Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Men's Transfers Having Big Impact For MAAC Teams

Twelve years ago it was a rare occurrence when a player transferred into the MAAC.

But, it was also a beneficial one.

Luis Flores wasn't the first player to come from a high-major program (Rutgers) to join a MAAC team (Manhattan), but even 12 years ago when the 6-foot-2 guard made that move after not getting a lot of playing time as a freshmen with the Scarlet Knights his transfer was a relatively rare one.

And, his contributions to Manhattan showed just how important it could be to conference programs to bring in a quality transfer.

The year before Flores became eligible to play for Manhattan the Jaspers had a 14-15 record. His play (2,046 points over just three seasons, the eighth-highest total in league history) helped turned Manhattan into a three-year mid-major level powerhouse.

Behind Flores Manhattan had three straight 20-victory seasons (68-21 overall) and won MAAC regular-season titles in his last two seasons.

But, in Flores' first season of eligibility there was only one other player in the MAAC (Eric Siegrist of Marist, who began his college career at St. Bonaventure) who had transferred down from a higher-level program.

Today, nearly every MAAC program has at least one transfer, and usually more.

This season there are only three conference men's programs without an active transfer, and those three (Siena and Marist, both 5-14; and Manhattan at 5-13) have the worst overall won-loss records of the 10 MAAC teams.

Niagara, the conference's top team (7-1) got its missing piece, a solid post player, when 6-8, 240-pound center Devon White became eligible this year after transferring in from La Salle.

Loyola won the conference's post-season tournament last year behind two transfers (forward Erik Etherly from Northeastern) and Jordan Latham (Xavier). This year, Etherly was voted by league coaches as the league's preseason Player of the Year and Latham, a reserve a year ago, has moved into the starting lineup. The Greyhounds are currently tied for second in the MAAC standings with a 6-2 conference record.

Iona won the MAAC's regular-season title last year with the help of Arizona transfer Momo Jones, who not only leads the conference in scoring this season but is third nationally on the scoring list this season.

The Gaels, after losing all-league caliber forward Mike Glover and conference Player of the Year Scott Machado from last season's team, reloaded by bringing in forward David Laury (who committed to two previous Division I programs, Western Kentucky and UMass, but played at neither), point guard Tevon Sledge (from Iowa State) and swingman Curtis Dennis (Toledo).

Laury is Iona's leading rebounder. Sledge leads the team in assists, and Dennis comes off the bench for Iona, which is tied for second with a 6-2 conference record so far.

No MAAC team has improved more than Canisius, which finished 1-17 in league play last season but is 5-3 so far this year.

The Golden Griffins could start nearly an entire team of players who began their college career elsewhere, including four brought in by previous coach Tom Parrotta.

Guard Isaac Sosa came in from Central Florida, post players Jordan Heath started his career at Robert Weslyan and Freddie Asprilla began at Kansas State and another guard, Harold Washington, transferred in from a junior college. A fifth transfer, point guard Billy Baron, followed his father and current Canisius coach Jim Baron, over from Rhode Island.

Baron is the team's leading scorer and leads the conference in assists. Washington, Sosa and Heath are the second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers for Canisius while Asprilla is a key post reserve.

Rider, one of three teams currently holding a share of second place in the league standings with a 6-2 record, also has a key transfer in guard Nurideen Lindsey (from St. John's), the Broncs' third-leading scorer.

A year ago Fairfield finished second in the conference standings behind two key transfers, forward Rakiim Sanders (Boston College), who led the Stags in scoring and rebounding; and guard Desmond Wade. Sanders has graduated, but Wade is still with Fairfield and he leads the team in assists this season.

And Saint Peter's also has two starters that began their respective college playing days elsewhere. Guard Desi Washington (a transfer from Delaware State) leads the Peacocks in scoring, while forward Patrick Jackson (Rutgers) has made 11 starts and is a solid role player.

In all, by unofficial count, there are at least 15 players throughout the MAAC who came into the conference after first playing at another four-year school. The top five positions in the current conference standings are occupied by schools with at least one key transfer.

"It definitely is becoming a league of transfers," said Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro, who said he prefers to bring in recruits directly from high school or prep school programs. "It (bringing in transfers) is a different way of doing things. For sure the transfer element has made some programs better."

The programs most likely to bring in recruits are those close to the large metropolitan areas that produce more high-level Division I programs. Often, when one of those players finds playing time difficult to come by at the high-major level, he transfers down to a mid-major program close to home.

That helps explain why Siena and Marist, whose upstate New York areas produce relatively few high-major level players, rarely get a drop-down transfer while schools like Iona, Manhattan (which has 6-10 forward Ashton Pankey from Maryland, who becomes eligible next season, on its roster) and Loyola more likely to attract returning-home transfers.

"Transfers are certainly hit or miss," said Saint Peter's coach John Dunne. "Sometimes you're not 100 percent sure of what you're getting. But, if you get the right one ....

"It's great if you can get a good transfer," said Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos, who during his nine-year tenure at the Baltimore school has brought in more transfers, many of them from the University of Maryland, where he was once an assistant coach, than any other MAAC program.

"With us it's been about one out of two (in terms of getting the desired on-court results. We've had, probably, 10 over my nine years. Five have done great on the court, and the others not so well.

"Etherly has been unbelievable. (Shane) Walker (a transfer from Maryland, who graduated after last season) was very functional for us. This is a great drop-down league with schools located in the New York Metropolitan area and Baltimore. A lot of guys want to come home.if they don't have the experience they expected at the higher level. And, that's only logical considering the location of some of our schools and the reputation of our league.

"We got Latham (a Maryland native) in from Xavier and Etherly from the middle of Virginia, areas close to us. But, you can't be afraid to stick your nose in there recruiting (higher-level players from a program's "home" region). It helped us get Latham, who was a top-100 rated player coming out of high school, the type player we don't usually get.

"The other thing is that you can't be a pound-it-out, grind-it-out program. If you run, and you have strong academics ... those things combined are attractive. The MAAC has always done a good job in terms of its teams being willing to play up tempo. As far back as Lionel Simmons (at La Salle in the late 1980s), the league has always had scorers. The kids see that, and that makes our league attractive, too."

Attractive enough for more drop-down transfer than ever before to come into the MAAC, a place where transfers rarely landed just a little more than a decade ago.

But, they're coming to the MAAC in big numbers in recent years and the benefits are as evident as this year's regular-season standings.

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