It’s become a common refrain in recent years, as college basketball transfer rules have relaxed and thousands of players gained an extra year of playing eligibility, that high school players are finding it much more difficult to find a college roster to join.
Basically, as incoming Siena men’s basketball freshman Michael Eley puts it: “It’s really all about the portal these days.”
As UAlbany and Siena restocked their rosters for the 2022-23 season, the incoming players for the programs provided a vivid reminder of how Division I men’s college basketball has changed in recent years. Combined, the number of transfers joining the programs outpaced the number of scholarship freshmen, while the number of incoming freshmen joining the programs as preferred walk-on players matched those with scholarships.
The NCAA granted every player that competed during the 2020-21 season an extra year of playing eligibility due to restrictions that year related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Combined with the continued surge in players entering into the NCAA transfer portal as it’s become easier to move from one school to another, the abundance of available veteran players able to play right away has led to many coaches reloading their programs with transfers rather than freshmen.
A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Eley did a postgraduate year at Florida Sports Academy this past season. A 6-foot-5 guard with the ability to score in a variety of ways, Eley said it was a tough process that made him “mentally stronger” as he tried to find the right college fit over the last few years while competing for those spots with players within the transfer portal that are several years older than him.
“There’s a lot of guys that are getting under-recruited right now,” Eley said.
Malik Edmead, one of UAlbany’s incoming transfers, has experienced that from both sides. A 5-foot-10 guard from Long Island who played his first two college seasons at Merrimack, Edmead laughed as he recalled that he “knew where I was going right away” out of high school since he was picking between only two schools. Seeking a different opportunity after two seasons playing in the Northeast Conference, though, Edmead had a much different experience. Edmead’s phone buzzed often, and “15, 20 schools” showed significant interest in the guard who averaged 9.4 points per game last season and has three more seasons to play.
“It was a pretty fun process for me,” Edmead said of the attention he received. “I’m not going to lie.”
Edmead is one of four transfers joining head coach Dwayne Killings’ program for next season. For one of them, guard Sarju Patel, UAlbany will be his third college, and he said the difference in how eased transfer rules have changed the game was evident to him. When Patel transferred from Virginia Military Institute to Cornell after the 2018-19 season, the interest he received was significantly less than this time. For Patel’s first transfer, he said the interest of most schools waned when it was realized he’d likely — and did — need to sit out a season. Nowadays, even though players are only guaranteed a one-time transfer waiver, it’s seemingly become the norm that players can expect to be able to transfer multiple times without needing to sit out.
So, now 24 years old and coming off a season that saw him score 9.4 points per game and make 34.7% of his 3-point attempts, Patel heard from quite a few more suitors than he did a few years ago.
“This time, it was around 30,” Patel said.
Ironically, part of what made Siena such an appealing option for Eley, though, was the transfer portal. When Colby Rogers — Siena’s leading scorer last season — exited from the program, the Saints had a need for a big guard who could score. A year after reloading his program largely through the transfer portal, Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello targeted Eley as someone who could compete right away for minutes a year after two freshmen — Jared Billups and Javian McCollum — did just that for the Saints.
“Definitely, I was big on that, because as a freshman you want to be able to come in and play,” Eley said. “But you have to work up to your spot. It starts with putting in the work.”
Eley said Siena assistant coach Bobby Castagna helped lead the Saints’ recruitment of him, and that the school offered a lot that the future business major liked. Eley praised the way the Saints interacted with one another during his visit to the school, gushed about the school’s facilities and said he was happy to have landed at a “smaller school where I can focus on my studies.”
“I’ve been waiting to play at the college level,” Eley said. “I’m excited Siena gave me that opportunity.”
Barring any further developments, both the UAlbany and Siena men’s basketball programs recently finished filling their open scholarships for next season. Division I men’s basketball teams are allowed to use 13 scholarships each season.
Siena announced Friday the addition of San Jose State transfer Eduardo Lane, a 6-foot-11, 240-pound center. After adding seven transfers last offseason, Lane — who didn’t play the last two seasons due to injury, but is now healthy — is the only transfer Siena added this offseason.
Besides Lane — who averaged 3.3 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.2 minutes per game in the 2019-20 season — and Eley, Siena added incoming freshmen Zekeriya Yigit “Zach” Tekin and Sveinn Birgisson as scholarship players this offseason, as well as incoming freshmen Mason Courtney, Brendan Coyle and Killian Gribben as preferred walk-on players.
Along with returning Saints Jordan Kellier (Jamaica) and Steven Lazar (Canada), the additions of Birgisson (Iceland), Gribben (Ireland), Lane (Brazil) and Tekin (Turkey) gives Siena six players born outside the United States on its roster.
UAlbany filled its open scholarships for the 2022-23 season with one scholarship freshman in Hudson Falls native Jonathan Beagle, transfers Da’Kquan Davis (Arcadia), Edmead (Merrimack), Japannah Kellogg III (Green Bay) and Patel (Cornell), and by awarding a scholarship to Tairi Ketner after the center served as a walk-on during his freshman 2021-22 campaign.
Marcus Jackson, an Amsterdam native, will serve as a preferred walk-on for UAlbany next season.
In total, the 13 players joining the Capital Region’s Division I men’s basketball programs consist of five transfers, four scholarship freshmen and four walk-on freshmen.
Former Siena women’s basketball head coach Ali Jaques, who spent this past season working as a color analyst, has started work as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for Seton Hall head coach Anthony Bozzella’s program.
A New Jersey native, Jaques was Siena’s head coach for nine seasons before she was dismissed from the position following the 2020-21 season. Seton Hall announced her hire Thursday.
“Ali’s overall experience and thorough understanding of this level set her apart and is a real benefit to our players and staff,” Bozzella said in the school’s statement announcing the hire. “I’ve known Ali a long time. She’s had success as both a head coach and assistant coach, and I think she will really bolster our recruiting efforts. I’m excited to have her join us.”
Inside the Capital Region, both Division I men’s basketball programs have not announced yet who will fill an open spot for an assistant coach on each staff.
UAlbany has an opening after assistant coach Matt Griffin left to take the same position at Florida Gulf Coast, which also hired former UAlbany director of recruiting and video KJ Baptiste as an assistant coach. Besides Baptiste and Matt Griffin, former Siena player Kyle Griffin is an assistant coach for Pat Chambers at Florida Gulf Coast.
To replace Baptiste, Killings promoted Matt Cioce from his role as a graduate assistant.
At Siena, Maciariello hired Derek Brooks as the Saints’ new director of basketball operations, a position that Matt Miner vacated to work with ShotQuality, a basketball analytics company. Brooks graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
The Saints are also replacing Marcus King as an assistant coach on their coaching staff, but that replacement has not yet been announced.