Why they transferred: The men’s college basketball coaches edition

Ten years ago, nearly 400 men’s college basketball players transferred following the 2011-12 season. With an average of one player per team deciding to transfer, critics within the game began to call the exodus of talent an “epidemic.”

This year, that number is over 1,700 — an average of nearly five players per Division I men’s basketball team. The numbers have certainly been influenced by name, image and likeness (NIL) rules and immediate eligibility for every first-time transfer.

Although many coaches have cited the transfer wave as a significant challenge for the game, at least a few can relate to the experiences of these players, because they once made the same decisions.

ESPN recently reached out to some of the sport’s top coaches to ask them why they made the decision to transfer when they were players.

Jump to: Tommy Lloyd (Arizona) | Bob Huggins (West Virginia) | Brad Underwood (Illinois)

Started his college basketball career at Walla Walla Community College (Walla Walla, Washington) in 1993, transferred to Division II Colorado State University-Pueblo (Pueblo, Colorado) in 1995 and then transferred to Division III Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington) in 1996, where he played his final season. Lloyd still holds the Whitman College school record of 52 points scored in a single game.

Why did you decide to transfer as a college athlete?

Well, first off, we’re talking about totally different levels. I was a Division II, Division III player. For me, it was about wanting to have a better experience in my last year because you only have so many years to play, and you put all this work in and you want that opportunity.

How difficult was the decision?

It wasn’t. I got down there [to CSU-Pueblo]. I didn’t play great. I knew, probably halfway through the season, that this probably wasn’t where I needed to try to stay, so I probably made my decision earlier than most to transfer. I finished up the 1995-96 season but I knew I needed to find another spot for my last year.

Transferring was less common when you played. How did the people around you view your decision?

I was a lower-level player, so I definitely didn’t have “people.” It was me and my family and maybe my junior college coach, who was also my high school coach. They all agreed that, yeah, if you want a better experience your last year, you probably need to look elsewhere. It was nothing crazy.

Would you do it all over again if you had the choice?

Yeah, for sure I would have. I thought I would have, and I did have, a better opportunity to play when I transferred to Whitman. Even academically, I didn’t know I was going to get this deep into the coaching side of the game. I thought maybe I wanted to go to medical school or something like that. Whitman was a great academic school, so it made sense for me.

As a head coach in an era with 1,700 transfers and counting, how has your decision to transfer affected your view of today’s transfer climate?

They are, I’m sure, very different [eras]. But for me, I always look at the experience the kid is having. And, at the end of the day, as coaches, we have hard choices to make. Only so many guys are going to play. There are only so many opportunities. Someone who is on the outside looking in, wanting the opportunity to play — I’m always OK having that conversation if they want other opportunities because I understand they have a limited window within which they can play college basketball. I want them to have the best experience possible, even if that’s not with us.

If you could change the transfer rules right now, what would you do?

My mentality is that whatever the rules are, I try to figure out how to make them work to our advantage, so I don’t spend a lot of time on what the rules should or shouldn’t be. As far as any changes, I’m OK with kids getting to play right away. I understand why they’re doing it. I just think that, for me, there was so much value in that redshirt year, for becoming better basketball players, having a better chance to graduate from college, being more mature. So I like the redshirt deal.

From a coaching standpoint, I think the rules made it a little easier to construct a roster. It is hard to have 13 good players on scholarship and keep them all happy. When you had guys that were forced to sit out, it helped you stagger your roster.

Started at Ohio University in 1972, transferred to West Virginia in 1973, sat out the 1973-74 season due to former NCAA rules for transfers and averaged 9.8 PPG for West Virginia in three seasons (1974-1977). Made 84% of his free throw attempts as a senior during the 1976-77 season.

Why did you decide to transfer as a college athlete?

[Former head coach Jim Snyder] was leaving. He told me: “Yeah I just want you to know I’m retiring and I’m not going to be here anymore.” He’s the only reason I went to Ohio University. I didn’t want to be there without him. And if you look at what happened with the program after [he retired], it was a good move on my part.

He recruited the heck out of me. We won the state championship my senior year of high school. He probably saw the last 8-10 games I played in high school.

How difficult was the decision?

I’m from West Virginia. My dad grew up in Morgantown. My grandparents were there. I knew [former West Virginia head coach Sonny Moran] from him recruiting me out of high school. It was the right thing to do.

Transferring was less common when you played. How did people around you view your decision?

I cared what my mom and my dad said. But I didn’t care what anybody else said. And they said, “Where do you want to go? Are you going to transfer to Ohio State, transfer to West Virginia, transfer to a multitude of other places?”

Would you do it all over again if you had the choice?

Absolutely. I wouldn’t expect anybody to stay if their coach had left, particularly if they were as close to their coach as I was to mine.

As a head coach during an era with 1,700 transfers and counting, how has your decision to transfer affected your view of today’s transfer climate?

It was different back then. You transferred, you sat out a year. You practiced with the team. You learned. I played for Coach Moran. And then Coach Moran got fired and they brought in [Joedy Gardner]. But I loved to play. I loved the people. I loved the state of West Virginia, so I was good. I got to know my teammates. I got to know Warren Baker, who was a great player. Maurice Robinson, Tony Robertson. I got to know those guys and I started and played for three years. What’s wrong with that?

If you could change the transfer rules right now, what would you do?

I don’t know why you shouldn’t have to sit out a year, which is what the old rules were. It’s terrific academically. I graduated magna cum laude and I had three majors and two minors and I was not far from getting my master’s degree, so I ended up getting my master’s degree that summer after my senior year. What’s wrong with that? It’s better for young people who transfer from one place to another and leave without a degree.

Here’s what I don’t get. What I don’t get is the NCAA, for years, that was their battle cry. It was academics, academics, academics. What does the transfer portal have to do with academics?

Started his career at Hardin-Simmons (Abilene, Texas) in 1982, transferred to Independence Community College (Independence, Kansas) in 1983, transferred to Kansas State in 1984 and played his final two seasons (1984-1986) with the Wildcats.

Why did you decide to transfer as a college athlete?

I had a pretty good idea that Jim Hatfield, who was our head coach [at Hardin-Simmons], was going to leave. There had been some speculation. He’d spent many years with Joe B. Hall at Kentucky and I realized that was a possibility. But the biggest thing was simply that there was a lot of talk of Hardin-Simmons going from Division I to Division III. [Ed’s note: Hatfield left in 1983 to become an assistant at Kentucky. Hardin-Simmons made the move from D1 to D3 after the 1989-90 season.]

I grew up in Kansas and Kansas junior college basketball is off the charts. At the time, most of the junior colleges had recruited me, anyway. We did not have a very good year [at Hardin-Simmons]. We were terrible [finishing 3-25 in the 1982-83 season]. I think all of that played into that choice.

How difficult was the decision?

It wasn’t. I enjoyed the Hardin-Simmons coaching staff, I enjoyed the school, but it was all the other factors that just kept piling on. Back then, the junior college route was the best option for me, and I got to play immediately. It worked great for me. I played in the [junior college] national championship. It got me recruited. I went to Kansas State and had a high-level recruitment process.

Transferring was less common when you played. How did people around you view your decision?

My parents were great. I think they were ultimately excited that I was going to be a little closer to home. They were at just about every game I played in high school. And they [attended every game] from that point on in my college career. They were supportive, but it was more of my decision. On spring break, we talked about it but they never influenced me one way or the other.

Would you do it all over again if you had the choice?

No doubt. I went back to Hardin-Simmons to start my coaching career as a graduate assistant in 1986. I think from the playing side of things, the academic side of things, the family side of things, it was the right choice at that time. I am not one of those guys who looks back much but I would say that was a decision that really worked out well for me.

As a head coach during an era with 1,700 transfers and counting, how has your decision to transfer affected your view of today’s transfer climate?

People are going to make decisions for any number of reasons. They come to college as boys, high school boys basketball players. They have to have a feel for the situation, their heart, their passion. It all has to be in the right place. There is usually a reason why they want to leave and I’m supportive of all that, and I think it’s very hard to critique somebody.

The one thing I get concerned about is that I went the junior college route, so I didn’t lose hours academically. I think the transfer situation now, to me, should be about not hurting the student athlete by losing the academic part, and I hope people are making their decisions for the right reasons.

I’m not here to doubt any of them. I know the guys I want in my program. I want players that are committed to the University of Illinois and committed to our coaching staff and their teammates. So if you’re not doing that, I don’t hold grudges. I’m one of those people who will say good luck, and we can still be friends. I don’t hold anybody in a different view because they make a choice that they feel is best for them.

If you could change the transfer rules right now, what would you do?

There has to be some academic [component], and I don’t know how to do that. I’ve never been a believer that anything bad happens if you have to sit out. Usually, something really good happens. You become more mature. You get ahead academically. I think if I had a son today and I knew he wasn’t a one-and-done, I would tell his coach to redshirt him so he could do his academics. You’ve got to understand that in the transfer market, no matter what class the players leave in, most of them are losing hours. To me that’s a loss to the student-athletes, and we can’t take a step back in the mindset that a college education is really important. It’s still valuable.

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