West Virginia has joined a national trend, one that some find disturbing and others equate as simply part of the collegiate basketball culture. The Mountaineers recently gave releases to a pair of players in Eron Harrris and Terry Henderson. The latter, for some reason, seems to have triggered more protest than some others, and head coach Bob Huggins discussed the issue early Saturday.
"It's not just here. It happens everywhere. It's kind of the times," Huggins said. Huggins addressed the incorrectly reported statistic that of 16 players signed at WVU since the Final Four, 12 have left or never played. He said WVU had signed 23, 12 of which have transferred. Which is true. But there's no question, over a recent three-year period, it has happened more at West Virginia than almost anywhere else.
Consider that of 13 scholarship recruits to sign with or enroll at WVU between the 2010 Final Four season through the 2012 class, just two are currently playing for the Mountaineers. Only one have used full eligibility with WVU; none have left early for a professional career. The 2010 class: Darrious Curry (never played at WVU after being medically disqualified because of Marfan's syndrome – a genetic disorder of connective tissue that can predispose a person to heart disease. Was cleared by two doctors in Houston and eventually signed with Casper (Wyo.) College.) David Nyarsuk (signed with the Mountaineers in Nov. 2009; was slated to come in with the 2010 class, but remained for another season at Mountain State Academy and eventually signed and played at Cincinnati). Noah Cottrill (never played at WVU; signed at West Virginia Wesleyan and then transferred to Georgetown (Ky.) College) and Kevin Noreen (Currently playing at WVU).
The 2011 class: – Gary Browne (currently playing at WVU), Keaton Miles (transferred to Arkansas) , Jabarie Hinds (transferred to UMass) Pat Forsythe (transferred to Akron) Tommie McCune (transferred to Oakland) Aaron Brown ( transferred to St. Joseph's) Dom Rutledge (contributed and exhausted eligibility). The 2012 class – Terry Henderson (has been released by WVU), Eron Harris (has been released by WVU). If one goes back an additional class to 2009, there are two more transfers in Dalton Pepper (Temple) and Dan Jennings (Long Beach State), while Deniz Kilicli and junior college transfer Casey Mitchell contributed and exhausted eligibility at West Virginia. In addition, Aaric Murray, a LaSalle transfer to WVU for the 2012-13 season, mutually agreed with the West Virginia coaching staff to leave the Mountaineer program after one year. He then played at Texas Southern.
And, again, Huggins is correct in that it does happen everywhere. According to a recent Associated Press article, the number of players who have appeared in a game for more than one Division I school has nearly tripled over the past decade, from 122 in 2004-05 to 325 — or one for nearly every school in the country — in 2013-14. Research by the NCAA shows that the "number of transfers from two-year/junior college schools into Division I has remained steady over the last 10 years or so, hovering between roughly 15 percent and 17 percent of all Division I players. The real movement, though, is within Division I. According to STATS, the number of transfers from one Division I school to another jumped from 259 to 325 from 2012-13 to 2013-14 alone." Huggins said that, on Friday, the transfer numbers for this season went over the 500 mark for this season.
Most of it, according to multiple head coaches, has to do with playing time. Huggins admits it did for him, when he transferred from Ohio University to West Virginia. Of course, at least partially with Harris and even more so with Henderson, playing time wouldn't seem to fit the issue. Henderson, particularly, figured to start and see significant minutes next season. And certainly Harris wasn't going to ride the bench.
"There were high school All-Americans who transferred to another school," Huggins said. "I don't know why. I don't have the answer to that. Some guys leave to get closer to home, some guys probably leave to get further away from home. I don't think there is one thing that you can say this is what it is."
Some players and fans – both old and young – are terming transfers across the nation selfish, spoiled, unwilling to put the time in. The term "loyalty" gets bandied about. But it's largely a matter of perspective, how one views this issue. Consider that this recent group of players has grown up watching parents fired by corporations without much warning – or compassion. No longer does dad work for a company for 40 years, with each showing the other any level of dedication and loyalty. Employees are hired and fired, sometimes only because they are nearing eligibility for a greater pension. It's created a younger generation that, frankly, is a bit more guarded and understands that opportunities many times must be taken immediately when available.
Coaches change jobs for better circumstances – more money, closer to family, easier recruiting, finer facilities, better fits, etc. Players, frankly, are just doing exactly what their supposed role models are in changing jobs for whatever the person reason or preference might be.
"We live in different times," Huggins said. "We like in a time when if players transfer from one AAU team to another. They go from one high school to another. Is it right? That's not form me to judge."
Huggins, as he noted, did the same in searching for playing time after beginning a collegiate career at Ohio. As a coach, Huggins had exceptional loyalty to Cincinnati, and then, somewhat begrudgingly, left Kansas State for West Virginia because of loyalty – not in spite of it. But one is left to wonder if Huggins' supposedly tough style does mesh with the majority of today's student-athletes. It might not. They key – and here's the hard part – is sifting through the recruiting mess to find ones that do.
"It's been tracked, 40 percent of guys don't make it through their junior year," Huggins said. "They transfer. Of our guys, one has transferred to a so-called BCS school. The rest have transferred down."
It does seem, early on, as though the 2013 class might stick together. Nathan Adrian, after all, recently posted a tweet that indicated he didn't see what was so bad about West Virginia or the coaching. Devin Williams, Elijah Macon, Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton seem fine. Remi Dibo, Huggins said, has told assistants he wants to go play professionally in France. But Huggins has yet to speak to the sharpshooting forward.
"Don't take pieces of things," Huggins said. "The reality is we have five new guys coming in that, I think, are pretty good. If we are going to talk about West Virginia basketball, let's talk about West Virginia basketball. Not pieces.
"It's not the kids we are bringing in, because it's happening everywhere. Kids are leaving Ivy League schools, the Duke's. They are leaving everywhere. It's not the kinda kids we are bringing in. We have sat as a staff and tried to figure out what else can we do. None of those guys have ever said they didn't have a relationship with the staff. They have. We are going to try and fix the perceived problems. We are going to do the best we possibly can. If I had it figured out, there would be 364 other Division I coaches lined up outside my door."
If this seems like an empty ending to this story, it's because it is. There is no satisfactory, tie-it-up end. It's an ongoing, evolving issue with an ongoing, evolving response. West Virginia, Huggins says, is doing whatever it can. Time will tell what the results might be.