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Impact transfers on the rise in college basketball

Fred Hoiberg returned to Iowa State from the NBA in 2010 and inherited a roster in dire need of talent.

The rookie coach brushed off the old axiom transfers were often bad fits, bad teammates and bad apples. He embraced guys like Royce White and Chris Allen, talented players many other coaches wouldn’t touch because of their supposedly checkered pasts, and the Cyclones won 23 games in reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years.

Hoiberg is hardly the only coach to jump on the transfer bandwagon. It’s getting crowded.

Whether it’s to restock a thin roster, get an instant boost at a position of need or simply take advantage of the increasingly transient nature of college basketball, coaches appear to be competing to sign transfers more than ever. According to NCAA statistics, about 40 percent of men’s basketball players won’t be playing for their original school by the end of their sophomore year.

“First of all, you look at the number of transfers right now. When you get guys that have had good seasons before that leave the program for whatever reason, there’s a lot of interest in them,” said Hoiberg, who has two more impact transfers this season in forward Will Clyburn and guard Korie Lucious and recently added former USC team MVP Maurice Jones for 2013-14. “It’s all across the country....any time a good player comes on the market, there’s going to be a lot of competition.”

Not everybody is thrilled about it.

NCAA president Mark Emmert announced last spring the establishment of a subcommittee designed to work on transfer rules. Suggested changes could be announced as soon as the next week. Spokesman Christopher Radford said the NCAA has identified permission to contact rules, the one-time transfer exception and academic concerns as the three main areas to explore.

Any changes wouldn’t be in place until next season. So for this season, newcomers figure have an immediate impact across the country.

Missouri is ranked No. 15 largely because of three new transfers from high-major programs. Blue bloods like Arizona, Louisville and Kentucky figure to lean prominently on transfers this season.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski recently welcomed just his fourth major college transfer in 32 years — but second since 2009 — when Rodney Hood joined the program from Mississippi State. He will be eligible next season.

For many schools, it’s more about the one-and-done senior than the one-and-done freshman. Most of those players can use their final year of eligibility somewhere else if they find a school that offers a graduate program their old one didn’t.

Former Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi is among the nation’s most high-profile senior transfers. He was eligible to play immediately at the school of his choosing after the NCAA ruled UConn was ineligible for this season’s tournament.

The 6-foot-9 center picked Missouri from among a number of suitors, and second-year coach Frank Haith likened him to a “Christmas present.” Oriakhi joins fellow transfers Earnest Ross (Auburn), Jabari Brown (Oregon) and Keion Bell (Pepperdine).

“The time when we got the job, we couldn’t sign quality enough high school kids I thought could come help us compete at the level we were playing. We were fortunate enough to get a couple of transfers to help us balance our classes out,” Haith said.

For many senior transfers, a move gives them one last chance to impress professional scouts. For their new schools, it offers an instant talent upgrade that’s worth risking any shakeup in team chemistry.

Arizona coach Sean Miller landed perhaps the most promising senior transfer around in Xavier’s Mark Lyons.

It’s not often that a team can instantly add a player who’s been in three NCAA tournaments and averaged 15.1 points last season, and Miller jumped at the chance to bring Lyons aboard.

“Adding him to our team is very unique because he is a talented player. But the experience I described is really difficult to put into words,” Miller said. “He gives us competitiveness, toughness, and he’s been in the arena in a big game, and to me he is somebody who knows to play both offense and defense.”

It used to be more common for players to transfer to smaller schools in search of bigger roles. These days, there appears to be more lateral and even upward moves than ever.

Ironically, Iowa State suffered from this trend worse than anyone when Wesley Johnson jumped to Syracuse. He was named the Big East Player of the Year in 2010 and got picked fourth in that spring’s NBA draft.

Aaric Murray turned a strong sophomore season at LaSalle into an opportunity to join coach Bob Huggins and West Virginia.

Guard Ryan Harrow jumped from North Carolina State to Kentucky. Not to be outdone by the rival Wildcats, Louisville brought in former George Mason standout Luke Hancock.

Former McDonald’s All-American Trey Zeigler, who scored more than 1,000 points in just two seasons playing for his father Ernie at Central Michigan, was one of 15 players to get a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately at Pittsburgh after his dad got fired.

The list goes on and on — and it’s bigger than ever.

“A lot of guys maybe aren’t happy with the situation that they’re in, so they decide to find a better situation. I’m starting to see that more and more,” said Lucious, who transferred to Iowa State from Michigan State. “It’s basically doing whatever you can to better yourself.”

But meshing transfers into an existing roster is hardly like snapping one’s fingers and earning an NCAA tournament bid.

Hoiberg was intent on landing transfers who were good fits, and Haith is hoping his new guys are as well.

“You can have a lot of great, talented players. But if it doesn’t mesh well, you’re not going to have a very good basketball team,” Haith said. “Those guys are all going to have different roles than what they’ve had with their previous teams. The chemistry, intangibles, that’s why that team won last year. And we’ve got to be able to get that accomplished. And that’s going to take some time.”

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