EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated in January of 2013 when Brandan Kearney announced his decision to transfer from Michigan State.
There has been nothing short of an uproar recently with Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan blocking redshirt freshman Jarrod Uthoff from seemingly transferring to any Division I school (Ryan actually only blocked 26 schools – all 11 Big Ten schools, all 12 ACC schools, Marquette, Iowa State and Florida).
It wasn’t until Ryan and the entire Wisconsin program experienced a Twitter assault spanning a few days coupled with a saving-face-interview-gone-terribly-wrong with ESPN’s Mike&Mike Thursday morning that Ryan and Wisconsin broke the stranglehold on Uthoff’s future, granting a release to any school not in the Big Ten. (The school said Thursday the ban on all non-Big Ten schools was lifted after Uthoff’s meeting with school officials).
While the real problem here is the NCAA’s system that allows coaches and schools to handcuff athletes but has no restrictions in place for a coach to break a contract and start work at another school immediately.
While Uthoff is only Ryan’s second transfer in his 10 years at Wisconsin, it got me thinking about one of the golden programs – Michigan State – and how transfer heavy Tom Izzo’s teams have been.
Izzo just finished his 17th season as the Spartans’ head coach. There have been eight transfers under his watch and, surprisingly, five have come in the past four seasons.
They range from players unhappy with playing time, to those kicked off the team, to those using the NCAA’s graduate program loophole to, finally, a player leaving due to a death in the family.
The constant seems to be how, regardless of how Izzo felt, the only schools “blocked” were Big Ten institutions.
I exchanged tweets with Garrick Sherman, who played for the Spartans in 2009-10 and 2010-11 before transferring to Notre Dame where he’ll be eligible this season, and he confirmed Izzo’s transfer policy.
Despite “booting” both Chris Allen and Korie Lucious from their respective teams that Izzo said he would be working with both players and helping them find a transfer destination.
In Lucious’ case, Lucious told the media Izzo had vowed to help him find the right fit for his final year of eligibility.
According to Sherman, Izzo didn’t intervene in his situation.
The only time Izzo might have exerted his authority similar to the way Ryan did with Uthoff and many coaches continually do today was with Brandon Cotton in 2004. While it’s not certain, it appeared Izzo only blocked Big Ten schools. The issue here was whether MSU would allow Cotton three-and-a-half more years of eligibility or “screw” him out of that half year by not officially accepting the transfer until the second semester. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and Cotton was eligible to play the following December at Detroit.
Other than the Doug Davis transfer early in Izzo’s regime – which it seems even Izzo felt for Davis being stuck behind one of the greatest Spartans ever and likely an incoming McDonald’s All-American – Cotton was the first major transfer disgruntled with playing time.
No joke, I remember Izzo having one of his weekly Monday afternoon round tables with reporters talking about the situation. Off the record, Izzo was very candid about Cotton, dumbfounded that an incoming freshman coming off an injury had such a sense of entitlement.
“He couldn’t play for months because of the stress fracture; what the **** was he expecting?” Izzo said.
Continuing on, Izzo said: “Brandon may be back in school. It’s going to be his decision now to just come back and go to school. He may transfer. I don’t think he’s made that decision yet… To me, it’s a sad situation because I think a lot of people got in his ear, and as I told you before, he’s had a variety of personal problems and he’s had the injury.
“I think a lot of things happened that were not related to us or our team. That’s all I can tell you right now. I don’t know exactly what he’s going to do. He’s not here as a player right now. I guess if he comes back and goes to school and it worked out for him, that’s his [choice].”
Here’s some other information on the non-Brandon Cotton transfers:
Doug Davis: It was just a matter of bad timing for the really solid point guard. Davis was stuck playing behind Mateen Cleaves his first two years and, had he not transferred before his junior season, would have played behind Cleaves during the Spartans’ 2000 NCAA National Championship. If that was going to be the only issue, chances are Davis never leaves East Lansing.
His already grim playing status didn’t get any brighter when MSU recruited Marcus Taylor, the No. 3 PG recruit in the country. While Davis might have been the starter early in the year, he read the writing on the wall that he would forever be a career backup at Michigan State.
After averaging around seven minutes and two points per game in both his years at MSU, Davis averaged close to 31 minutes per game in both years as a RedHawk, scoring 9.8 and 12.1 points per game, respectively.
Maurice Joseph: MoJo, as he was known in East Lansing, was nothing more than a role player. While his brother was starting at Syracuse, MoJo was playing around 17 minutes a game for the Spartans and averaging 5.9 points. Just wanting a to be the “focal point” of an offense, MoJo talked with Izzo and the separation was mutual.
“I’m happy for Maurice,” Izzo said at the time. “This was an amicable situation, and he handled things the right way. He will always be a part of us. Vermont seems to be a perfect fit for MoJo in terms pf playing basketball for a successful team, playing less than two hours from home and at a strong academic institution. I’ll miss him because he’s a great kid.”
Tom Herzog: Despite graduating in four years, Herzog had a year of eligibility left because he redshirted his first year. There is little doubt that Herzog, at 7-feet, knew he could be a big-time player at a smaller school. Michigan State’s pool of big men was so strong that Herzog just wasn’t going to be a 25-minute-a-game player. Herzog never got those minutes at UCF either, playing 16 minutes a game and scoring 5.7 points, grabbing 3.5 rebounds and recording a pair of blocks each game.
It was a peaceful separation, with Izzo somewhat putting the blame on himself.
“He works his butt off,” Izzo said. “He’s a great kid. He’s one of the few big men who has a passion for basketball. I don’t know, because of the Big Ten, because of some injuries he’s had, because of me — whatever — it just didn’t work out for him here.”
Chris Allen: Despite all his flashes of greatness, Allen and Izzo always seemed to clash. If you watched Allen’s body language throughout games, it was clear he wasn’t the type of player who could accept Izzo’s tough love and constant criticism. That coupled with some off-court incidents were too much for Allen to continue playing at Michigan State.
Described as a “schism enabler,” by some, much of the chemistry issues during MSU’s surprise Final Four run in 2009-10 were linked back to Allen.
“It’s been no secret that Chris Allen’s been in a tenuous position since spring,” Izzo said before the 2010-11 season. there were multiple obligations that Chris had to meet in order to return for his senior season. While he did make progress through the summer, he has failed to meet all obligations and will not be a part of our program this fall.”
In his “going away” statement, Allen said that Izzo was straightforward with him and that he was leaving on good terms with all the coaches.
Allen had his best college season this past year at Iowa State. He logged a career high in minutes (29.2 per game), free throw percentage (82.2), points (12.2), assists (2.3) and steals (0.6). The only dips came in his field goal percentage, which dropped from 43 percent his junior year at MSU to 37.6 percent at Iowa State, and his 3-point shooting (36.9 percent down from 39.8 percent).
Garrick Sherman: This was no doubt a quiet, under-the-table transfer that didn’t generate a lot of buzz. It’s unclear whether Izzo ever addressed Sherman specifically, but the initial press release did say Izzo “appreciated Sherman’s contributions.”
Other than the fact Izzo, according to Sherman (tweet pictured above) didn’t help him find another school, the one clue that this wasn’t the cleanest break was another line in the press release. After acknowledging Sherman’s contributions, Izzo said he was looking forward to an offseason “with players committed to Spartan basketball.”
It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines there; Izzo seemed miffed that Sherman didn’t understand or embrace his role on the team.
Sherman will play his final two seasons at Notre Dame beginning this fall.
Korie Lucious: When rumors surfaced of Lucious’ suspension, people flocked to his Twitter page and found the now infamous message: “Man did I really mess up this time…off 2 the gym I go!”
Later, Lucious spoke with the media and said, “Everything just didn’t work out, so I think it’s time to move on. We just didn’t see eye-to-eye on things. Just little minor things that I could have done better on my part.”
Despite what seemed to be an ominous relationship toward the end, Lucious said he still talked with Izzo almost daily and that Izzo vowed to help him find the right fit for his final year of eligibility.
Obviously, that “fit” was at Iowa State where Lucious will conclude his college career this upcoming season.
Dwaun Anderson: Despite never playing at MSU, this Top-100 recruit would still fall under the transfer category. Anderson was dealing with an ailing mother who ended up passing before he was to start his freshman season.
Anderson never enrolled at MSU and Izzo was completely supportive in Anderson focusing on everything but basketball at that moment.
“We know it’s been a difficult last few years for Dwaun, culminating with the death of his mother this spring. He’s trying to iron out his personal life before moving onto his collegiate and basketball life. We will be supportive of him throughout this process, understanding there are things in life more important than basketball.”
For reasons unknown, Anderson has ended up at Wagner College where he’ll begin his collegiate career this fall.
Including Cotton, Izzo has had seven transfers in the past decade. That is a pretty high number but is the same number Duke’s had. That said, seven transfers is nothing compared to Kentucky’s 17 and UConn’s 14 in the past 10 years.
It’s tough to really put Kentucky in the same class with multiple coaching changes (Tubby Smith to Billy Gillispie to John Calipari) since coaching transfers usually incur player transfers.
It would be interesting to see a list of all major colleges and their respective transfer rates over the past decade (or, worst case, under the current head coach).
The fact remains, transferring has become an epidemic. After the 2010-11 season, 271 players transferred according to College Hoops Update. This year has felt worse, but there have only been 192 players transferring according to the same Web site. That number, of course, is expected to grow as many transfer requests happen during the summer months.
There are many reasons for the rapidly increasing transfer rate: More and more coaching changes, the 1-year renewable scholarship and playing time are only the obvious ones. There are dozens of other reasons that will keep this an epidemic until NCAA changes are made. In the meantime, a coach who averages less than one transfer every two seasons like MSU’s Izzo is actually doing incredibly well in retrospect.
Less than one year later, Brandan Kearney became the ninth Spartan player to transfer in Izzo’s 18 seasons at Michigan State. Here is that updated information.
Brandan Kearney, who seemingly saw his role increasing with Michigan State in this his sophomore season, let Tom Izzo know his intention of transferring shortly after Christmas. it marks just the ninth player to transfer in Izzo’s 18 years at Michigan State.
Kearney’s decision to transfer was the first one in years that really took Izzo by surprise. I would venture to say no transfer has puzzled Izzo as much since Brandon Cotton informed him three games into the season that he was interested in leaving for more playing time.
Nevertheless, like every other Izzo transfer, Kearney said the only restrictions were no other Big Ten schools. (It is assumed that Maryland and Rutgers are now included in that group).
Many outside the program pointed to Kearney as a major X-factor for the Spartans this season because of his versatility. At 6-foot-5, Kearney had the size to be a mismatch for opponents at the shooting guard spot and he was an emergency point guard for Izzo behind Keith Appling, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice.
Here is what Izzo said about Kearney’s decision:
“It’s one of the more bizarre things I’ve been involved in with coaching. …to be honest with you, I was half-shocked. But it happens in this day and age. Everybody’s listening to somebody, and everybody’s wanting to be something and you’ve got to work for what you want to be and you’ve got to earn what you want to be. Maybe he thinks he’s a 3-point shooter, I don’t know. Maybe he thinks he’s somebody else. Usually your role is what you can do, and if he thinks he can do that somewhere else that is what he should do because I don’t want someone here who doesn’t want to be here. … we’ll miss him, but respect his strange decision.”