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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)


Maybe you've heard, there is an epidemic in college basketball and it's not the flu. Players are transferring here and there, up and down, in and out.

Two full pages of the Street & Smith preseason magazine I bought in October are dedicated to recording who has transferred where. And that's with small type.

NCAA rules dictate a player must sit out a year at the new school to establish residency (but primarily to make them think twice before transferring in the first place). One example: Shembari Phillips, who left Tennessee for Georgia Tech.

But there is an exception - the grad transfers. Players who finish their degree at Northeastern State can transfer to Southwestern Tech and play immediately while pursuing graduate studies if they have eligibility left.

Some see it as a dangerous loophole, others as a justifiable reward for academic persistence. I'm squarely in the reward camp. I'll even carry the flag. Attaining a degree is the main idea of college, right?

While transfers are prolific, only 1.9 percent of active players this season are grad transfers, according to NCAA stats in a USA Today article. Some epidemic.

The rule has impacted the SEC this season. Pay attention when Florida comes to Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night.

There are multiple reasons Tennessee is significantly improved from last season. One is James Daniel III, the most productive grad transfer in UT basketball history.

Well, it's not much of a history. The Vols had dipped into the grad transfer pool only twice. John Fields came over from UNC-Wilmington in Bruce Pearl's ill-fated last-season, 2010-11. Fields started 18 games, blocked some shots but averaged only 2.6 points.

You might have forgotten Ian Chiles. Chiles, a guard from IUPUI, signed on with Donnie Tyndall in 2014-15. He played 14 November minutes, made one basket and got hurt. End of story.

Daniel, a three-year starter and prolific scorer at Howard University, has been a steadying presence in a young Tennessee backcourt. He has re-invented himself as a complementary player, averaging 6.6 points off the bench. He is the first Vol since 1994 to have multiple 10-assist games in a season.

Florida found a gem in Egor Koulechov, a Russian forward by way of Rice University. Koulechov is the Gators' leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer at 14 points a game. (Last season, Florida grad transfer Canyon Barry was the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year.)

If the SEC named a Grad Transfer of the Year, it would be Kassius Robertson of Missouri. A 1,000-point scorer at Canisius, Robertson is driving Cuonzo Martin's resurgent Tigers. He was recently SEC player of the week consecutive weeks.

Elsewhere, Markel Crawford (ex-Memphis) has helped Ole Miss. Frank Booker (ex-Florida Atlantic) nearly led South Carolina to an upset of UT last week. Duane Wilson was a big contributor at Texas A&M until suffering a knee injury.

The Vols have encountered grad transfers outside the SEC, too. Iowa State had three, N.C. State a pair and Cameron Johnson is giving North Carolina a shot in the arm.

The lion's share of grad transfers had success at the mid-major level and wanted to try the big leagues. Alas, there is also the perspective of the jilted.

Kevin Nickelberry, Daniel's coach at Howard, told USA Today he doesn't blame the kids for moving up but said, "the rule is not really designed for mid-major head coaches and job security."

Howard, at this writing, was 8-19, Rice 5-20.

UT's Daniel and Florida's Koulechov, meanwhile, will play their final college games in the NCAA tournament.

Mike Strange

Shopper Columnist

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February 21, 2018


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