The transfer portal has been a valuable tool for Kentucky considering Oscar Tshiebwe’s rebounding and buoyant personality, Kellan Grady’s shooting and savvy, and Sahvir Wheeler’s speed and competitive spirit.
Perhaps also interesting is how some of the schools that lost those players used the transfer portal to fill the hole created by their departures.
For example, Grady ranked 23rd in three-point shooting accuracy (43.18 percent) among Division I players going into this weekend. His replacement at Davidson, Foster Loyer, ranked ninth (46.60 percent). Loyer transferred to Davidson from Michigan State.
Wheeler ranked third in assists (6.9 per game) among Division I players. His replacement at Georgia, Aaron Cook, ranked 13th (6.0 per game). Cook is a grad transfer from Gonzaga who earlier played four seasons at Southern Illinois.
The ability to replace a productive player is not automatic. Going into the weekend, Tshiebwe led Division I in rebounding (15.2 per game) and offensive rebounds (5.25). His former program, West Virginia, had been outrebounded on the season: 35.9-33.8.
Of the ability of teams to recover from players transferring away, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said, “I think it’s great. It’s a free market now. A kid can go up or down.”
Fraschilla likened the transfer portal to high school recruiting, junior college transfers or international players. It’s another means of building a team.
“College coaches are NBA general managers right now …,” he said. “You’re not building a program as much as you are building a team from year to year.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Cook crediting Georgia Coach Tom Crean for his productivity this season.
“Coach Crean instilled that confidence in me as soon as he started recruiting me,” Cook said. “He told me he wanted me to run this team.”
Fraschilla applauded the freedom of movement the transfer portal allows players. And players have taken advantage.
In the 2019-20 school year, 1,032 men’s basketball players entered the transfer portal. That number now approaches 2,000.
A stigma associated with transferring is gone.
“Thirty years ago when people who didn’t know what they didn’t know turned their noses up at transfers,” Houston Coach Kelvin Sampson said. “They thought something was wrong with them. It shows you how little they knew, though. Now, if you’re not taking transfers, you’re behind.”
Some might lament a further erosion of fan-player bonding with transfers joining one-and-done players in this here today-gone tomorrow era. But Fraschilla said bonding still exists.
“How do you not fall in love with Oscar Tshiebwe?” the ESPN analyst said. “Whether he’s playing for Kentucky one year or four years.”
Ultimately, Fraschilla suggested that fans — like programs — will adapt to the transfer portal.
“We’re all going to learn to live with the transfer portal like we learned to live with the shot clock and the three-point line,” he said.
Whatever Kentucky achieves, the reaction from inside the program always includes a call to keep striving for more achievements.
So, Auburn guard K.D. Johnson’s reaction to his team being voted No. 1 sounded familiar.
“We finally got No. 1. We’re happy about it,” he said after Auburn beat Missouri on Tuesday. “But that’s not the final step for us. We’re just focused on trying to get wins anywhere we go now.”
Johnson also spoke a variation of John Calipari’s we’re-everyone’s-Super-Bowl line when anticipating opponents’ zeal to beat Auburn.
“There’s a big prize on our head because we’re No. 1,” Johnson said. “Everybody is going to give us their best shot. We’re just trying to stay together wherever we go and try to get the ‘W.’”
UK versus Auburn
In the race for the SEC regular-season championship, Auburn has a two-game lead on Kentucky with 10 games to play.
Each team will play five home games and five away games the remainder of the season.
Going into the weekend, Kentucky’s remaining opponents had an average NET of 57.8. Auburn’s remaining opponents had an average NET of 75.6.
Each team has remaining games at Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee.
After Oscar Tshiebwe scored 21 points and grabbed 22 rebounds against his team, Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland acknowledged the challenge UK’s big man represents.
“Nobody on our team can take him on one-on-one,” Howland said. “The only kid (in the SEC) that has a chance is the big kid from Auburn.”
That would be Walker Kessler.
Judging by his pregame comments, Ben Howland saw TyTy Washington not playing as beneficial for Mississippi State.
“He was amazing when (Sahvir) Wheeler was out,” Howland said. “I watched the game that he had 17 assists in and was just blown away by his basketball IQ and how he saw the floor so well and how he shared the ball so well and still scored well.
“He’s really an incredible scorer. He’s very good off the dribble. He’s a good catch-and-shoot guy. He’s got a great handle. Very, very smart. He’s just another one of the typical outstanding freshmen that have come through that program over the years.”
Mississippi State guard Iverson Molinar scored a career-high 30 points against Kentucky. That marked the 19th straight game he had double-digit points. That was the longest streak for a Mississippi State player since Tony Watts did it in 28 straight games in 1991-92.
The only other SEC player to score 10-plus in every game this season is Arkansas guard JD Notae.
‘Emotion and fire’
Tennessee’s last two home games had off-court incidents.
Before last weekend’s game against LSU, players and staff had to be separated. A LSU staffer reportedly threw a ball in the stands as UT managers were shooting.
And during the postgame handshake line after Tennessee beat Florida on Wednesday, a Florida player reportedly noted that UT freshman Zakai Ziegler was short. This led UT’s Uros Plavsic to yell at Florida players.
During the game, UT received two technical fouls.
“We’re going to be classy in the way we do things,” Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes said. “Do I want to play with emotion and fire? Absolutely. But we’re not going to get technical fouls. We don’t need that.”
After his team lost at Arkansas in overtime, Texas A&M Coach Buzz Williams said his night was getting much more difficult.
Of the postgame news conference, he said, “this is the hardest part of my job on game day. … I’m just so exhausted. So, I know that it’s easy to be bubbly after a win. And I know it’s easy to take out negative emotions on questions. …
“I’m just exhausted emotionally, and my brain is chaotic to begin with. Through an 80-possession game, there’s just so many things going through my mind. And, so I apologize that I’m doing a poor job.”
To former UK players Don Mills and Billy Evans, plus longtime UK broadcaster Ralph Hacker. They are among this year’s inductees in the Madison County Sports Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony will be April 23 in the Perkins Building on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University.
Tickets, which are priced at $25, are available at the website MadisonCountySportsHoF.com.
To former Vandy player (and Lexington native) Frank Kornet. He turned 55 on Thursday. … To Tony Delk. He turned 48 on Friday. … To Rick Robey. He turns 66 on Sunday (today). … To Josh Carrier. He turns 39 on Sunday (today). … To Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo. He turns 67 on Sunday (today). … To Jalen Rose. One of Michigan’s “Fab Five” turns 49 on Sunday. … To Andre Riddick. “The Rejector” turns 49 on Tuesday. … To Walter McCarty. He turns 48 on Tuesday. … To former UK assistant coach Doug Barnes. He turns 76 on Tuesday. … To Truman Claytor. He turns 65 on Wednesday. … To Stan Key. He turns 72 on Wednesday. … To former Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy. He turns 58 on Wednesday.