In the spring, your thoughts used to turn to recruiting for the next class. But now you need to look inward first, before you recruit anyone else. You have to be sure you re-recruit the players on your team. It’s just a totally different mentality now. —Utah State men's basketball coach Tim Duryea
Editor's note: Second in a series examining Division I college basketball transfers.
LOGAN — When the subject of college basketball players transferring to other schools comes up, Utah State head coach Tim Duryea quickly refers to the recent trend as an “epidemic” and something he’s very concerned about.
But almost just as quickly, Duryea points out that he himself transferred from Texas-Pan American to North Texas State following his sophomore year with the Broncs.
“Back when I transferred, I think it was looked at differently; it wasn’t taken as lightly as it is now,” said Duryea, who grew up in Denton, the home of what is now known as the University of North Texas. “I wanted to transfer because it was my hometown, and I felt like my post-graduation opportunities would be better in the Dallas Metroplex than if I stayed at school in south Texas. So, that was my reason for transferring. But back then if you transferred, you kind of felt like you failed, like you had made a mistake.
“And it’s totally changed now where it’s almost looked at like free agency,” Duryea continued.” I’m going to play here, and if things don’t go exactly like I want them to or I imagined them, then I’m going to become a free agent and I’m going to go over here. I’m going to get my AAU guy and other people that are associated with me, and I’m going to get them involved with shopping me around
“That’s something that just didn’t happen 10 or 15 years ago. It just didn’t happen.”
Duryea, who co-captained a North Texas team that ended up reaching the NCAA Tournament in 1988, is heading into his third season as the head coach of the Aggies after spending the previous 14 years as an assistant under Stew Morrill.
Aaron Thorup, Deseret News
He was serving as Morrill’s top assistant when, prior to the final season of Morrill’s legendary career in 2014, three Aggies announced they were going to transfer out of the program. Kyle Davis, who originally played at Southern Utah before serving an LDS mission, ended up at BYU, while Danny Berger and Jordan Stone both signed with BYU-Hawaii.
That meant the Aggies relied heavily on Cache Valley native Jalen Moore and Murray High product David Collette in 2014-15. However, Collette elected to leave the Aggie program a year later — just two days before Duryea’s head coaching debut at Weber State — and the late decision by the current Utah forward did not go over well.
“I was shocked when (Collette) came into my office today and said he was going to quit,” Duryea said at the time. “I think there were a lot of factors in play that, unfortunately, have become a trend in college basketball of schools poaching other schools’ players. I don’t feel good and don’t like how things transpired, but we will move on and get ready for our season opener.”
Because of the timing, the Aggies ended up refusing to release Collette from his scholarship, leaving him unable to make official contact with another university until he left USU and unable to receive athletic aid until after the fall 2016 semester. Collette ended up playing his first game with the Utes on Dec. 17, then averaged 13.6 points over 22 games.
Needless to say, Duryea was similarly displeased when he found out early this spring that someone was “shopping” current Aggie guard Koby McEwen to other basketball programs. According to Duryea, an individual with AAU ties in Canada was trying to find another place for McEwen, a native of Toronto who was named the Mountain West Freshman of the Year after averaging 14.9 points per game in 2016-17.
“That was a situation where a player was being shopped and didn’t even know he was being shopped,” Duryea says. “He was shopping Koby’s name out there without checking with the family or the kid. He was contacting other programs, telling them that here’s a kid that’s looking to transfer and that wasn’t even the case.”
Although he admits there’s not much the NCAA can do in such cases, Duryea says one thing he would like to see the organization do is change the rule that allows a player who has completed his degree to transfer without having to sit out a year.
“Right now, those guys are rock stars,” Duryea says. “If you’re a mildly successful player and you’re a graduate with a year to go, then you’re probably one of the most highly recruited kids on the market during the spring recruiting period.
“Some programs now are waiting and passing up junior college and high school players and waiting until graduation when they know a kid is going to graduate and be able to transfer.”
While a few Mountain West teams have found success with that formula — Nevada won the 2016-17 regular season and postseason tournament thanks in part to Marcus Marshall, a senior transfer from Missouri State who ended up leading the conference in scoring — Duryea says, “I’m not sure that’s the best formula for us.”
“But we also know because that the transfer situation isn’t going away, so in the future we probably need to hold a scholarship or two,” he added. “Instead of trying to fill them all, we probably need to try and hold a scholarship or two in the spring and try and keep ourselves viable in case an opportunity comes up for us to add a kid like that.”
While the Aggies have had a little bit of success in recent years with players transferring into the program — most notably Morgan Grim (Utah) and Jarred Shaw (Oklahoma State) — Duryea says it’s much more important that coaches at mid-major schools like USU look “inward.”
“We’ve put more emphasis on recruiting our own players and really taking the scholarship as a year-to-year scholarship,” he says. “ It used to be that you get your kids in the program and as long as they were having success, you didn’t worry about anything. They’re settled into where they are, and you figured, Hey, we’re going to the finish line.
“But now I don’t think you can have those blinders on. Every spring I think you have to re-recruit the best kids in your program. You need to communicate with them about what they’re thinking and ask them if anyone has made contact with them.
“In the spring, your thoughts used to turn to recruiting for the next class,” Duryea continued. “But now you need to look inward first, before you recruit anyone else. You have to be sure you re-recruit the players on your team. It’s just a totally different mentality now.”
Saturday: A look at how transfers have impacted Utah Valley.