On the surface, the numbers don’t look good. That’s for sure.
Green Bay has lost an entire roster’s worth of players to the transfer portal in the past two offseasons, 16 players to be exact. That number does not include Donovan Ivory, who was dismissed from the program earlier this year, or Mitch Listau who decided to retire from basketball following this past season.
But it does include players like Amari Davis and Kamari McGee, who left the program to try and play at the highest level of college basketball, as well as players like Paris Taylor and Jacob Jones who wound up outside of the Division I level.
It’s part of a growing trend in college basketball that is here to stay. More than 1,200 players have entered the transfer portal in each of the past two offseasons, an average of more than three players per Division I team.
“I found my way here via the transfer portal,” Will Ryan joked in New Orleans back on 4/1 in an interview on WSCO radio from the Final Four. “I don’t have an answer for you quite yet on how to navigate our way through this. Uncharted territory.”
“I’m all for the student athletes having freedom of movement and more power so to speak. It’s one of those things where commitment and loyalty maybe aren’t prized possessions anymore and its tough. It’s tough on mid-majors like us.”
“Just bumping into all the coaches around here, everybody’s talking about it. Because we see it on Twitter or social media every second of the day somebody else is going in the transfer portal.”
The Phoenix have lost 8 players to the portal in each of the past two seasons, mainly due to a coaching change and the ensuing style of play change that resulted in a lot of players not being a fit for the new system.
The late coaching change – Linc Darner wasn’t fired until May 17, 2020 with Ryan officially hired on June 6 – likely made it too late for the kind of wholesale roster changes that usually follow in the weeks after a coaching change. Cleveland State, for example, has already lost at least 8 players to the transfer portal in the few weeks since Dennis Gates left the program for Missouri this offseason.
Of the 16 Green Bay players that have transferred out in the past two years, 13 were recruited to the school by Darner and his staff.
Also of note, of the 8 players that left the program in 2021, only 3 remained at the Division I level – Josh Jefferson (Middle Tennessee State), PJ Pipes (Santa Clara), and Amari Davis (Missouri). That trend is likely to continue this offseason as well with Kamari McGee (Wisconsin) and Donavan Moore (Lindenwood, which is transitioning from DII to DI) the only players to find a Division I home so far.
Three players (Pipes, Jefferson, and Manny Ansong) had played their four seasons of college basketball before transferring from Green Bay to take advantage of their bonus season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a trend that is happening all across the mid-major level.
There have been a few instances of the transfer portal helping mid-major programs like Green Bay – for example Sandy Cohen and his successful stint with the Phoenix, or Jamal Cain, who was the Horizon League Player of the Year for Oakland this past season after transferring from Marquette.
But it seems like for every Cohen or Cain there are two McGees and Davis’s.
“It’s free agency,” Ryan said. “I don’t know if we need to set up, like Coach Gard and I need to set up to where if he’s got guys leaving maybe they trickle down to us and if we’ve got guys that we’ve developed and now they’re maybe high major players we can send them up like the minor leagues, I don’t know,” Ryan joked prior to McGee’s decision to leave the program and ultimately end up with the Badgers.
“It’s one of those things where I believe that you go where you’re wanted and you get better, you cherish the time you spend with your teammates, your coaches, and not always look for the next best thing. Grow where you’re watered, and win.”
“Now, if you’re putting up numbers and you have a chance to fulfill your dream of playing high major basketball, I’m all for that.”
Green Bay hasn’t been alone in feeling the sting of losing top players to the transfer portal. Horizon League Tournament champion Wright State is losing two of its best players – Tanner Holder and Grant Basile – to the portal, Oakland is losing one of its most promising players in Micah Parrish, and Milwaukee lost arguably its top player from a season ago DeAndre Gholston.
“I think it hurts the league,” Ryan said. “If your best players are leaving and going high major or different schools, it hurts maybe the perception of our mid-major league.”
The portal has taken more than it has given during the Ryan era in Green Bay. And while Listau was a promising addition last season from Belmont only to have his season derailed by injuries, the Phoenix missed out on several other potential portal additions including players like Ryan Schmitt (Illinois State) and Sheboygan native Jacob Ognacevic (Lipscomb).
It’s a bit of an unfortunate reality but winning in the portal has become a necessary part of building a roster in today’s college basketball.
“It’s one of those things, now you can’t build classes and that’s kind of all I knew, how I grew up,” Ryan said. “….’Okay we’ve got three guys graduating, now we bring in three new freshman or maybe a junior college or maybe a transfer,’ now it’s just every year you’re kind of recruiting a new roster.”
Green Bay is coming off one of the worst seasons in the program’s history but still has plenty to offer potential prospects, including loads of playing time and a promising young core that includes soon-to-be sophomore Cade Meyer, redshirt freshman Brayden Dailey, and highly regarded 2022 recruit Donavan Short. The Phoenix still have five scholarships to fill and are incredibly thin at the guard spots.
Still, in the transfer portal era you can turn things around fairly quickly by adding an impact player or two. Green Bay has been linked to Neenah native Max Klesmit, a Wofford transfer, as well as Alec Rosner, a Division II transfer from Winona State, among others.
There are still plenty of junior college transfers available – the Phoenix have extended scholarship offers to a trio of 6’5” JUCO guards – and a few talented high school players available as well including Westosha Central’s Jack Rose and Fox Valley Lutheran’s Josiah Butler.
“There’s still a lot of really good players out there and now it’s just maybe a little more work for us because now you really are constantly recruiting this time of year, whereas you thought you had your classes done and you’re ready for summer workouts with your guys,” Ryan said.
“Everything’s so fluid and there’s so many moving parts.”