Despite the season being over for several weeks now, there hasn’t been a lack of newsworthy activity from the Green Bay Phoenix men’s basketball program.
Green Bay has seen five players leave the program via the transfer portal since their season ended in a first round upset in the Horizon League Tournament back on February 25th. Senior guards PJ Pipes and Josh Jefferson also decided that they would be graduating and playing their final season of eligibility elsewhere.
The biggest loss is unquestionably Amari Davis, the sensational sophomore that was the Horizon League’s Freshman of the Year last season and a Second Team All-Horizon pick this season. Junior forward Paris Taylor as well as freshmen Terrence Thompson, Damontae Taylor, and Jacob Jones have also entered the transfer portal.
All five players were recruited to Green Bay by former head coach Linc Darner.
“A couple of the guys, we had a feeling that they were going to move on,” Will Ryan said during the final Green Bay Basketball Coaches Show on WDUZ radio back on March 3rd. “I talked to our guys throughout the year and I would make comments of ‘hey guys, I get it. I didn’t recruit you, I wasn’t the coach who recruited you to this system, different styles.’ So I understand where there can be some disconnect.”
“When we got done playing…I reiterated that and told guys we’re going to have our meetings and to do some self-reflecting and look themselves in the mirror and figure out if they want to be a part of this moving forward. So a few of the guys we assumed would go elsewhere.”
As for who is coming back, if the season started today the Phoenix would have seven players who are listed as freshmen on their roster including Lucas Stieber and Japannah Kellogg who will be third-year freshmen. Cem Kirciman and walk-on Ryan Claflin will also be listed as freshmen again thanks to the NCAA’s ruling this past October that the 2020/2021 season would basically be considered as a free year for all current players.
In addition to those returners, Green Bay will welcome three freshman newcomers in their highly regarded 2021 recruiting class which includes three of the top ten players in the state of Wisconsin’s class of 2021 in Kamari McGee, Brayden Dailey, and Cade Meyer.
“We’re extremely excited about those three,” Ryan said. “Who from that group will emerge and get minutes remains to be seen. It’s hard to come in as a freshman no matter what level you’re playing at – whether that’s high major, mid-major, D2, D3 – and play and be an impact guy right away.”
“Will those guys get a fair shake? Yeah, definitely. I think they’re great kids, hard workers, they come from winning programs so they know what it takes to win and be successful. We’re really excited about them and what they can bring and then blending in with the guys that are returning.”
Junior forward Manny Ansong and guard Blayton Williams are also expected to return as is sophomore guard Donavan Moore. Williams missed the entire 2020/2021 season due to injury while Moore only appeared in 7 games due to being hampered by a foot injury.
So with five scholarships and available, how will Green Bay go about filling those holes for next season? Scott Venci of the Green Bay Press Gazette reported that it is a “good bet” that Lucas Stieber will get one of the open scholarships next season, but that still leaves four open spots available.
And with plenty of minutes available, Green Bay could be an attractive spot for transfers as the portal continues to fill up with available players.
It is likely that the Phoenix will look for a graduate transfer or two as well as other Division I or junior college transfers to fill the remaining spots to help balance their roster a bit.
“I’m trying to wrap my head around all this and I’m racking my brain everyday as to how do you break up classes,” Ryan said on the radio show. “That’s kind of, as a coach and a staff, you think about trying to balance classes. But because everybody gets this year back we’ve got a guy like Lucas Stieber and Japannah Kellogg who, they’re going to be freshman again but they’re going to be juniors in school, so third year freshman, which I don’t know if it’s ever been done before. So trying to figure out how we piece this together and what route we take with junior college, maybe a transfer, grad transfer, it’s definitely going to be interesting.”
“We’ve got a list and we’ve got contacts and we’re just trying to sort through it and sort of piece together the puzzle that it is. Hopefully it’s a good one. We’ve got our good core and hopefully when we sprinkle in those other pieces they can blend right in with the rest of them.”
Green Bay landed 6’4″ shooting guard Mitch Listau, a transfer from Belmont with three seasons of eligibility remaining, last month and have been linked to a few other players in the transfer portal including 6’8″ Valparaiso transfer Jacob Ognacevic.
For many Green Bay fans, Ognacevic is one of the biggest “ones that got away” from the Linc Darner era. The 6’8″ big man from Sheboygan committed to Valparaiso after a dominant prep career at Sheboygan Lutheran High School and chose the Crusaders over scholarship offers from Green Bay, Milwaukee, Indiana State, DePaul, and UC Davis.
He took advantage of his size and did most of his damage around the basket in high school but evolved into more of a stretch four this past season at Valpo shooting an impressive 51.7% (30/58) on three pointers with more than half of his field goal attempts coming from behind the arc. He averaged 6.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 13 minutes per game as a true freshman for the Crusaders appearing in all 28 of the team’s games.
While the number of players entering the portal has slowed a bit, the number of players in the transfer portal continues to grow. The Phoenix will likely continue to be active in the portal trying to find the right guys to rebuild the program in the new direction the coaching staff is envisioning.
“Basketball never stops,” Ryan said on his radio show. “Recruiting never stops. So we are trying to figure out next steps and finalize our roster and that’s going to take some time in terms of what direction we really want to go because there’s still a lot of teams that are playing, so if we take that transfer route or junior college route or whatever the case may be. There’s still some good high school kids left out there.”
“We’re trying to balance some of those classes so we’ll see where that takes us.”