Transfers are all the rage right now. The NCAA Transfer Portal for D1 basketball had over two thousand transfers enter it once the 2020-21 season ended. There is a lot of talk about how this is hurting the game of college basketball. I don’t disagree with this. This is also happening at the high school, prep school and AAU levels. But not every transfer situation is negative. There are some true successes. In this article I am going to give my personal story on how transferring high schools helped me get into a D1 basketball program.
As an eighth grader I was 6’4’, 150 pounds. I was one of thirty five students in our class at The Sayre School in Lexington Ky. Sayre was a small private school that provided an excellent education, however I wanted to play at a larger high school to give myself a better chance of achieving my goal of earning a D1 basketball scholarship. At the time I lived on a farm in the country and our side of the road meant I was going to Tates Creek High School. I wanted to go to Henry Clay High School because it was known to have higher academics, the coach had won a state title and would eventually get inducted into the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame, and my mother had taught there. I had grown up cheering for the Henry Clay team. If we had lived on the other side of the county road I would have been in their district. To get around this I petitioned the school board that I wanted to take Russian 101 and Henry Clay was the only school in the city to offer it. This worked and in August of 1991 I began my career at my new high school which was one of the largest enrollments in the State of Kentucky.
I went through culture shock when I arrived. I didn’t know anyone and the high school was much larger than the one hallway we had at my previous school. I struggled academically in the large classes and basketball wise I was at a disadvantage because I was still a 6’4’’ skinny kid who still hadn’t yet gone through puberty. The Hall of Fame coach retired the summer before, and we had a first time head coach. On top of that I developed alopecia areata, which is an auto immune condition where your hair starts to fall out in patches. They don’t know what causes this, but one theory is stress, and boy was I stressed. To help the hair grow back I had monthly steroid injections into my scalp, which were terribly painful.
In practice the JV and Freshman team would go through our plays then go live against the varsity team. The two big guys I was guarding each day were eventual D1 players, 6’9’’ Mark McAfee (Samford) and 6’7” Mark Campbell (Morehead State). I could not move or stop them at all. I don’t know how much better they were getting and I certainly wasn’t gaining any skill except learning how to get pummeled in the paint. I played pretty good minutes on the freshman team, but there were only eight players. I didn’t play any minutes on JV my freshman year.
The summer after my freshman year I played on a very competitive AAU team that practiced in the local youth detention center. I learned how to play more physical and gained some weight that summer. My back up center on that team actually made it to the NBA for a short stint. The start of my sophomore year was about the same. I still had hair falling out (which if you grow your hair out and use hairspray in the right way, you can cover it), still struggled socially, and could not get ahead in basketball. I still barely played JV and was what would now be diagnosed as clinically depressed. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to keep living. How was I ever going to reach my goal of getting a D1 scholarship like the five other members of my family if I was in this situation? My parents reached the conclusion that I was not myself and maybe we should look at other options. We had tough conversations around our dinner table trying to figure out the best alternative:
-Stay at Henry Clay
-Transfer to my home district high school of Tates Creek
-Move in with my grandmother and go to high school in Indiana
There was another option that seemed like a long shot but we explored anyway. Lexington Catholic was at the time the number one team in the state. They featured a returning roster that had lost in the previous year’s state finals by only one point. They had a sophomore ranked in the top ten nationally. Could this be an option?
My father talked to Coach Danny Haney, and he was all on board. He knew I had good genetics (my father is 7’, my uncles are 6’9’’ and 6’10’’, my first cousin is 7’), solid grades, and actually was Catholic. They brought me over for a visit. I knew some kids in the hall from Sunday School, but was very nervous about going from my current team to such a powerhouse. It took a few lengthy conversations but we decided to make the jump. I told my current coach my decision and he graciously wished me luck.
My first day of school was a whirlwind. I transferred in mid-January so starting new classes was a challenge. But the first day of practice is what had me on edge. After school I got practice gear and was introduced to the team. Our next game was going to be the first game in the All A Tournament. In Kentucky each year all the small schools have a chance to win a state title. This tournament often includes nationally ranked teams. Our first game was in two days, and would be played at Rupp Arena, the 24,000 seat home court of the Kentucky Wildcats. We were playing against Paris High School and Alvin Sims. Alvin was averaging 30 points per game and had signed w/ Louisville. He even played a minute in the NBA. For my first day of practice I was to be Alvin Sims and the starters had to stop me from scoring. My instruction; shoot every time you catch it. This was much different than my practice a few days prior at my previous school. I could barely get a shot off on my new team that was chock full of eventual college players but I also knew immediately that I had to up my effort. After our dry run of guarding Alvin Sims, the big men went to the other basket to perform drills for 15 minutes with Chip Rupp. Chip’s grandfather was Hall of Fame coach Adolph Rupp and Chip had played at Vanderbilt and West Virginia. We did these big man drills every single practice.
From this point on I was a member of the number one team in the state. I immediately started on the JV team and actually got a few garbage minutes during varsity blow outs. This was a night and day difference from my previous team. Did I mention my hair started growing back once I transferred?
Fast forward to my senior year and I officially signed to do a post grad year at the Air Force Academy Prep School. My high school coach was on the phone constantly trying to get me and my teammates interest from college coaches. Since we had a Top 100 player on our team we played in national events which brought all of us more exposure. My senior year I had teammates who ended up going to Marshall, Georgia, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Northern Kentucky, Transylvania, and Centre. That grind every day in practice took my game to the next level.
My story is an instance where transferring was beneficial. Every player’s situation is different and unique. The key is to have trusted mentors who know what they are talking about. My goal was D1, and I would go to any length to make that a reality. A player has to know what what they want. A trainer who didn’t play in college or an uncle that doesn’t know all the pros and cons of transferring might not be the best to offer guidance. Talk to a lot of trusted people who have been around the game and don’t have oversized egos. This will be your best place to start. Also, don’t be the player that has a false sense of how good they are, looking for the mythical “perfect situation”.
My father was no stranger to the basketball world and guiding players to schools. He had helped his younger brother go through the college recruiting process, where he eventually chose the University of Kentucky. He had brought over foreign players and placed them at US prep schools. This experience, plus going to a program in Lexington Catholic that had a coach who told me the truth made my transfer experience beneficial. Coach Haney had nothing to gain by lying to us about playing time etc. It all would have to be earned. The Lexington Catholic program took my teammates and I to games in Alaska, Indiana, Ohio, Florida and Ireland during my time there. I am truly grateful for the experience and the opportunity.
Here is a great article from the guys at Pro Skills with questions to ask yourself before transferring: