MORGANTOWN — The head coach sat at a table facing a barrage of questions about the future of his basketball program.
The pressure seemed immense. After all, a proud program used to playing in NCAA tournaments had been spanked repeatedly in recent years. A move into a new conference halfway across the country didn’t help matters any, and players were jumping ship, too.
The latest had come after the defections had seemed to abate. One of the team’s starting guards, expected to be one of two veterans holding together a backcourt otherwise manned by incoming freshmen, had surprised just about everyone by dropping his own transfer bomb.
“[The most recent one] did, no question about that,’’ the coach said when asked if any of the transfers surprised him. “It’s just a trend that we’re seeing in college basketball.’’
But the coach tried to put a silver lining on the cloud that seemed to hang over him and the program. He pointed out that even with the defections his team would still go into the summer with 11 players on scholarship, which is two more than it played with the year before.
“It is what it is,’’ the coach said. “As a coach moving forward you just try to recruit the right ones, try to have the right chemistry.
“I think what helps, though, is winning, winning at a high level. … When you do that, there’s more of a commitment instead of trying to chase it somewhere else.”
When the press conference was over, the coach had work to do, presumably going out to recruit and try to fill those holes that he didn’t expect to have. So he got up and left the shiny building his team sometimes calls home.
The Verizon Center.
That’s right. It wasn’t Bob Huggins last Saturday morning in West Virginia’s new basketball practice facility, but rather Mark Turgeon, who coaches at Maryland. He was at the Verizon Center a few miles away from campus in nearby downtown Washington, D.C. The topic of conversation was supposed to be Maryland’s new league, the Big Ten, bringing its basketball tournament there in 2017.
But all anyone wanted to talk about was the four players who had elected to leave the program and transfer, the most recent being shooting guard Seth Adams. All four were highly-regarded recruits who had contributed in varying degrees during their time at Maryland.
“Four is a high number, there’s no doubt,” Turgeon told the Washington Post. “People are going to view the program the way they want to view the program. I know how I’m viewing the program. I think we have a good group coming back that believes in Maryland basketball and a good group coming in, and I’m excited about the future.”
We bring Maryland basketball into the conversation today, of course, because the parallels between Turgeon’s struggles and those of Huggins are obvious. Huggins is facing his own fire after two of his top three scorers — and the two who were expected to provide the Mountaineers with their best outside scoring punch next season — both jumped ship.
Eron Harris did so just after the season and Terry Henderson, like Maryland’s Allen, dropped the bomb just recently.
No, it’s not four players, but it is likely to be three if Remi Dibo doesn’t return. And that would make 12 transfers in the last four years.
The point, though, is that West Virginia isn’t alone. The NCAA began studying the phenomenon last year and found that 40 percent of all Division I players who enter school directly from high school transfer by the end of their sophomore year. That’s a striking number, but it is one that likely has not crested.
Does that make the transfer of 12 players from WVU’s program in four years any less alarming? Well, no. In fact, statistically it is no doubt closer to the top than the bottom of any list of schools and their transfers over that period.
The point, though, is that it is not as far from the ordinary as you might believe.
Here’s a stat for you: John Beilein was at West Virginia for five seasons and saw seven players that he either inherited or recruited transfer before completing their eligibility. Huggins has been at the school seven years and has had 14 of his recruited players transfer. In both cases, those numbers are limited to guys who actually enrolled and played before leaving.
Yes, the Huggins numbers are higher, but are they significantly higher when one takes into account the rise in high-profile transfers over the same period? Not really.
Oh, and in Gale Catlett’s last four years? He had 15 players either transfer or otherwise not complete their eligibility. And that was before transferring exploded.
“I think whether you’re winning 35 games a year and no one’s leaving, you always reevaluate yourself and what you’re doing. Have I learned some things? Maybe. If I change, are things going to change with kids today? I don’t know. We’ll see. But you always look in the mirror. I look in the mirror every day. Ultimately I always blame myself for everything that happens under my watch.”
That, by the way, was Turgeon. It could just as easily have been Huggins.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.