Roster News

Transfer portal likely to be key in rebuilding program, balancing roster

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.”

Photo via Green Bay Athletics

So who are some potential names that could end up in Green Bay? The transfer portal already has more than 500 names in it with more being added by the minute it seems, especially with the NCAA expected to make it so one-time transfers no longer have to sit out a season as previously required.

Here are a few names that are in the transfer portal today that could be available and may have interest in the Phoenix (last update 4/2):

Mason Madsen | 6’4″ G | Cincinnati

Mason Mason wasn’t too far behind his twin brother Gabe into the transfer portal posting his decision to leave the Cincinnati program on Twitter on March 17th.

Mason played as a true freshman for the Bearcats this season appearing in 15 of Cincinnati’s 23 games and averaging 6.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game in those 15 games as a true freshman. He also knocked down 32.2% (19/59) of his three point attempts this season including a 5 for 9 outing against East Carolina back on March 7th during a game in which he scored a career high 19 points. A 3-star recruit, he chose Cincinnati over scholarship offers from Green Bay – which was the first to offer back in June of 2017 – and about 15 other mid-major offers as well as offers from Xavier and Colorado State.

He would be an instant impact player for Green Bay with four years left to play if he is looking for immediate playing time closer to home.

Marlon Ruffin | 6’5” SF | Nebraska-Omaha

Ruffin is another player that was on Green Bay’s radar coming out of high school but was never offered a scholarship by the previous coaching staff. He instead went the junior college route for one season before landing at Nebraska-Omaha in the Summit League where he has been a standout performer. The Sun Prairie, Wisconsin native was named the Summit’s Sixth Man of the Year award winner last season and was an honorable mention all-league pick this season after averaging 13.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 38.3% from beyond the arc.

His versatility with his size and athleticism as well as his shooting range make him an intriguing prospect that would make an instant impact for Green Bay next season.

Ruffin is another Playground Warriors alum and has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Terrence Lewis | 6’6” G | Iowa State / South Alabama

If the name Terrence Lewis rings a bell that’s because he is a former four star recruit from Milwaukee Riverside High School that played three seasons at Iowa State. Ranked #2 in the state of Wisconsin’s 2017 class behind only Jordan Poole – who is currently playing for the Golden State Warriors – Lewis played 70 games over three seasons in Ames before deciding to transfer after the 2019/2020 season to South Alabama. He ended up suffering an offseason knee injury and never played a game for the Jaguars this past season.

He averaged 6.0 points and 1.9 rebounds in 13.0 minutes per game as a junior at Iowa State and shot 34.2% from behind the arc.

At 6’6”, he has great size for a guard and if the coaching staff determines he is a good fit for the program, he could be a good low risk / high reward type gamble on a player with one season of eligibility remaining.

Parker Fox | 6’8″ PF | Northern State

The Phoenix coaching staff hit a home run bringing Manny Ansong up to Green Bay from the Division II level and may be looking for other proven guys who could make the jump up to Division I as well.

One such player is one of the hottest names on available on the transfer market it seems – athletic 6’8″ forward Parker Fox from Northern State. The Minnesota native was recently named a D2 All-American after averaging 22.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game at NSU this past season.

An explosive athlete that has burst onto the scene after receiving only one Division II scholarship offer out of high school, he has two seasons of eligibility left and is receiving high major interest from teams across the country since putting his name in the transfer portal. There is an obvious connection to the current Green Bay coaching staff as Swanson spent a season as an assistant at Northern State with Fox and Ryan spent more than a dozen years as an assistant for the current head coach there, Saul Phillips.

Jacob Ognacevic | 6’8″ PF | Valparaiso

For many Green Bay fans, one of the biggest “ones that got away” from the Linc Darner era is Sheboygan native Jacob Ognacevic. The 6’8″ big man 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.

He was the state’s top rated mid-major prospect in Mark Miller’s final 2020 player rankings, ranking fourth overall behind Jalen Johnson (Duke), Johnny Davis (Wisconsin), and Carter Gilmore (Wisconsin).

Ognacevic has four seasons of eligibility remaining and would be a perfect plug and play option for the swing offense that values big men that can play inside and out.

Lukas Frazier | 6’5″ SG | Dayton

Another player that the current Green Bay staff has a bit of a connection to is Dayton transfer Lukas Frazier.

The 6’5″ freshman from Mentor, Ohio was a 3-star recruit coming out of high school and was recruited by Ryan and Swanson when they were on the staff at Ohio in 2018 but Frazier eventually chose Dayton over scholarship offers from nearly a dozen programs including four from the Horizon League.

He was lightly used at Dayton this year playing a total of 7 minutes over 2 games. He will have four seasons of eligibility remaining.

Previously listed but have since committed:

Jake LaRavia | 6’8″ PF | Indiana State – Committed to Wake Forest on 3/17

Kevion Taylor | 6’5” SG | Winona State – Committed to Valparaiso on 3/25

Isaac Lindsay | 6’4″ SG | UNLV – Committed to Wisconsin (walk-on) on 3/26

Tre Williams | 6’7″ C | Indiana State – Committed to Duquesne on 3/29

Jared Kimbrough | 6’8″ PF | La Salle – Committed to Hartford on 3/29

Mitch Listau | 6’4″ SG | Belmont – Committed to Green Bay on 3/30

Robert Jones | 6’10” C | Denver – Committed to Iowa State on 4/1

Jordan McCabe | 6’0″ PG | West Virginia – Committed to UNLV on 4/1

Matt Faw | 6’9″ PF | Holy Cross – Committed to NJIT on 4/2

Gabe Madsen | 6’3″ SG | Cincinnati – Committed to Utah on 4/2

Scott Blakney | 6’8″ PF | Idaho – Committed to Montana on 4/3

The number of players in the transfer portal continues to grow and will likely rapidly continue to grow as we get later into April as the season has officially ended for teams across the country.

The Phoenix will likely be active in the transfer 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.”

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