Aleksandar Dozic always dreamed of playing in the NCAA tournament, even from his home in Podgorica, Montenegro. He came to the U.S., played one season at Don Bosco Prep in Indiana and signed with Marshall.
After becoming frustrated with sparse playing time as a freshman, though, he bolted for Marist College. He sat out a year because of transfer rules and then played extensively there. But the Red Foxes won just 18 games in two years, prompting him to look elsewhere.
Though it took a couple of stops along the way, the 6-foot-9 forward believes he’s finally found a home, signing with Wright State last week. He’ll have one year of eligibility next season.
“I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Dozic said of his multiple moves. “Everyone wants to be happy where they go with the first school they choose. Nobody really plans to go somewhere and then transfer. But it happens.
“When I went to Marshall, I just wasn’t happy. It wasn’t the place for me, and you just move on. I don’t think it’s a big deal. I think people who aren’t happy someplace should be encouraged to transfer.”
Dozic, who will turn 24 midway through next season, is part of a growing trend in college basketball of players who recognize they have a limited window to accomplish their goals and resort to transferring — sometimes more than once — in search of an ideal fit.
Coach Scott Nagy always would prefer to have four- and five-year players. But he needed heavy reinforcements with three starters graduating, the sudden departure of Horizon League all-freshman pick Malachi Smith and having to make up for the risk they took last year in playing shorthanded by filling only 11 of 13 scholarships.
That forced Nagy into a seven-man rotation, and he didn’t want to go through that again — even if it meant diving headlong into the transfer pool.
“In Division I overall, it’s becoming more and more normal. I wish it wasn’t, but it is,” Nagy said. “It’s not good for college basketball. And honestly, I think it’s worse for the kids.
“Some of them never develop roots anywhere. They don’t have a school they can look back on and have good feelings about because they just end up being guns for hire.”
But as much as the Raiders would like to stick with recruiting only high school stars, they’re in danger of falling behind their peers if they ignore the ever-growing transfer talent market.
According to Verbalcommitments.com, there were 577 Division-I transfers in 2012. That number swelled to 894 in 2017.
So far this year, there are 841 players changing schools. That’s an average of 2.4 transfers among 351 D-I teams.
“I’m not saying in every situation the transfer isn’t warranted. Sometimes, it is warranted. A kid should be able to go someplace else,” Nagy said. “But in my opinion, the majority of them are going just because things aren’t perfect, and they think the grass is greener someplace else. And it isn’t.
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“If they would stick it out and stay in the program they’re in, they would grow as people and players and look back on the university with fond memories. But we’re going the other way because we’re kind of a microwave society.”
The Horizon League has been particularly hard hit by transfers, especially those who earn their degrees and are granted immediate eligibility.
After going 19-15 in 2014-15, Cleveland State lost a pair of all-league players in Trey Lewis and Anton Grady as grad transfers. Lewis went from averaging 16.3 points for the Vikings to 11.3 at Louisville, while Grady’s numbers slipped from 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game to 7.8 and 4.3 at Wichita State. And only Grady played in the NCAA tourney since the Cardinals were banned that year.
Respected coach Gary Waters never recovered from those blows and resigned in 2017 after two straight losing seasons.
Milwaukee went through similar upheaval after losing its top three players from 2017-18.
Bryce Nze, the team’s leading rebounder as a sophomore, sat out last year at Butler. But Brock Stull’s scoring average slipped from 13.4 as a junior with the Panthers to 1.3 as a senior at Minnesota, and Jeremiah Bell went from a 14.1 clip to 7.7 as a senior for UAB.
The grass isn’t always greener.
The Raiders have built a winning culture, and the camaraderie in the program seems genuine. But no mid-major is immune from players looking for what they believe are better situations.
Everett Winchester, who averaged 8.0 points as a freshman to help the Raiders go 25-10 in 2017-18, blindsided the coaches, just as Smith did, by transferring to Florida Atlantic.
“I think we need to be prepared for that better. We need to continue to recruit even if we think nobody is going to leave,” Nagy said.
One of the seedier sides of the transfer domain is the tampering by major conferences with lower-level fourth-year juniors who are on pace to get their degrees. The top schools aren’t permitted to recruit them until they enter the transfer portal, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t.
“There are several kids — we know this to be true — that some schools have on a list who are going to be fifth-year seniors that aren’t even looking to transfer — say, a guy like Loudon Love next year,” Nagy said of his all-league center. “I guarantee he’s on that list. They’re already working on that stuff. They’re already calling AAU coaches, trying to set that up. And it’s not ethical.”
What options do Nagy and others in his position have? Not many.
“What some coaches will do is make sure in a four-year period (the player) doesn’t graduate somehow. They won’t let him take summer school, so they don’t have to deal with the grad transfer. But I’m not going to operate that way. I’m not going to play games with them,” he said.
“We’re going to build relationships with the kids, so when they get to be a fifth-year seniors, they don’t even think about that because they’re happy here. But most people at our level are very concerned about it. They’re saying to recruits, ‘Hey, give us three good years, and if you want to go, you can go.’ I think that’s ridiculous. If you’re going to come to Wright State, you’re going to stay. And if you don’t want to stay, don’t come.”
Ash, a 6-3 guard, doesn’t appear to fit the mold of the typical transfer. A team captain for Northwestern last season with a reputation for high character, he persevered through tough times on the court to earn a communications degree from one of the nation’s top academic schools.
But he has pro aspirations and needed a place to showcase his talents in his final season, and that likely wasn’t going to happen at the Big Ten school.
“I was always brought up to finish what you start,” he said. “I think I probably could’ve left when I was younger. I didn’t play much. I was behind Brian McIntosh and Tre Demps, who were all-conference guards. But it’s never going to be easy wherever you go. It’s always going to be hard. It’s important to try to stick it out. I think that’s what I did.”
Among measures the NCAA is considering is to allow one transfer for undergraduates without having to sit a year. While there’s a concern it will lead to even more impulsive decisions, the current rules are under siege because coaches can switch schools with no restrictions, and that rule has already been implemented in non-revenue sports.
Finke, a 6-6 freshman guard, believes he would have benefited by having one mulligan.
“The first time, you think you know everything about a school and what you’re looking for. But you really don’t know until you experience it,” he said.
“Going through my first year, I learned what I valued as a player and person. GCU didn’t necessarily fit that. It did for others, but not for me. No shame in that. No hard feelings toward them. But I definitely wanted to find the right place, and I think a lot of people could agree with that.”