Noie: Tracking hoops transfers now the game within college game for Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

It often was a program immune and oblivious and otherwise unaffected by the annual roster roulette of the college basketball world.

When guys arrived at Notre Dame, guys stayed at Notre Dame. Most for four years. Some for five. They worked through the frustrations of wanting to play more, to do more, to score more. To BE more. They stayed (relatively) patient with the process. It usually paid off. As they matured as players and people, they got better. So did their games. Their roles. By the time they were juniors and seniors, they were playing the way they envisioned they would.

That was the Notre Dame way.

Not as much anymore.

Late last month, sophomore swingman D.J. Harvey entered the all-too-popular NCAA transfer portal. He did so while leaving his options open. Maybe he’d stay at Notre Dame. Maybe he wouldn’t. Irish coach Mike Brey indicated Wednesday that it’s more the latter and less the former. Like, none of the former. Harvey isn’t with the program during spring conditioning and wasn’t at Thursday’s offseason practice. He’s done.

Harvey drove back to his Maryland residence last weekend to conduct home visits with Iowa and Ohio State. The first day Harvey was in the portal, Cincinnati, Columbia, George Mason and USC also expressed interest.

Harvey’s eventual exit will mark the third player in two years to parachute from the Irish program. Over the previous 12 seasons, Notre Dame had only six transfers. Welcome to the new way of the college basketball world. The game’s still not played in quarters (whew!) or with a trapezoid lane (why not?) or with six fouls (meh) a player. But the game’s changed.

“I’m not saying kids are different or kids are bad; it’s just the climate that we’re in now,” said Brey, himself a transfer during his college playing days. “Kids want to play a certain way and if it doesn’t happen quick for them, they want to reinvent.”

Matt Ryan wanted to reinvent and left for Vanderbilt. He’s since decided to again reinvent and is searching for yet another landing spot. Elijah Burns decided four games into the 2018-19 season to reinvent and went home to Siena. Now Harvey.

He’s not alone. The new buzzword bouncing around college athletics today is “transfer portal.” Players enter their names into the NCAA’s transfer database, constantly monitored by college coaching staffs looking to tweak their rosters. Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’s not?

On Thursday morning, the portal held the names of 754 players looking to better their basketball situations. That’s enough to fully stock 58 college squads with maximum rosters of 13 scholarship players.

The portal also carried a dozen new names added since the previous afternoon.

Tracking transfers has become its own season. It’s that dizzying.

“It’s a little bit of an epidemic in college basketball,” said Brey, who took over as president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches during the Final Four in Minneapolis. “Fifteen years ago, it wasn’t that big of a pool.”

Fifteen years ago, it was more like one of those plastic kiddie pools. Now, it’s an ocean. An ultra-competitive one, where you better know how to swim with the sharks. You don’t, and you sink.

Eleven springs ago, Notre Dame added a pair of transfers in guard Ben Hansbrough and swingman Scott Martin. Both became key pieces to the Irish puzzle; Martin was the ultimate jack-of-all-trades talent while Hansbrough was the 2011 Big East player of the year and second team All-American.

Both transferred relatively quietly in the spring of 2008. Brey remembers Martin’s choices coming down to Butler or Notre Dame. Hansbrough’s were Notre Dame or Oklahoma State. That was it.

If Hansbrough is in the transfer portal today, Brey figures he’s got half the teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, half the teams in the Big 12 and half the teams in the Big Ten chasing him. Same with Martin. They’d be that popular/wanted/needed.

“It’s just a whole ‘nother world,” Brey said. “It’s unbelievably competitive to get guys. You have to explore it every year, every day.”

That exploration starts before a season hits the midway point. With injuries mounting and scholarships available, Notre Dame started studying the transfer portal around Christmas. Names kept appearing during January and February and March. Now at a time in the calendar when their recruiting attention should be aimed solely at the current high school junior class, college coaches are just as involved in transfers. Sometimes more so.

They have to be.

“There’s always moving parts,” Brey said. “You almost have to plan for (transfers) in your recruiting. Every spring is more roster management.”

Sure is this spring for Notre Dame, which wants to tap that market and add a transfer or two or three. That could mean bringing aboard a graduate transfer (William & Mary’s Justin Pierce) for the first time in program history. That could mean going the transitional transfer route and adding a player who must sit out next season before regaining eligibility.

Everyone else is doing it, so must Notre Dame. When Brey hits the recruiting/evaluation road next week, he’ll cover all bases — high school players, college transfers and graduate transfers. It never ends.

“You’re on it every day,” Brey said. “It’s a whole ‘nother market out there. We backed away from it a little bit (in recent years). Now it’s just another pool of players.”

Might as well dive in.

Notre Dame’s D.J. Harvey (5) dribbles down the court during the Jacksonville at Notre Dame NCAA men’s basketball game Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey accepts that spring now means looking closely at the ever-growing number of players in the NCAA's transfer portal.
Notre Dame swingman D.J. Harvey is not practicing with the team this spring and plans to transfer to a different school. An ever-growing number of players are opting for the NCAA’s transfer portal each year.