Taking Stock of UConn’s Transfers: Who Ended Up Where?Posted by Chris Johnson on August 27th, 2012
Christopher Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Between its poor chemistry, inconsistent performance in conference play and seemingly complacent disposition on the court, the 2011-12 UConn Huskies could never regain the competitive drive that propelled its National Championship effort one year earlier. Despite a wealth of returning talent – including small forward Jeremy Lamb, shooting guard Shabazz Napier and big men Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith, not to mention a highly-touted freshmen class featuring center Andre Drummond and point guard Ryan Boatwright – Jim Calhoun’s squad never developed the leadership dynamic it needed and failed to discover an effective way to mesh together the holdovers from the previous season’s title-winning team. The powerhouse program experienced an unexpected down season, but that was the least of its concerns. As penalty for failing to meet the NCAA’s minimum four-year and two-year Academic Progress Rate (APR) standards, UConn was ruled ineligible for the 2013 postseason. Despite an appeal for alternate penalties and a waiver request – filed under the claim that recently instituted reforms had led to improved academic performance over the past two years – the NCAA held firm on its verdict. The program that just one year earlier was riding an all-time high after winning its third national championship had bottomed out, but the lost hope of a 2013 postseason appearance wasn’t nearly as concerning as the resulting personnel departures it prompted.
Following UConn’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss to eight-seed Iowa State, the quasi-exodus began in earnest. First Oriakhi announced his intention to transfer, a move that – according to an NCAA rule enabling Oriakhi to bypass the customary one-year wait period because of UConn’s ineligibility for postseason play – enabled him to find a school with a legitimate chance of participating in the 2013 postseason. Big man Michael Bradley followed suit soon thereafter. Smith was the third to leave the program, marking a severe depletion of frontcourt talent and depth. And that’s without mentioning Lamb and Drummond, who – whether motivated by the postseason ban or otherwise – declared for the NBA Draft. The NCAA on Friday issued a ruling on Smith’s eligibility for the upcoming season. The result was hardly surprising, but it nonetheless compelled me to delve into the whereabouts of the three UConn transfers and investigate their prospects for the upcoming season. Below you’ll find a brief summary of each player’s state of affairs as they prepare for life at their respective new programs.
Alex Oriakhi (Missouri)
The NCAA’s transfer guidelines allow Oriakhi to play out his final season of eligibility next year, which made leaving Storrs for a chance to chase one final season of NCAA Tournament glory the most logical course of action. A host of schools (including Kentucky, Xavier, Duke and UNC) lined up for his services, but Missouri was the most appealing option for the former Husky big man. One factor that may have played into his decision was Oriakhi’s childhood relationship with Tigers point guard Phil Pressey. Years ago they teamed up on the Boston Amateur Basketball Club and will now try to channel their shared past into an effective inside-out tandem within Frank Haith’s free-flowing system. Oriakhi gives the Tigers a strong inside presence to go along with fifth-year senior Laurence Bowers, who missed last season with a torn ACL. Oriakhi is just one component of Haith’s transfer market replenishment plan: Mizzou also welcomes former Oregon swingman Jabari Brown, Pepperdine star Keion Bell and combo guard Earnest Ross (Auburn) into the fold alongside a talented core from last year’s 30-win team. Despite losing key contributors Matt Pressey, Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe, Mizzou’s transfer-enhanced roster has a chance to eclipse last year’s performance. Oriakhi wanted a shot at one more Tournament run. By that measure, it’s hard to argue with his destination of choice.
Michael Bradley (Vincennes)
No, I had never heard of Vincennes University, a two-year junior college in Indiana, either. Bradley initially planned to take his talents to perennial Sun Belt contender Western Kentucky. He enrolled in summer classes at the school, but was ultimately denied eligibility for the 2012-13 season. The ruling was perplexing given Bradley’s dire circumstances and his injury history. After redshirting his first year on campus, Bradley missed time while rehabbing an ankle injury and never saw the court upon returning to the team roughly midway through the season. His case seemed a clear-cut cinch for a successful undergraduate hardship waiver; the NCAA thought otherwise. Sitting out at WKU would have forced Bradley to go three straight seasons without playing in any competitive context. Rather than endure another year of transfer limbo, Bradley will play his first meaningful college hoops minute at an unexpected destination. Vincennes head coach Todd Franklin was thrilled when learning of Bradley’s decision. It’s safe to say Bradley, a highly-touted recruit out of high school who held offers from Georgia, VCU and others before committing to the Huskies, will be a huge asset for the Trailblazers. He might just be the main attraction of the Great Rivers Athletic Conference. Still, that’s a huge comedown for a player who came to UConn hoping to be a part of multiple deep Big East and NCAA Tournament runs. After infamously giving up his scholarship for Drummond, Bradley has struggled with injury, been mishandled by the NCAA, and now faces the challenge of essentially re-booting his college career two years after arriving at his initial destination. Here’s to hoping Bradley gets his academics in order and finds a new home at a power conference program in one year’s time.
Roscoe Smith (UNLV)
The legislative wrinkle that granted Oriakhi the ability to play right away mitigated the unfortunate circumstance of UConn’s postseason ban coinciding with his final season of eligibility. Smith, a sophomore last season at UConn, was predictably denied immediate eligibility and will be forced to redshirt next season at UNLV. A starter on the Huskies’ 2011-12 championship team, Smith started 18 games last season and averaged 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest. Sitting out a year is by no means a favorable outcome for Smith, but it’s a small price to pay for the chance to join one of the nation’s most formidable frontcourts in 2013-14. The Rebels boast a talented low-block trio in Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch (who becomes eligible in the second semester of the upcoming academic calendar), Mike Moser and incoming freshman Anthony Bennett to go along with veterans Carlos Lopez and Quintrell Thomas. Having Smith this season would have helped, but the Rebels aren’t pressing the panic button without him. Their big man rotation is loaded; I’m not sure Smith would have gotten the playing time he envisioned when leaving UConn, where he saw his court action cut to just 18.2 minutes per game last season. The redshirt year will grant him ample time to grasp Dave Rice’s up-tempo system, prove his worth in practice and come back better-equipped to carve out a significant frontcourt role the following season. Smith won’t experience postseason play next year, but I’d be more than surprised if he isn’t contributing at least in reserve minutes for a Rebels’ NCAA Tournament run in 2013-14.