When the NCAA announced in the spring that all student-athletes could transfer without sitting out a year, men’s college basketball saw the brunt of it.
During the offseason, more than 1,500 players entered the transfer portal, weighing their options of going to a new school or staying put. It’s become a new recruiting ground for coaches across the country — Mark Turgeon included.
Perhaps no team in the Big Ten was impacted more by transfers than the Terps — both good and bad. Darryl Morsell, the 2021 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, transferred to Marquette. Guard Aquan Smart, center Chol Marial and forward Jairius Hamilton also entered the transfer portal during the offseason and left the programs.
On the flip side, six of Maryland’s nine new players came via the transfer portal, as Turgeon used it to fill major holes in the roster while adding some much-needed depth.
During Big Ten Media Day on Thursday, the Maryland men’s basketball coach said the transfer portal has become an essential part of recruiting as teams have another chance to strengthen their roster if they miss out on key high school players.
“I do think the portal gives you a second chance if early signing [period] doesn’t go well, to try to fix your team,” said Turgeon, who is entering his 11th season in College Park, “and I think that’s why our league is so strong.”
Preventing players from leaving is another new challenge posed by the NCAA’s new transfer rule. Now, he said, coaches have to convince players who are currently on the roster to stay in the program rather than test the waters elsewhere by entering the transfer portal.
“You didn’t have to do that 20 years ago,” Turgeon said. “Guys just stayed. You have to do that now. We know it’s part of the game, so we work hard on that. It’s a big part of our strategy.”
In April, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors adopted new transfer legislation for the 2021-22 academic year, which allowed all student-athletes to transfer to another school without penalty.
The one-time transfer rule does have restrictions, however. Student-athletes must transfer from a four-year collegiate institution to an NCAA Division I school, and they must leave their current four-year school academically eligible. They can only transfer once to another four-year institution. Student-athletes also have to certify in writing, along with their new head coach, they did not have direct or indirect communication with the new school’s athletics staff before entering the transfer portal.
The rule changed the NCAA’s original policy, which required athletes that play football, men’s or women’s basketball, baseball, and men’s ice hockey to sit out one year after transferring unless they had a waiver approved by the NCAA. Only student-athletes that graduated early and wanted to continue their education, or had an extra year of eligibility after graduating, were able to play immediately.
At Maryland, Turgeon has seen both sides of the new rule already with the bevy of transfers in and out, but he likes the makeup of the 2021-22 team that will take the court for the first time on Nov. 9 against Quinnipiac.
“If you watched us play last year, it was pretty evident we didn’t have a point guard, and we didn’t have a center that was ready to play at a high level,” Turgeon said. “We’re able to get a couple early out of the portal kids, which really helped. And then we just kept trying to piece it together.”
Former Rhode Island guard Fatts Russell and Georgetown big man Qudus Wahab are two of Maryland’s most intriguing transfers. Russell gives the Terps a legitimate answer at point guard, which allows senior Eric Ayala to play off the ball. Last season, Ayala and junior Hakim Hart split time playing point guard.
Russell, a graduate transfer, averaged 14.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game for Rhode Island last season. Turgeon has big expectations for Russell, as he believes the 5-foot-11 guard can make an impact on both ends of the floor.
“I knew he was good,” Turgeon said. “He gets shots, his team wins every scrimmage, it seems like, and then he gets two or three steals a practice just because he’s so fast and anticipates well. For a guy that’s shorter than me, he’s a heck of a player.”
Wahab, a junior, will provide Maryland the size and length to compete against the Big Ten’s premier centers like Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson. Last season, Wahab averaged 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks while helping the Hoyas reach the Big East Championship. Wahab allows junior Donta Scott to slide back to the forward position.
Sophomore guard Ian Martinez, who transferred from Utah, will provide the Terps versatility on defense and backcourt depth. Martinez, who tore his torn meniscus over the summer, was a four-star recruit from the 2020 class.
Despite the new faces, Turgeon said chemistry is the team’s biggest strength heading into the season.
“Probably the best thing we have going for our team right now is our chemistry,” Turgeon said. “The guys really get along, and they’re fun to coach.”
Maryland has been able to acquire key players via transfer in the past, such as forward Robert Carter and guards Dez Wells and Rasheed Sulaimon. Sulaimon, who transferred from Duke, was eligible immediately as a graduate student while Wells was granted immediate eligibility after the NCAA approved his appeal.