‘Plan for chaos’: Roster upheaval dominates college hoops

Nov 5, 2022, 9:22 PM | Updated: Nov 6, 2022, 10:27 am
FILE - Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley watches during an NCAA college basketball game against...

FILE - Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley watches during an NCAA college basketball game against Stanford, Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Tempe, Ariz. Hurley had built Arizona State into a contender, taking the program to the cusp of a third straight NCAA Tournament in 2020. The pandemic cut that bid short and the Sun Devils haven't been the same since. That could change this season, a pivotal one for Hurley's tenure in the desert.(AP Photo/Darryl Webb, File)

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb, File)

              FILE - Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes shouts to the team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Louisville, Ky., Dec. 29, 2021. Forbes quickly built success for a long-struggling program. The test now is sustaining that in a time of transfers and roster turnover. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)
              FILE  -Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner appeals to a referee during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Duke on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Atlanta. Pastner and the Yellow Jackets are hoping to move past a poor 2021-22 season. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)
              Michigan State forward Malik Hall (25) talks with head coach Tom Izzo during the second half of an NCAA college exhibition basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
              Miami head coach Jim Larranaga speaks during the school's NCAA college basketball media day, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
              FILE - Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer walks on the court before the team's NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina in Durham, N.C., March 5, 2022. Scheyer has taken over a program led by a Hall of Fame coach who to many was the face of college basketball in Mike Krzyzewski. And there's a nearly complete roster overhaul with 11 new players after the latest wave of early NBA departures from last year's Final Four team, including No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)
              FILE - Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley watches during an NCAA college basketball game against Stanford, Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Tempe, Ariz. Hurley had built Arizona State into a contender, taking the program to the cusp of a third straight NCAA Tournament in 2020. The pandemic cut that bid short and the Sun Devils haven't been the same since. That could change this season, a pivotal one for Hurley's tenure in the desert.(AP Photo/Darryl Webb, File)
              FILE - Baylor head coach Scott Drew instructs his team in the second half of a second-round game against North Carolina in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, March, 19, 2022. If the latest spasm of conference realignment in college sports was supposed to spell doom for the Big 12 or Pac-12 — or for any other conference, for that matter — somebody forgot to tell the basketball coaches. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)
              FILE - North Carolina coach Hubert Davis reacts during the second half of a college basketball game against Kansas in the finals of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, April 4, 2022, in New Orleans. Four starters return from a team that showed off its best-case potential, while Davis has restocked a roster that was largely down to relying on an “Iron Five” starting lineup to close last year. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

Bobby Hurley knows what’s coming.

At some point in the months ahead, one of his Arizona State players will walk into his office with surprising news.

“There’s a guy on my team right now that mostly likely is going to transfer that I won’t even think that he’s going to transfer,” the coach said.

Just like that, it will be time to rework roster plans and search for a potential replacement. And that scenario is playing out across college basketball in the transfer portal era, illustrating how roster management has become a major challenge for coaches facing abrupt — and sometimes drastic — changes in a wild world of free agency.

“Coaches love to control things … control offense, control defense, control everything in your program so it doesn’t go haywire,” said coach Scott Drew of fifth-ranked Baylor. “And roster management is the hardest thing to control because you never know from one year to the next who will transfer, who will turn pro.

“It used to be most college (teams) were dealing with three, four new players a year,” Drew added. “Now more and more are dealing with six, seven, eight new players.”

The days are gone of confidently projecting how a team will look after a few years of players developing together. Instead, it’s a guess now that players can freely move to chase minutes or endorsement opportunities elsewhere — especially if they have an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic.

That has created a new coaching routine: spend the season essentially re-recruiting your own players to stay, then dive into the portal afterward to fill inevitable new roster holes.

“It’s more work intensive than ever in the spring,” said Hurley, who has four transfers and two scholarship freshmen as the season begins. “Even as your season’s winding down, you’re constantly communicating with your own players, trying to get a feel for where they are, what they might do or not do.

“And so that would give me an idea of what our roster could potentially look like based on what everybody’s going to decide to do here first. … Then the conversations begin in terms of trying to retool your roster.”

The October 2018 launch of the portal allowed athletes to declare transfer plans and for schools to contact them. But the NCAA’s move in April 2021 to grant athletes a one-time transfer without sitting out a year amounted to seismic change.

In its most recent data, the NCAA reported that 1,480 men’s basketball athletes in Division I entered their names in the portal from March to July 2021 as the rule was discussed and enacted, up from 810 for that range a year earlier. And 1,138 players — 769 undergraduates and 369 graduates – ultimately transferred during the 2020-21 sports season compared with 713 the previous year.

That would be the equivalent to nearly a quarter of scholarships (more than 4,700) available for 363 teams in Division I. And that accounts for only the first few months of what is now a full-on portal rush that has left coaches scrambling.

“You have to be in a position to pivot, alter and change,” said Hubert Davis at top-ranked North Carolina, which reached last year’s NCAA championship game.

Jon Scheyer, preparing for his debut season at seventh-ranked Duke, put it bluntly: “You do have to plan for chaos.”

At minimum, coaches face tougher decisions for building a roster for the season ahead, much less trying to map out years beyond.

“It’s a headache,” said Miami coach Jim Larranaga, fresh off the program’s first run to the NCAA Elite Eight. “Right now we have four seniors. I’d love to replace four seniors with four kids in high school. But that will make us so young next year that we can’t compete against the older and more experienced teams. So it’s a constant balancing. It’s like a seesaw.”

The challenge begins with determining how to use a program’s annual allotment of 13 scholarships. For many coaches, there’s little benefit to using them all, starting with the odds that players seeing little action will bolt.

“Are 13 guys going to play? No. So then who’s going to be unhappy?” Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes said. “Back in the days when I started, I redshirted guys. You say redshirt to somebody now, they think you’ve lost your mind.”

Scheyer — who is taking over for retired Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski — would prefer to hold back at least one scholarship annually to react to the unexpected.

“We want to be careful not to over-recruit to get where we have 13 scholarships,” said Scheyer, whose first team has two power-conference transfers among 11 new players. “Things happen late now so you want to make sure you have wiggle room and flexibility. That can be hard to predict.”

Hall of Famer Tom Izzo at Michigan State has noticed lower scholarship numbers across the sport — even with his own team having 10 recruited players this season.

“Why do a lot of schools have 11, 12, 10 guys on scholarship? Because they’re holding off for this, they’re holding off for that,” Izzo said. “Or they know they can’t keep 13 happy anymore. So there are kids that are not getting a scholarship in high school because everybody’s just going with the transfer. There’s some unintended consequences with this whole thing.”

Yet even as Izzo expressed qualms about the portal’s impact, he also was quick to say coaches “have to do what they have to do” in a time of quicker firings. He also said “I’m good” with however coaches adapt.

It was a reminder that change is here, and coaches can do little other than be ready for anything.

“You’ve got to do the best you can,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “I know that sounds kindergarten-ish. … You can’t be negative about it or complain about it. You’ve just got to accept: this is the deal, this is the climate we’re in, this is the landscape.”


AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawkins in Dallas and Larry Lage in East Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.


Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap


More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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‘Plan for chaos’: Roster upheaval dominates college hoops