With the transfer waiver process changing, there could be more demand for rising sophomores in the portal. Here are a few to watch from the 2023 offseason.
The college basketball landscape is changing. That isn’t news. The explosion of the transfer portal in recent years has shifted the way programs view roster construction, and the addition of the one-time transfer rule has furthered that change. Under current rules, players are allowed one “free” transfer to play immediately at their next school without needing a waiver approval. Graduate transfers are also granted an extra post-grad move. On the contrary, undergraduates who choose to transfer for a second time (or more) will need a waiver in order to play immediately.
Yes, the seedless watermelon transfer waivers are now of the past, replaced by much more stringent guidelines. The NCAA published a memo earlier this offseason announcing their policy on those transfer waivers, specifically stipulating that undergraduates will not be granted waivers for coaching changes, lack of playing time, or academic major changes.
Rather, it will only consider three criteria as deserving of a waiver: for reasons related to physical or mental health and well-being; exigent circumstances such as assault or discrimination; and issues relating to education-impacting disabilities.
How does this impact the landscape of college basketball? Well, it doesn’t change the prevalence of transfers. Over 1,500 players still entered the portal this offseason. However, it will likely diminish the number of two-time transfers.
As a result, players with multiple years of eligibility are becoming some of the most attractive — and valuable — targets in the transfer portal.
Establishing roster continuity is challenging in the transfer-heavy world of college basketball. On a personal note, I am in favor of players making their own decisions on transferring. However, building a roster that stays together for multiple years is simply harder to do in an era of free movement.
One path forward for schools seeking continuity might be to target players who are transferring after their freshmen seasons. These transfers will have three years of eligibility remaining, and the new waiver guidelines may make them less likely to transfer in the future. They can be building blocks for a program, perhaps even more than incoming freshmen who could freely transfer at any point.
The 2023 transfer portal closes May 11, and several highly-touted mid-major freshmen have already transferred to high-major programs. Here is a look at seven such players and how they can impact their new programs.
Andrew Rohde, Virginia
Brookfield Central (WI) has recently produced some solid high-major basketball players in Riley LaChance and David Joplin. Andrew Rohde flew much further under the radar as a recruit compared to those two, but he is now headed to Virginia after a superb freshman season at St. Thomas. Rohde was the Summit League Rookie of the Year for the Tommies, a second-year Division I program, notching 17.1 points per game. He was just the second freshman in the last four seasons to post 500+ points, 100+ rebounds, and 100+ assists in a season; the other was Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Virginia desperately needs an offensive infusion to go with its defensive culture. Rohde fits the bill as a big wing creator at 6-6. He is a high-level processor as a ball-handler and creator, plus he shot a respectable mark from three as a freshman. Instead of hitting the “freshman wall” down the stretch of this past season, Rohde only seemed to improve. Over his last five games, he averaged 24.0 points on .458/.412/.818 shooting splits, plus 5.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.2 steals per game.
With Rohde coming in and Isaac McNeely returning, Virginia has a solid sophomore duo in the backcourt to build around.
RJ Luis, St. John’s
Rick Pitino made it clear upon his hiring by St. John’s that the roster would look much different next season. As the offseason has progressed, that has become more and more evident. In fact, of the players expected to return to Queens, Joel Soriano is the only player who averaged more than 1.0 points per game. That said, Pitino needed to find players who could be either immediate game-changers or long-term building blocks via the transfer portal.
He might have checked both boxes with UMass transfer RJ Luis. Making the move from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East is not nearly as big a jump as some others on this list are making, but Luis still fits the criteria of a multi-year up-transfer. The 6-7 guard averaged 11.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game for the Minutemen last season, starting 10 of 27 games. He’s well-rounded, has high upside, and can cover multiple positions. Luis is a moldable piece for Pitino to build around.
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