Frank Martin and Dawn Staley agree – they don’t like it.
But it’s either accept it and use it to their advantage, or get left behind.
South Carolina’s basketball coaches have seen recruiting change throughout their careers and tenures with the Gamecocks. It’s no longer finding a player and scouting them, putting in the work to land their signature and watching them play for four years.
Now it’s wondering, at the end of every season, who might leave and who might be available to take their place.
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“That’s the part right now that’s very frustrating and confusing about the business,” Martin said. “For years, we were pressured that we weren’t graduating players. Now, every coach in America has done an unbelievable job of creating better vision and avenues to get guys to graduate. And now when they graduate, you lose them. I can’t stand it. I despise it.”
“I’d much rather have it the other way around, where they would be four-year players,” Staley said at the SEC spring meetings. “But sometimes things don’t work out at certain places. It’s a part of what this generation is.”
If the coaches sound frustrated, it’s because they are. They have to view their rosters as groups of potential one-year contracts. While the men’s one-and-done rule was put in to keep players from going to the NBA directly from high school, it’s devolved to include every member of every roster in the country. On the women’s side, high-profile players are starting to put in a year or two, then head for another – winning – team.
Martin and Staley have lost and gained players since they’ve arrived. Each had the expected departures soon after they were hired (Staley lost one holdover, then three from her first recruited team; Martin lost two from the previous era, then four more who played for a year but signed under Darrin Horn).
Martin and Staley have also been rewarded. Martin found a proven leader in Villanova’s Ty Johnson, and lethal Delaware scorer Kory Holden will have two years of eligibility after sitting out this year. Staley’s program has become a targeted spot for high-major transfers – three ACC players came in last year and Kentucky’s Alexis Jennings recently pledged for this year.
Still, it’s adding stress to the always stress-related recruiting battles. Each coach has to have a staff member constantly checking rosters around the country, looking at redshirt juniors who might graduate and want to play somewhere else. Each also keeps an eye on the transfer lists at the end of the season, thinking if they can use that last scholarship on someone that can’t play this year, it will pay off later.
“We knew we were graduating three guards that following year,” Martin said, referring to the need to replace Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and Justin McKie after this season. “I thought it’d be a great opportunity to have a redshirt guard.”
Holden can practice, perhaps over 100 times plus offseason workouts, and prepare his teammates this season before taking over in Fall 2017. It’s a similar situation to what Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis are expected to do for Staley’s team this season after sitting out last year – USC lost five seniors, including star Tiffany Mitchell. Gray and Davis were each top scorers at their previous stops.
Staley nabbed Jennings after recruiting her in high school, relying on their previous relationship once Jennings announced she was leaving Kentucky. Yet she landed Davis in a very strange circumstance – because of a player USC got, then lost.
“It was a scenario in which she’s good friends with Kelsey Bone, and Kelsey Bone told her this would be a good place for her,” Staley said, referring to her first big-time recruit that played a year, then left for Texas A&M. “That was very interesting.”
Staley is heading a team that’s becoming known for being a great place for transfers to come. Martin is always open to transfers, but has only accepted three in four years. He likens the one-and-done rule to the rule saying graduated players can transfer and immediately play.
“Fifth-year transfers are 22-year-old one-and-dones,” Martin said. “Would you rather trust a 22-year-old one-and-done? Or a 17-year-old one-and-done? I don’t like it, but it is what it is. We all have to be prepared to be victimized by it and take advantage of the rules out there.”
Staley has adjusted as well. Despite the team’s success, she lost three players to transfer this year. She had to replace them from somewhere, and Jennings was available a year after Gray and Davis came in.
“Once a transfer becomes available, we track them. We track fifth-year graduates. With the way recruiting is, we have to try to one-up people,” Staley said. “We lost three. Bottom line is, you want kids that are happy. If they can’t be happy in your system, you got to wish them well.”
Staff writer Josh Kendall contributed to this story.
USC transfer list
Jordan Jones (Florida)
Miranda Tate (Providence, then Eastern Michigan)
Tonia Williams (West Virginia, then Morgan State)
Sada Wheeler (Piedmont)
Kelsey Bone (Texas A&M)
Kayla Brewer (Texas, then Tennessee Tech)
Marah Strickland (Fordham)
Pamela Decheva (Winthrop)
Kaydra Duckett (Coastal Carolina)
Jatarie White (Texas)
Shay Colley (Pitt)
Valerie Nainima (Long Island)
Marah Strickland (Maryland)
LeAnna Morrison (Charlotte)
Sarah Imovbioh (Virginia)
Kaela Davis (Georgia Tech)
Allisha Gray (North Carolina)
Alexis Jennings (Kentucky)
Anthony Gill (Virginia)
Damontre Harris (Florida, then Campbellsville)
Brian Richardson (High Point)
Eric Smith (Coastal Carolina)
Damien Leonard (Furman, then Georgia Southwestern)
R.J. Slawson (Jacksonville)
Desmond Ringer (Mercer)
Jaylen Shaw (Coastal Carolina)
Demetrius Henry (dismissed, LaSalle)
Shamiek Sheppard (dismissed, Trinity Valley Community College)
Reggie Theus (Cal State Northridge)
Marcus Stroman (undecided)
Eric Cobb (dismissed, Chipola College)
Jamall Gregory (dismissed, Chipola College)
Raymond Doby (dismissed, John A. Logan College)
LaShay Page (Southern Miss)
Ty Johnson (Villanova)
Kory Holden (Delaware)