By KEVIN McNAMARA
SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Who says the transfer game is about to wreck college basketball? Not David Cox, or at least not today.
Way back in April the University of Rhode Island basketball coach wasn’t too sure about that. He had watched two of his better players, two building blocks, cut out of Kingston in favor of what they felt were greener pastures.Ram fans everywhere were wondering what the heck was going on when Tyrese Martin bolted for a reunion with Dan Hurley in Storrs and then Jacob Toppin rolled the dice to join John Calipari’s One-and-Done Finishing School in Lexington, Ky. Mekhi Long bounced as well, this time to Old Dominion in search of a more ball-centric role.
“With this new rule everybody’s getting antsy,” Cox said at the time. “We become free agent coaches with this new rule. It’s a different game.”
The rule Cox was referring to was a proposed relaxing by the NCAA of the long-required one season in residence before regaining eligibility after a transfer. College basketball players everywhere planned on that rule to go through by June, but it did not. Now the plan is for it to be passed come January of 2021.
That meant one more summer of waiver applications if a transfer wanted to regain instant eligibility. At Rhode Island, the lineup of waivers all but stuffed the NCAA’s mailbox.
First working with Hurley and then as the Rams’ head man, Cox has grasped the prescription for winning in the Atlantic 10. He might not be able to lure any top 50, or many top 100, high school hotshots but that’s only one avenue on the recruiting trail. How about the over-looked prospect, the junior colleges, the transfer game? Those paths certainly can yield talent.
“We are facing a double-edged sword right now,” Cox said. “We recruit high-major guys and, for an assortment of reasons, get some of them. That’s been our recipe and it’s worked. But that dream to play at a higher level never really leaves them.”
So UConn and Kentucky roll at a higher level than Rhody. Even the diehards at the Coast Guard House would accept that fate. But instead of crawling up in some frustrated ball, Cox went to work on the opposite side of the transfer equation. If someone is transferring into Kentucky or Duke or Kansas, someone else is leaving those heavyweights. The back-and-forth yields talent, some going up and some going down.
Rhode Island hit the transfer waiver wire hard and landed twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell of Maryland), Jalen Carey (Syracuse), Malik Martin (Charlotte) and Allen Betrand (Towson). After working with the NCAA, all but Betrand wwere granted waivers and will be immediately eligible next season. Betrand will sit out until 2021-22 and have two years of eligibility remaining.
This was huge news for the Rams. Without the four new players Cox was looking at a team featuring Atlantic 10 shooting star Fatts Russell and a bushel of question marks. Now Russell has some serious help, and maybe won’t be counted on to shoot 15 times a game. Carey, for example, may become an ideal backcourt partner. He was the 38th ranked recruit in the Class of 2018 (via ESPN) out of Montclair, N.J. and saw steady minutes (12.2 per) as a freshman at Syracuse. Carey came back and was the starter at point guard in the Orange’s first two games last season but he injured his thumb and eventually was shelved for the season.
Makhi Mitchell, a 6-10 big man from Washington, D.C., was rated 70th in the Class of 2019 by ESPN. He made five starts for the Top 25 Terps as a freshman before some off-court issues around the Christmas break caused him and his twin brother to leave College Park. Mitchell is easily the most talented frontcourt player on the Rams’ roster. Add returnees Antwan Walker and Jermaine Harris to both Mitchells and Cox has the deepest collection of true big men the Rams have seen in several years.