Now, student-athletes transferring out of programs is not a new phenomenon in college sports. Players leave for a variety of reasons; lack of playing time, home sickness, family emergencies, etc. The prevailing thought and perhaps misconception concerning transfers was that for the most part they weren’t seen as major contributors in their first season, or in some cases, their second. This year however could be seen on an episode of “Mythbusters” as there have been a handful of underclassmen that have decided to change programs, even though they had contributed to some of their team’s early season success.
Things were finished seemingly before they started in Oregon for guard Jabari Brown, just two games into his first season he decided to say goodbye to Dana Altman and the Ducks. About a month later Nurideen Lindsey bid adieu to St. John’s and head coach Steve Lavin deciding that St. John’s wasn’t for him. Khem Birch, a young forward that Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh had high hopes for coming into the season, but Birch struggled much like the Panthers as a whole and decided to see if he could find greener pastures elsewhere. As the calendar turned to 2012 the tumultuous season of New Mexico State sophomore guard ended with him requesting and being granted his release from his scholarship.
One thing these four kids had in common–they were contributing or at least were thought to be contributors by year’s end. That is, until they decided to leave.
Things were looking up for Dana Altman and Oregon coming into the 2011-12 season. E.J. Singler returned, transfers Olu Ashaolu and Devoe Joseph became eligible and Brown, a 6’3 guard from Oakland was a five-star recruit that Altman was hoping would add depth to his back court.
Brown started the first two games of the season averaging 6 points and two rebounds in 25 minutes of play for the Ducks.
But after the win over Eastern Washington Brown decided to take his college career in a different direction and leave the Oregon program.
The move clearly surprised Altman, given the fact that Brown was a part of a top-25 recruiting class for Oregon. Brown said upon his signing that, he was excited to turn Oregon around, and “I am really excited about working with Coach Altman and his staff.”
After announcing that Brown had left the program, Altman clearly disappointed said, “”I will say it up front, I don’t want him to leave. The door is still open.”
Some people such as CBS Sports’ Seth Davis viewed the move as running from adversity, asking of Brown and fellow transfer Khem Birch; what happens when the going gets tough again? Will they keep running for the hills?
A month later Brown decided he would take his talents to Columbia, MO signing with Missouri. So Brown will spend the next few months honing his skills against the #2 team in the country while he waits to play next year. Upon landing at Missouri Brown says he liked what coach Haith has done and, “and I felt like I could fit in well.”
Ask Dana Altman, and this is a song and dance he has heard before.
Entering the season, most people assumed that St. John’s would struggle in the Big East, having as many scholarship players (one of which was a former walk-on) as freshmen on the roster (9).
But the Red Storm were one of the most intriguing stories of the first week, winning their first three games and one of the reasons for the quick start was a Junior College recruit out of Oklahoma 6’3 guard Nurideen Lindsey.
The diminutive guard was exciting fans with how hard he was playing, he had a motor that never quit. He averaged 16 points in his first three games and nearly recorded a triple-double (15pts, 10 rebs,9 assists) in a blow out win over Maryland-Baltimore County.
Something happened after the Thanksgiving break, in the two games that followed Lindsey only played 20 minutes a game scoring 5 points with 1 assist and turning the ball over 11 times. Three days after a loss to Detroit, coach Lavin announced Lindsey was leaving the program, “He is a basketball player with a bright future. Our basketball family supports Nuri as he moves in a new direction.” He said.
“I love St. John’s and appreciate all the love and support from the staff and school. I think this team will be special. I think what I’ll miss most about St. John’s is miss my teammates. Those guys are like my brothers. So I will continue to support St. John’s and my brothers. Thank you for the memories, regardless of how brief.” Lindsey said of his time with the Johnnies.
Lindsey has since decided to enroll at Rider, who plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Pittsburgh seemed to be off to a good start, expectations were high. Then came the 10-point home loss to Long Beach State, the Panthers seemingly had righted the ship winning 9 straight, before a stunning loss at home to Wagner. That loss sent Jamie Dixon’s squad into a tailspin that saw Pitt lose its first seven Big East contests.
Prior to the loss to Wagner it was announced that 6’9 forward Khem Birch was returning home to Montreal. The question was, why?
Some thought it could be bad advice from advisors, so says Ryan Hurd, Birch’s former coach at Notre Dame Prep. Others hypothesized that Birch had gripes about his playing time. “I’m leaving,” Birch told CBSSports.com. “I’m headed to Toronto now. I enjoyed my time at Pittsburgh, I love Coach (Jamie) Dixon, had no problems with the staff and the players. It just wasn’t the right fit for me.”
It’s not as if Birch wasn’t getting stiffed on playing time. He was averaging 15 minutes a game, including seven starts. The young forward was productive while on the floor, averaging 4.4 points and 5 rebounds per game, including back-to-back games with double figure rebounds in wins over Pennsylvania and Robert Morris.
Birch has decided to play at UNLV next season. He recognizes however that he needs to make things work in Las Vegas.
“I feel happy, because this is my decision,” Birch said. “I felt like when I was in high school, going to Pitt was 50-50. But this one was 100 percent my decision, so if I mess up, it’s all me.”
Head Coach Marvin Menzies was looking forward to the 2011-’12 season. His New Mexico State Aggies were picked to finish 2nd by the WAC coaches, so they figured to be in the thick of the WAC race all year long, and they have been.
One guy Menzies had hoped to rely on was Sophomore guard Christian Kabongo. The Toronto native was Mr. Everything this season, putting up 14.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.5 rebounds a game.
On December 13th Kabongo was suspended for a violation of team rules. Which turned out to be rude gestures directed at opposing fans in a loss at UTEP on December 11th. He was reinstated a week later after issuing an apology to everyone involved.
“I am very sorry to all of New Mexico State University for my actions,” Kabongo said. “I have apologized to (UTEP) coach (Tim) Floyd, and I let the emotions of a big rivalry game get the best of me.”
Kabongo returned for two games, then was granted a release from his scholarship.
“I agree that a fresh start somewhere else may be the best thing for him right now.” Menzies said in a statement about Kabongo’s release.
Kabongo has yet to decide where he will play next, where ever it is hopefully the time off will give him a new perspective on what it takes to succeed in college basketball at the highest level on and off the court.
Coaches do more than coach, they nurture and help young people enter into adulthood. Transfers come with the territory that is college athletics. But no longer do coaches have to just worry about placating the recruit at the end of the bench, adjusting to life as a collegiate athlete. At least it seems, they now have to worry about the guys they’re putting on the floor to help them win games.
For Oregon, St. John’s, Pittsburgh and New Mexico State, adjusting on the fly in 2012 may have been unexpected, but its just another detour in the road of a college season that coaches have to navigate.