‘It’s all gone’: Transfer portal distracts coaches from prep players

An offer.

That’s all Alonzo Dodd hoped to get from any Division I basketball program.

As the 18-year-old South St. Paul guard dribbled across the floor at an AAU tournament in Indianapolis this spring, he could see DI coaches lining the sideline taking notes.

Even though he started for one of Minnesota’s top high schools and AAU teams, Dodd’s phone stopped buzzing as often. He joined thousands of boys and girls nationwide wondering if the NCAA’s ever-growing transfer portal meant fewer scholarship openings for prospective high schoolers.

Since the NCAA passed the one-time transfer rule in April 2021 — allowing first-time Division I athletes to avoid sitting out for a year — the rush of players entering the gate has skyrocketed.

From basketball and football to volleyball and other sports, the portal has become the preferred recruitment route for many college programs. According to the NCAA, in 2022 alone, the portal has 1,777 Division I men’s basketball players, 1,342 for women’s basketball and 5,230 for soccer.

A program finally thought Dodd was good enough. He signed with Texas A&M-Commerce, a Division II program moving to Division I this year.

“It was kind of a surreal moment,” the first-team guard told Star Tribune All-Metro. “I finally got a school to watch. Over the years I had schools, but it all kind of disappeared once the transfer portal got bigger and bigger.”

Like Dodd, Como Park’s Ronnie Porter could feel the door closing on his Division I dreams this spring. She nearly ended her high school career with no offer of a college DI program before Wisconsin stepped in and nabbed her.

With fewer college scouts paying attention, it helped Porter that the other Badgers recruit Savannah White played on the same AAU team.

“Since I was 8, it’s always been my dream to play at the top level,” Porter told Badgers coaches after signing on. “Thank you for believing in me.”

Youth vs experience

When Gophers coaches PJ Fleck, Ben Johnson, Hugh McCutcheon and Lindsay Whalen hit the road for their spring caravan, fans often asked about the transfer portal and how it’s changing their schedules.

It’s different for every sport.

Fleck has seen 19 of his football players enter the portal since the end of the 2021 regular season, but he has added eight transfers.

“It’s part of the deal. Get used to it,” Fleck said. “Transfer doesn’t mean bad. We took advantage of it, but we also had to give some to do it.”

Coaches can’t afford for their teams to be too young and inexperienced after losing players to the portal. So the darling roster spots are going to be transferred, meaning several high school rookies will miss a chance to play for the Gophers every year.

For the first time in his tenure as head of Gophers volleyball, McCutcheon signed more transfers than high school seniors this offseason, by a 4-3 tally, including three graduate students.

“The Transfer Portal has dramatically changed recruiting, especially at the senior levels,” said Adam Beamer, co-director of volleyball for Northern Lights AAU. “You need a [middle blocker]? You just need to recruit on the portal. You get someone with experience. You can find someone where you know what you’re getting right away. »

Whalen welcomed four high school recruits and five transfers this summer to the Gophers women’s basketball team.

“I think it will depend from year to year on the needs of your program,” she said. “I would rather not recruit portal, but at the same time some schools that didn’t need it now. Some years you might have to keep two or three scholarships available because you just don’t know.”

After replacing Richard Pitino last year, Johnson has lost 10 players at the Portal to just one this spring. His Gophers men’s basketball team added four high school recruits and three transfers this offseason.

The plan now is to keep two scholarships open for 2022-23 because adding additional transfers could “inconvenience all the young people we really love and stunt their growth”, Johnson said.

“It’s tough and every coach wants to have depth,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of people talking about all these transfers that are out there, but it has to be the right ones that work.”

Quest for offers

The final AAU season for most basketball players occurs in the spring and summer before their senior year. Unsigned high schoolers are the exception, usually playing the spring right before graduation.

Nick Brock had a starting lineup full of exceptions this spring, coaching his Real Phenom 17U team. All five starters were still awaiting college offers. Some of them had interested DI schools early on, but nothing progressed.

“The scholarships have been removed as the transfer portal is now a free agency,” Brock said. “That’s what you see a lot in college basketball now, and it hurts high school kids.”

Brock encouraged players to take offers from Division II or junior colleges if those are their best options. More and more D-II programs now have access to players they may not have been able to recruit before.

Stillwater’s Max Shikenjanski, who averaged 28 points per game last season as a junior, is one of the state’s top 10 Class of 2023 players. He received a slew of D-II offers in June after those schools realized DI programs were still hesitant. Shikenjanski was offered his first DI scholarship last week by the Citadel, coached by former Gophers assistant Ed Conroy.

Former Columbia Heights guard Terrence Brown wasn’t so lucky. He saw no change in his recruiting while playing with D1 Minnesota’s 17U team this spring, so he reclassified in 2023. This year, he will play a fifth season in high school at Golden State Prep in Napa, Utah. California.

Other borderline Minnesota DI prospects decide the prep school route might give them more exposure.

“You have the same talent as some Portal players,” Brown said. “But they’re going to go to the portal anyway, so you just have to work and keep grinding. Show that you can compete at this level.”

Major DI Dreams

Hundreds of college basketball coaches flocked to the Twin Cities in June to see the best boys and girls from Minnesota and neighboring states compete in different events.

The Summer Jam featured many of the region’s top AAU women’s teams, such as North Tartan and Metro Stars. Aalayah Wilson’s FBC North team quietly finished 3-1 in pool.

After averaging 27 points for Osseo last season, Wilson felt she could handle anyone in her 2023 class, but only had one division I offered. She decided to take advantage of this by committing to Lindenwood, a D-II program in Missouri that will transition to DI next season.

“I definitely think it’s been a lot harder for players out of high school to get offers now,” the 5-8 guard said. “It forces you to work a lot harder. If you’re that good, you’ll be noticed regardless.”

Teams from the Big Ten and five other major conferences have combined to offer scholarships to four girls and three boys from Minnesota in the Class of 2023. More players may prove worthy during the July judging period , but many programs are likely to save scholarships for transfers. .

In an age where athletes promote themselves on Twitter, posting news of every scholarship offer they receive, it’s also noticeable when they don’t get much attention from varsity teams. The stress mounts.

“I’m losing a bit of sleep over this, I’m not going to lie,” White Bear Lake senior guard Jack Janicki said. “At the end of the day, that’s how the sport works. I tell my parents that I’m just going to work harder.”

To end the AAU spring season, Totino-Grace’s Tommy Humphries scored a game-winning three-pointer for D1 Minnesota. The video has garnered thousands of views on social media.

The 6-5 Humphries, who won a Class 3A state title from Minnesota in March with Totino-Grace, suddenly saw his first DI offers appear in June, but he still feels overlooked for one big reason: the portal .

“They’re already recruiting a lot of high-level kids, so you have to get into that or you’ll fall,” Humphries said. “You have to survive right now. That’s how I see it.”

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