Mark Byington has spent more than three months as a men's basketball coach at James Madison unable to take a recruiting trip or meet personally with the eight players who joined his program during the coronavirus pandemic.
But it's comforted a bit because five of the newcomers have Division I experience. He hopes the older players will provide some stability in these uncertain times for college athletics, highlighting the improved value of transfers for coaches who changed jobs. after last season and are trying to build new shows.
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"We wanted to grow old," said Byington, who left Georgia Southern for the Colonial Athletic Association program. "And the best evaluations we could get during a pandemic was looking at the guys who played against other Division I players."
Twenty Division I programs have changed coaches since March, when the pandemic closed college and professional sports, as well as in-person recruitment. Wake Forest is the only Power Five conference school to do so after firing Danny Manning and hiring Steve Forbes from the state of East Tennessee.
Other notable changes include Hall of Famer Rick Pitino going to Iona, former Vanderbilt and Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew moving to the Grand Canyon, former Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy returning to his alma mater at UAB, and former assistant. Michigan and Texas Luke Yaklich taking office at Illinois-Chicago. And there's former Kentucky and Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie taking over at Tarleton State, which begins the transition Wednesday to Division I.
They have reinforced their first recruiting classes with multiple transfers, from Division I graduates to college additions. Some pledged when the NCAA considered changing the exemption process to allow all Division I athletes to transfer once without staying out of a season, although that was delayed as the NCAA considers changes to the legislation in January.
It is unclear how many transfers will receive an exemption to play immediately or must be left out for a year.
That is, of course, every time a season could take place while the pandemic continues. That's why ACC Network analyst and former Notre Dame player Jordan Cornette pointed out more than talent and fitted in with the value of a transfer.
Maturity "comes into play with transfers," Cornette said. “Those are the ones that he will support greatly because they have shown that they can make the leap from high school to college. They can manage their academics. They can play at this level. They can be competitive. They can be voices.
"That is proven. … And now we need them to be more mature than ever because of what is happening in the world and the uncertainty of the sport right now."
That includes when teams can return to "normal" recruitment.
On Thursday, the NCAA extended a downtime through August for all Division I sports. Coaches are prohibited from performing in-person activities, such as traveling to meet with a recruit or bringing one in for an official visit. They rely on phone calls, text messages, and Zoom meetings to communicate with recruits, as well as returnees scattered across the country as campuses close due to the pandemic.
But in many cases they don't have the information to personally evaluate a player's game or observe something as subtle as body language. A transfer, particularly from Division I, could offset some risks with experience.
"There's definitely a value, if it's the correct transfer, I'll add," said Drew, whose first class includes transfers from Division I Asbjorn Midtgaard (Wichita State), Dima Zdor (Weber State) and Sean Miller-Moore (State of Oregon).
“Some players transfer because there is a reason why they transfer and it is not good. And then there are others they are transferring to for a new start and a new opportunity. "
Wake Forest and James Madison aim to take advantage with five Division I transfers, while UAB and UIC joined the Grand Canyon with three.
For the Demon Deacons, Forbes inherited two guards: high-scoring graduate Ian DuBose of Houston Baptist and Isaiah Wilkins of Virginia Tech, who got engaged before the coach change in late April. He added UNLV graduate Jonah Antonio, guard Daivien Williamson after training him two years at ETSU, and Tennessee graduate Jalen Johnson, who became engaged to the Buccaneers before following Forbes to Wake Forest.
"If you fail a high school player, that could be three or four years on your show," Forbes said. “Where if you lose a transfer or a graduation transfer, it could be one or two. So it's not perfect. We are not in perfect science. You really don't know anyone until you get it on campus. "
The Dukes will have UAB graduate guard Rashawn Fredericks next season. They are seeking immediate eligibility exemptions for great man Joel Mensah (San Diego state), wing TJ Taylor (Wyoming), guard Vado Morse (Mount St. Mary & # 39; s) and guard Jalen Hodge (Louisiana-Monroe ). Each has at least two years of Division I experience.
At UIC, Yaklich knew that the Flames needed experienced guards. So they added Division I juniors on the rise at forward Zion Griffin of Iowa State, Chattanooga guard Maurice Commander and guard Teyvion Kirk, who played two years in Ohio and came out red in the state last year. from Colorado. They also added two high school guards.
Others like Pitino in Iona and new West Illinois coach Rob Jeter turned in with juco players with four each, while Jeter's class includes two Division I transfers and one Division III transfer.
"Whether it's junior college or four-year transfers, there's obviously more concrete information and background on what they can do: more videos, more statistics, more opportunities to talk to people," said Yaklich, a former assistant at John Beilein and Shaka Smart.
"If the pandemic hadn't hit, would things be different? Maybe," he said of the heavy transfer approach. "But I think by recruiting, you have a way of working out."