Last week, the NEC lost three very promising young players in sophomore guard Nisre Zouzoua (Bryant), sophomore center Josh Nebo (Saint Francis U.), and freshman forward Braden Burke (Robert Morris). Yesterday, we learned sophomore guard/forward Isaiah Still is leaving the Colonials as well.
Zouzoua was an all-conference first team selection and led the NEC in scoring; he has already been contacted by Arizona State, Boston College, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, NC State, Rutgers and Virginia.
Nebo was the conferences defensive player of the year and averaged 2.6 blocks per game to go along with 12 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest. Rim protection is a coveted commodity at all levels of basketball, and he’s sure to draw a lot of interest.
Burke didn’t have the statistical resume of the two aforementioned players, but showed a lot of promise in his lone season at RMU. As a 6-foot-11 big with experience, he’s sure to draw interest from a mid-major program in a more “competitive” conference.
Still won’t receive the same level of interest as Zouzoua or perhaps even Nebo, but he can score the ball and has the size (mostly height) to play the wing in conferences outside of the power five.
The NEC isn’t the only mid-major that is ravaged by transfers year after year, although I’ve not compared the numbers and “impact”. It’s a systemic issue that is unlikely to change as coaches are forced to play young, incoming players to fill the holes left by departures. To be fair, not every departure is a negative, as both Zouzoua and Nebo had the talent to make a more immediate impact in the wake of players who graduated.
But is it worth even asking why these players are transferring?
I ask because it seems like the consensus answer may also be the laziest: “Kids these days are more entitled than ever.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that high school seniors dream of having John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski sit in their living room while giving them their recruiting pitch. That’s not the reality for the majority, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t local or even regional “heroes” in their respective communities. Many of them played on the AAU circuit, played against some of the top players in their class in tournaments, and have the same dreams that their more highly touted peers have as well. Now, fast forward a year or two and those same players are now playing in front of smaller crowds than they did in high school and maybe in smaller gyms. They’re no longer the talk of the town. The only time they appear on a national broadcast is usually on the wrong side of blowout against a national powerhouse. That’s quite the departure from the dream most 18-year-olds have for themselves, or perhaps more accurately, the dream that everyone had projected onto them.
To be clear, I personally don’t know any of the players who are transferring, so I don’t have in-depth knowledge about their motivations or decisions. Still, it’s hard to imagine many of these young adults closing the door on going through the recruitment process they always wanted. Does Tony Bennett have to sell the Cavaliers program to Zouzoua, or can he just tell him that he could help fill the void of losing London Perrantes? Can’t you see Jim Christian pitching the idea of Zouzoua being the next Olivier Hanlan for Boston College? Maybe Arizona State can convince James Harden to help out with a simple tweet. You get my point: There’s a lot of angles these coaches and players, past and present, can take to recruit known quantities.
Yes, known quantities. For no cost at all, these programs from larger conferences have a pretty good understanding of how well these players have acclimated to college life, how successful they’ve been with an increase in competition, and how they’ve developed physically in one or two years. Many of them may have even received an in-person look as the NEC teams consistently play a brutal non-conference, road schedule to acquire the necessary funds to travel and play their conference schedule. Marcquise Reed dropped 21 points on 9-14 from the floor to go along with three steals before fouling out against Clemson in his lone season at Robert Morris. Like Reed, these players will need to sit out one season, but they can still practice with the team. That’s another year of development and it allows a player to slowly become comfortable with the offense and defense. Perhaps the most underrated appeal for major programs is that it allows them to balance the classes on the roster, which includes their own players who transfer out.
Between the appeal of a more romanticized recruiting process and a seemingly lower-risk recruit who helps balance the roster in terms of remaining eligibility, it’s easy to see why the transfer market is thriving, even for mid-majors. The NEC has seen their fair share of JUCO transfers contribute in big ways from Karvel Anderson to Jerome Frink. A lot of the circumstances that surround a player leaving a mid-major for a team in a power conference apply to JUCO players leaving for a mid-major.
It would seem like the one-and-done rule only affects the top programs in the country, but that’s not true. No program wants to issue the bulk of their scholarships to a freshman class for many of the reasons I outlined above, and more. Obviously, these programs need to fill out their rosters via transfers. That has left the NEC in a state of two-or-less-and-done.
I am not in the business of telling young adults what their dream should or shouldn’t be. In all honesty, I think most people, myself included, would entertain a job offer with more amenities and on a bigger platform, all other things being equal. Additionally, I think it also speaks highly of the coaches in the NEC that they are able to identify less heralded prospects and develop them in a very short time frame. That’s no easy feat. Unless the rules around transferring become more punitive (although I am not in favor of this negatively impacting the student athlete), it is going to the reality of every offseason. These players aren’t bolting early for the NBA or to pursue a professional career elsewhere, its turned the NEC into the G-League (formerly the NBA D-League) for every other conference, from the power five to other mid-majors.