In April 2021, the NCAA decided that first-time transfer student-athletes would be able to immediately suit up for their new schools, eliminating the one-year sit-out policy. Just a couple of months later, the NCAA suspended its prior rules on name, image and likeness that restricted players from receiving any compensation. The combination of these two significant changes to college athletics made for a whole new landscape in college basketball, along with other highly competitive sports.
The transfer portal is no longer what it was in years past. Prior to 2021, there might have been a few higher-profile transfers that received a good amount of attention from elite programs in college hoops, but there wasn’t much else. Furthermore, the chances that any of these players were impactful were pretty low. That is far from the case in 2024. We saw it last offseason, which felt more like the NBA free agency than the NCAA transfer portal.
Hunter Dickinson, the star center for the Kansas University Jayhawks, depicts the environment of the post-2021 transfer portal to a tee. During his junior year at the University of Michigan, Dickinson was rumored to be making less than $100,000. At Michigan, one of the most popular sports schools in the country, he was a second-team All-American in 2021 and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors twice. Many have speculated that Dickinson saw that he could be making much more elsewhere, and that’s why he moved on from the maize and blue. NIL has to be at least a factor in why he transferred, and I can’t blame him — On3 has his NIL valuation at $847,000.
Dickinson isn’t the only player making big bucks — plenty of other highly ranked transfers have earned huge deals by moving schools. Not only that, but freshmen are also being offered similar compensation. The second-best high school prospect, Isaiah Collier, has NIL deals valued at $588,000 in total. If you go down the list of prospects, you’ll probably see similar numbers. But simultaneously, you’ll see that many of these now-freshmen haven’t had much of an impact relative to what they’re making. Meanwhile, we’re seeing a ton of top transfers from the 2023 offseason making big impacts on top teams in the country.
As mentioned before, Dickinson is the best player on a Kansas team ranked No. 4 in the country. Dalton Knecht, ranked No. 13 on 247 Sports’ transfer rankings, is averaging 20.2 points per game for the University of Tennessee and could very well be a first-team All-American. Caleb Love, formerly at the University of North Carolina, is now the leading scorer for the No. 8 University of Arizona Wildcats. I could keep going. Then, you look at the highly ranked freshmen and see guys like Justin Edwards, the third-ranked prospect in 2023, averaging 8.1 points per game with poor efficiency, or Mackenzie Mgbako, shooting below 40% from the field for an abysmal University of Indiana team.
All the transfer portal success, paired with the many disappointing freshmen, is making me question whether it's worth spending all the money on these prospects who have yet to prove themselves at the next level. While it may seem unfair to these young men who haven’t had the opportunity in the first place, any school that wants to be competitive might want to focus more on transfers than first-years. Instead of getting a possible project or even bust, coaches can recruit guys who have already shown their talent and demonstrated that they have what it takes to play for the best programs in college hoops. That’s where I would spend the money, and it seems to be going in that direction.