When WVU made a brief announcement on Monday that Voldy Gerun, Aaron Brown and Jabarie Hinds were leaving the program, the only surprises might have been the inclusion of Hinds on the list -- and that fact that it didn't include more names. Several candidates for departure have been bandied about since the Mountaineers began crashing and burning during the Big 12 season, so the fact that only three names were included on the request for release from scholarship might have been the only upset of the process.
WVU head coach Bob Huggins followed through on his oft-repeated pledge to fix the problems that plagued the team this year, and presumably he has done so, at least in some areas. Whether or not the departing trio was a major or minor problem in the disruption department hasn't -- and likely won't -- be publicly confirmed, but the assumption has already been made that at least one or two of the group weren't fully invested in Huggins' methods of operation.
We're not here to point fingers, though. Rather, it's to examine whether or not such a mass exodus is good for the program -- and if it can serve as a spark for improvement.
* * *
First, transfers in and of themselves aren't necessarily bad. Their commonality is rising, as shown by NCAA statistics which reveal that nearly 40% of NCAA Division I players aren't at their original school by the end of their second year of college. Less than two percent of that number is attributed to players leaving for the pros, so it's easy to see that the transfer rate is huge. Nearly 11% of players in Division I transferred in 2011-11. The problems arise later, from Academic Progress Rates to recruiting relationships to team chemistry.
First, a team's APR isn't affected if a player transfers or goes pro while in good academic standing, but what are the odds that WVU won't suffer a hit from at least some of the departing players? If they are disgruntled, they aren't likely to be putting forth their best efforts in class, and less likely to meet those required levels. Get enough of those, and the APR is in jeopardy of falling below the mark necessary to play in the postseason.
Second, transfers, especially if they are encouraged by the coaching staff, can have negative effects on the recruiting trail. If schools get a reputation for "forcing" players to transfer, it could affect their ability to attract future players from the same area, high school or AAU team.
Third is the matter of team chemistry. While a basketball roster is expected, on average, to roll three or four players out of the program every year, the number will be six (at least) from West Virginia's 13 scholarship players this year. Bringing in two or three new players a year is much more stable than bringing in six or seven. Building a team isn't just based on getting the right number of forwards and guards -- it's just as much as finding players and personalities that fit together, and can work in the system and style of the coaching staff.
Taking all this into account, it would obviously be better if no transfers occurred at all. Any or all of these problems could bite WVU next year, or a year or two down the road. The question is, did Huggins have a real choice at this point? Had he not at least facilitated some roster turnover, the howls of outrage from West Virginia's fans would have been heard very clearly. (In some ways, they already have been, as declining attendance and enthusiasm at the Coliseum showed this year.) With a reseating plan and even higher donations for good seats in the Coliseum going into effect for the 2013-14 season, this wasn't the time to stand pat.
Huggins also believed, although it's open for debate, that the team he had a year ago was built for the Big East, and not for the Big 12. Whether any of the departing transfers fit into that group is a subject for a separate discussion, but if that is the case, then West Virginia now has a better chance of fixing that issue quickly.
Finally, there's the matter of talent level and performance. Each of the three transfers were at various points on that scale. Are the players that are coming in, or that WVU hopes to sign, going to be better? At forward, the answer appears to be yes. In the backcourt? Clearly still in the "remains to be seen" category.
Still, when looking at all of the ramifications of transfers, the need to make immediate changes and address problems -- some on the court, some off -- carried more weight than anything else. Surely Huggins would have preferred to continue building toward an experienced, junior- and senior-laden roster, but given all of the issues that cropped up this year, he couldn't make that call. Whether or not the revamped roster has any more success next season, the decision to make room for new players looks to be the correct one.