Precious Okoh of the University of Maine (left) defends against Virginia's Kihei Clark during a game in November 2019. Okoh, a non-scholarship player, is about four athletes transferring off the UMaine squad. Credit: Andrew Shurtleff / AP

Transfers have made a significant impact on the makeup of NCAA Division I men’s basketball rosters in recent seasons.

With the University of Maine’s 2020-21 men’s basketball season halted early after a 2-7 start because of COVID-19 issues, four players are departing. Freshman Wol Maiwen of Auburn, sophomores Precious Okoh and Veljko Radakovic and redshirt junior Mykhailo “Misha” Yagodin have declared their intent to transfer from this winter’s 16-member squad.

“Everybody’s situation is going to be different, but one of the things the [NCAA transfer] portal does is that there used to be more of a stigma about going through that process, but now with both social media and the portal it’s just very public,” UMaine head coach Richard Barron said. “I wouldn’t read too much into it.”

The number of players transferring from Division I programs has stabilized between 648 and 704 annually over the past four years. But with more than 350 Division I programs, that averages out to approximately two transfers per team each year.

Also consider that 40 percent of all men’s basketball players who enter Division I directly out of high school depart their initial school by the end of their sophomore year, according to the NCAA, and the transient nature of major college basketball is clear.

For some players it’s a search for playing time. For others it’s academic concerns, the search for scholarship dollars and the chance to play at a higher or more appropriate level. Or, more recently, it’s the opportunity to play at another school while pursuing a graduate degree.

The UMaine men’s program has had numerous transfers leave over the years. Reasons include the campus’ remote location and accompanying cold winter weather, as well as its competitive struggles. The Black Bears have a 40-156 record (.204) over the last seven seasons and have not won a postseason game since 2005.

Transferring to another school is easier than ever and involves a player entering his name into the NCAA transfer portal, a listing created in 2019 as a way to facilitate the process by showing coaches which student-athletes intend to transfer.

Players, meanwhile, also often announce their plans to transfer on social media.

“For people like Misha, the chance to try to do graduate work on something with an extra year of eligibility is there, and I think the motivation for Precious [a walk-on] is to try to find some scholarship money,” Barron said.

There could be a surge in Division I transfers during the upcoming offseason after the NCAA granted all 2020-21 student-athletes an extra year of eligibility because of factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That means every player on every Division I roster conceivably could return to their current team next season, or transfer elsewhere. College coaches will seek to improve their rosters by recruiting at the high school and junior college levels as well as mining the transfer portal.

“Without question there’s a lot more players available than ever before so I don’t think there’s any doubt that’s going to contribute to an increase in people in that portal, no doubt at all,” Barron said.

The comparative glut of players may make for some difficult decisions for players and coaching staffs alike with the squeeze on for playing time.

“There’s not necessarily more scholarships, there’s just more people with eligibility, more people ready to go to college coming out of high school, more people ready to go from junior college to Division I, and more people who could stay and keep playing because they’ve got the extra year of eligibility,” Barron said.

“We want kids to be at the right place for whatever their circumstances are and we want us to get the right people,” he added.

Barron said those dynamics won’t change how he and his staff recruit for the coming year and beyond.

“Obviously, we recruit to get the best team we possibly can. I think that’s really the only motivation with recruiting,” he said.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...