No program is feeling the hit of players transferring up a level more than Albany.
Gone from the Great Danes are two of their top three scorers: junior guards Joe Cremo and David Nichols.
Cremo is off to Villanova to help the defending national champs stay in contention for the title after he averaged 17.8 points a game last season. Nichols will take his 14 points per game average to 2018 Elite Eight participant Florida State.
Cremo and Nichols made 76 and 57 3s, respectively, last season — shots that can easily translate from the America East to the Big East and ACC.
But guess who isn’t whining or complaining about the trend of players being groomed to leave and finish their careers at a higher level?
Albany coach Will Brown.
Brown is not lamenting the changing tide in the sport one bit.
And with good reason. Cremo and Brown may be the exception, as Brown said they both legitimately graduated from Albany in three years, using college-level credit before they even enrolled from high school to get a head start toward a degree.
They helped the Great Danes win 22 games last season, 21 two seasons ago and 24 as freshmen.
“Both have done a tremendous job in the classroom and both are good players,’’ Brown said. “I don’t look at the negatives. I look at the positives. These are two players who graduated in three years and neither one didn’t have a [Division I] scholarship offer out of high school [except for Albany].’’
Brown is hardly fighting the inevitable. He’s accepting it. There is a tier system that has developed within Division I and the trend of the legislation leaning toward the student-athletes are likely going to accelerate even more movement.
The Division I committee on academics recommended last month support for a rule change pushed to the Division I council transfer working group earlier in the year that would prevent coaches and schools from restricting aid to student-athletes after transferring. The same committee also supported that student-athletes who met a high academic standard (possibly a minimum of 3.0 to 3.3 paired up with progress toward a degree) could compete immediately one time upon transferring, regardless of sport.
These transfer rules could open more movement before a player gets to the Cremo/Nichols stage of being a graduate.
“It’s about the student-athlete,’’ Brown said. “We as coaches have to win games. But we have to be there for the student-athlete. We lost two talented players. But it creates opportunities for others. All of us have to adapt and adjust in the coaching profession.’’
Albany’s fellow America East conference member UMBC got lucky. The Retrievers could have easily lost Jairus Lyles. He started his career at VCU, had two monster seasons with UMBC where his average shot up from 0.6 to 23 and 18.9 points, respectively. He could have tried to move on for his senior season but stayed and averaged 20.2 a game, hit the game-winning shot to beat Vermont for the America East tournament title and helped lead UMBC to the historic 16 over 1 win against Virginia in the NCAA tournament.“Jairus could have left after last year,’’ said UMBC coach Ryan Odom. “But he chose to stay. It’s a case-by-case situation. Our president is so supportive and involved in their lives that they feel like they are giving up a connection that could pay long-term dividends for them in their post-hoops career.’’
Odom is right. Each case is different. But players, especially those who have graduated, may want to see how high a level they can play before exhausting their eligibility.
The graduate transfer market, which technically Cremo and Nichols fit — even as juniors since they will have their degrees — is on fire in the spring. Schools are constantly looking for a player to fit a need. Ohio State desperately needed another guard, one who had experience that could facilitate the offense and be an extended coach on the floor. The Buckeyes got that when former Michigan guard/graduate Andrew Dakich arrived. He ended up being a major piece in the Buckeyes' immediate turnaround under first-year coach Chris Holtmann.
“I’ve talked to a number of coaches at the higher level and when they get to March and April, there aren’t enough quality players to fill the scholarships,’’ Brown said. “If you take a grad transfer and he gives you just a little bit of success then it works out great. In the worst-case scenario, if it doesn’t work out, you have had only a seven to eight-month investment.’’
Brown is convinced the more movement within Division I will mean there will be some poaching of transfers from Division II and III. The success of Duncan Robinson at Michigan, who began his career at Division III Williams College is an example of a success story.
“I get it, kids don’t grow up wanting to play at Albany, but rather Kentucky, Duke or Kansas and we’re at risk of losing them,’’ Brown said. “Administrators today understand that. It’s hard to argue here if two kids who came in here and achieved at a such a high level GPA wise in three years.’’
Brown said Villanova and Florida State will be getting players who have had a high level of success and understand Division I basketball.
“Cremo is a gym rat and he got better and better every year,’’ Brown said. “Since his high school days all he has done is win. He’s a throwback. He loves the game and he loves working on his game.
“Nichols is a talented, athletic guard who can make high-level plays,’’ added Brown. “Just look at where they’re going: Joe is going to the defending national champs and David to an Elite Eight Florida State. That’s as good as it gets.’’
And Brown isn’t going to whine about who will fill the void. He said the politically correct thing by adding that they will do it by committee.
“I’m looking at the glass half full, not half empty,’’ Brown said. “No excuses. We’ll have different guys on different nights. I like the talent in our program. I’m confident we’ll be good.’’
Brown’s attitude is refreshing and needed. He gets it. He understands that to pull off consistency, even in a one-bid league is a monster challenge, but no more so than it is for a team from a multiple bid league. Coaches need to develop, coach and retain players. And when they don’t, they just have to regroup and march on.