Transfer athletes strengthen basketball teams

It may be impossible to argue with the women’s basketball team’s decade of success or men’s basketball’s early-season prosperity, but it is evident the programs have been recruiting outside traditional avenues to strengthen their teams.The two programs have a combined 10 players – five on the women’s team and five on the men’s team – on scholarships this season that have either transferred from another Division I program or have come from a junior college.

The combined number places TCU at second in the conference for the most scholarship players that did not come straight to TCU from high school. Wyoming leads the Mountain West Conference this season with 11 such players, seven from its men’s program and four players from its women’s program.

The number also puts the TCU programs in elite company in the state of Texas, ranking third in a list of eight in-state universities in the category. Texas Tech, with 14, and Houston, with 13, top the Horned Frogs.

Breaking the Norms

Women’s head basketball coach Jeff Mittie said nontraditional recruiting seizes an opportunity to restock a program that will bid farewell to five seniors at the conclusion of this season.

The solid play he got from a transfer last season – former player and LSU transfer Hanna Biernacka – was a sign that bringing in transfers could work. The team has added three transfers this season: Chantelle John, TK LaFleur and Eboni Mangum. The three will sit out the mandatory year before they’re eligible to play next season.

“We have five seniors this year,” he said, “so when we looked at recruiting and had an opportunity to get some good players in the spring, we wanted to alleviate some pressure off of this recruiting class on signing all freshmen. It was a situation where we had never really done that before to this extent.”

While there are 13 scholarships available to a men’s basketball program, women’s programs have 15 scholarships – an issue, Mittie said, that women’s basketball should consider revising.

“I think the one thing that has been different in women’s basketball with 15 scholarships, you’re probably seeing more transfers out there then we really need to,” he said. “You can’t play 15, so it is hard to keep everybody happy … We should go to 13 like the guys have for a parity standpoint. There would be more parity across the country. You would see less transfers if you had that situation.”

On the men’s side, head coach Neil Dougherty has dipped into the junior college player pool to help shape out his roster. Two of which, junior forward Alvardo Parker and junior guard Henry Salter, are even starting.

During the last two seasons of his tenure, Dougherty has suffered back-to-back below .500 seasons, going 19-42 during that stretch.

Though the losing seasons did not directly lead him to recruiting more junior college players for a “quick fix,” bringing in players who could play right away and have an instant impact was an important element in the recruiting process, he said.

“For me personally, I prefer to have a kid for four years whether right out of high school or prep school,” Dougherty said. “But there becomes a time when you look at your roster, as by class, that maybe it makes more sense to get some immediate or older help.”

Even with the recent influx of junior college players and transfers for the men’s team playing pivotal roles this season, Dougherty’s team is doing it the right way, said Rick Ball, the owner and founder of BallStars, a scouting service that serves as an outlet for recruiting junior college basketball players.

BallStars plays a role similar to what Rivals plays for high school and prep school athletes, providing ratings, statistics and insight into the world of junior college basketball.

“I don’t consider TCU a JC-recruiting program exclusively by any means,” Dougherty said. “I think they’re doing it probably as good as you can by supplementing their needs with a JC player.”

Despite the TCU basketball programs’ success in bringing in talented student-athletes not directly out of high school, Ball said lower academic standards among Division I institutions has decreased the number of junior college players able to play at the next level. In turn, a school’s academic integrity is challenged and in some cases, tainted.

“That’s probably one of my biggest disappointments in my lifetime; college academic standards continue to be diluted,” he said. “I don’t think our students are getting better. We’re just lowering the standards so they can get in, and that’s across the board.”

He added: “It has always been a situation where if the player is special or seems to be special, there seems to be ways in getting his grades in line. I’m not going to say through outright cheating and a lot of the times, it’s not the university that does it, but it’s the high school. The high school does not want to be embarrassed where their all-state or All-American player can’t qualify to go to the local state university.