went to Northwest Florida State, a premier junior college program that sends three or four to Division I each season.

"It's going to be good for me, it will help my recruitment," Fulton said in July. "It's a little better than transferring. If you transfer, you don't get a chance to build relationships with coaches."

As for why he decided to transfer from St. Peter's, which had struggled last season, Fulton said. "I decided, honestly, not for basketball reasons. It didn't fit me. I'm already an inner-city kid. I wanted to experience more of a campus life."

It's not always the player seeking the transfer. A Division I head coach theorized that 70 percent of the transfers are sought by the player, 30 percent at the instigation of a coach. A D-I assistant wondered if it wasn't closer to 60-40.

A school never puts out a news release saying a player has been encouraged to leave, but it happens more frequently than those involved care to acknowledge. It's just not in anyone's interest to advertise it.

Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon said forcing players to transfer "used to be a black mark" against a coach. But that no longer seems true, he said.

The rules are hazy. Players sign year-to-year renewable scholarships, and there are specific reasons scholarships sometimes won't be renewed. Some coaches, however, have different ways of suggesting a transfer. For instance, telling a player they aren't likely to play much, or ever. If they want to play, they should find a slightly lower level. Some coaches help their players find a new home.

Friendly landing

According to several sources, the Markus Kennedy transfer took a jagged path. One source said that after his freshman season at Villanova, when he played off the bench, Kennedy said he was looking to transfer to Kansas.

That apparently was unbeknownst to Kansas.

Then Kennedy decided he was going to return to Villanova. According to a source familiar with the situation, Jay Wright was all right with that but changed his mind after 'Nova players expressed misgivings about having Kennedy back after he had looked to leave.

Wright declined to comment about Kennedy, and a spokesman for Southern Methodist said the school was declining the request for an interview with Kennedy. Wright and SMU coach Larry Brown are extremely close and the Kennedy transfer hasn't changed their friendship. Sometimes, players need a friendly place to land.

Domino effect

After leaving St. Peter's without an ultimate destination, Fulton eventually found his port in the storm. He signed in November to play for Albany after he completes this season in junior college.

And St. Peter's? In effect, Fulton's old school hit the free-agent market to replace him, adding a transfer guard from Fairfield. Meanwhile, Fairfield picked up a guard from Seton Hall.

And Seton Hall picked up a guard from Iona, which landed a transfer from Iowa State.

La Salle a winner in the college basketball transfer market

Under John Giannini, La Salle has to be considered a winner in the transfer market. Earl Pettis from Rutgers and Ramon Galloway from South Carolina were keys to last season's success.

Giannini hopes Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland, about to be eligible after the first semester, and Delaware transfer Khalid Lewis, eligible next year, follow in that tradition.

Asked if he keeps a scholarship free for a potential transfer, La Salle's coach said, "I've always done that. I think your last scholarship is always precious. It's kind of like your last dollar. You don't spend it on just anything."

Giannini estimated the school asked for releases from schools to talk to "maybe five to 10 players every year" after the players had announced they were transferring from another school.

"A wise coach once told me, nine out of 10 times a player will go to the biggest-name school that recruits him," Giannini said.

He believes it isn't just early recruiting and commitments that cause bad decisions on both sides.

"You're watching a kid with maybe dozens of coaches, many dozens at these big events," Giannini said. "If a kid has a great game, someone's going to offer him a scholarship. If you think, 'I'm going to be smart, follow him longer, really try to figure this out,' it's flat-out too late. The kid is going to be like, 'Why did you wait so long?' People will say, you didn't believe in him. If a kid has a great game, you really have to make a decision really, really quickly.

"To me, that's a hard decision. And that's a very common scenario."

Maybe the most highly rated high school player to go to La Salle in recent years, Aaric Murray, ended up transferring to West Virginia. For all his talent, Murray wasn't a good fit with the Explorers. Giannini wouldn't comment on the circumstances of the transfer.

It's often the biggest programs that are losing the most transfers because they are in the most hypercompetitive recruiting situations.

"The higher the level, the more you see early commitments," Giannini said. "They're taking commitments from sophomores and juniors. You don't know how good they're going to be."

Meanwhile, his program picked up transfers from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, and the Southeastern Conference.

"I think the odds of it working out are higher the second time," Giannini said. "They're probably more thoughtful, more mature, using better criteria."