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Iowa State has been the first transfer team in college basketball since they started playing football. The school is one of the top teams in the country and will be looking to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. Read more in detail here: iowa state football.
Fred Hoiberg had a problem eight years before the NCAA launched the transfer portal amid a swelling tide of players moving to other schools.
Hoiberg had just been appointed as the head coach of his old university, Iowa State, and he didn’t want to wait for a group of inexperienced freshmen to mature into champions. In recent years, Iowa State has had difficulty attracting five-star players. In the ten years prior to Hoiberg’s arrival, the Cyclones had only produced two NBA first-round choices. His possibilities for fast development were restricted without a robust recruitment pipeline.
He summoned his staff and asked them how Iowa State, which had gone 15-17 the previous season and had only made one NCAA tournament trip in the preceding decade, could compete with Kansas, the Big 12’s perennial juggernaut.
T.J. Otzelberger, who was an assistant on Hoiberg’s staff at the time and is now the head coach in Ames, said, “Fred was like, ‘How can we get the talent in here the fastest?” “And it didn’t seem like we were getting any five-star players. ‘Well shot, if that’s what we’re on, we’re definitely going to have to take some transfers,’ I said when Fred walked in.”
Hoiberg would tap into a pipeline that elite schools had mostly ignored in favor of outstanding freshmen who would only remain for a year but might provide their teams a shot at the national championship right away. The 2011-12 Iowa State Cyclones, whose roster was nearly completely made up of transfers, achieved something unexpected in the NCAA tournament, defeating reigning national champion UConn in the first round and battling eventual winner Kentucky before falling to the Wildcats in the second round. By combining transfers with returning veterans for a quick, just-add-water ascent, Hoiberg and his 2011-12 Cyclones gained national praise and laid the groundwork for other clubs to follow a decade later.
Hoiberg is currently the head coach at Nebraska, where he has a record of 24-67, in a college basketball setting that sees more transfers and greater competition for that talent every year. During his five-year time at Iowa State, he struggled to convert Lincoln, Nebraska, into the popular destination for outstanding transfers that Ames, Iowa, had become. Hoiberg, who was once regarded as a transfer market pioneer, is now, like every Division I coach, attempting to recruit high-level players from other schools in an era where players can compete immediately and are influenced by lucrative name, image, and likeness (NIL) agreements.
“When I took over at Iowa State, there weren’t [1,600] students in the gateway,” he remarked. “It was a small group of people. And some of them left, which was the correct decision. Some people leave, and it doesn’t turn out to be what they expected.”
Due to NCAA transfer regulations, Chris Allen, Chris Babb, and Royce White were forced to sit out the 2010-11 season. This enabled them to develop team camaraderie, which only helped them thrive in 2011-12. Courtesy Athletics at Iowa State
During the 2011-12 season, however, Hoiberg’s transfers thrived at their new institution.
Minnesota’s Royce White, Penn State’s Chris Babb, and Michigan State’s Chris Allen all came in Ames after the 2009-10 season and sat out the next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. White (13.4 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game, 5.0 assists per game, 1.2 steals per game in 2011-12 and all-Big 12 first team) was a 6-foot-8 point guard with the strength to post up any opponent, making him a difficult matchup for any team in the nation. Babb averaged 7.8 points each game. That year, Allen hit 37 percent of his 3-point tries. Scott Christopherson, a two-year transfer from Marquette, averaged 12.6 points per game and shot 46 percent from outside the arc. Melvin Ejim was the lone non-Division I transfer starter in Hoiberg’s rotation that season.
In collegiate basketball, it was a different era. After the 2011-12 season, little over 400 players (compared to 1,600 currently) went to other institutions. The only two Division I transfers on the Big 12’s first, second, and third teams that year were White and Christopherson.
Hoiberg’s choice to recruit and initiate transfers, which was widely seen as a hazardous move at the time, was motivated by his 10-year NBA experience, during which he was a member of clubs that improved via free agency and trades. He thought the same strategy would work at the college level. His free-flowing, pro-style system drew players who sought to follow in their coach’s footsteps into the NBA in the 1990s.
“I played on an Indiana Pacers club for four seasons early in my [playing] career that very much kept the core intact,” Hoiberg said. “Then I move to the Chicago Bulls, where every year, and every all-star break, there is a new roster. It’s almost as if they switched the roster around twice in a year. Then I spent two years [playing] for Minnesota before moving into the front office, where I was involved in a number of high-profile deals and a variety of draft selections. That, I believe, had an impact on the way I saw [transfers].”
Royce White and the other transfers were instrumental in Iowa State’s success in 2011-12, which included a first-round NCAA tournament win against reigning national champion UConn. Courtesy Athletics at Iowa State
Hoiberg’s transfer-heavy club also identified an edge that would benefit them and future Iowa State teams: Transfer students got an additional year to create and enhance their chemistry, and by extension their game, since NCAA regulations at the time required transfers to sit out for a year before competing for their new institutions. (Beginning with the 2021-22 season, the NCAA declared that any college athlete who had not previously transferred would be able to transfer and compete immediately.)
Babb, who now plays professionally in Israel, remarked, “I was pleased to see the squad we had begun putting together.” “Chris Allen was a Big Ten opponent of mine. [White] is someone I recall from the AAU circuit. It sort of simply came into place as I watched the squad come together and we got to know each other – we spent so much time together in [2010-11] season.”
Transfers were also barred from traveling with the squad under the transfer restrictions. On game days, Babb, Allen, White, and Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois) would train at the team facility before watching their team play on the big screen throughout the whole 2010-11 season. They would applaud for their teammates, then engage in tough, intense sessions with them days later.
“They really took it to those of us who were qualified to participate,” Christopherson said.
The Cyclones reached milestones they hadn’t seen in over a decade after White, Babb, Allen, and Booker were eligible to play a year later. For the first time since 2005, they advanced to the NCAA tournament. For the first time in seven years, they also defeated Kansas.
Iowa State lost in the second round of the 2012 NCAA tournament to eventual winners Kentucky, but its performance throughout the season helped Fred Hoiberg acquire the talent he needed to lead the Cyclones to three more NCAA tournament berths. Courtesy Athletics at Iowa State
Hoiberg’s experiment had been successful. Iowa State started to recruit talent, which led to four straight NCAA tournament participation, including a Sweet 16 visit in 2014. After the 2011-12 season, key transfers like Korie Lucious, Will Clyburn, Bryce Dejean-Jones, and DeAndre Kane entered and began to improve the reputation of the program under Hoiberg. As a result, the Cyclones were able to acquire future NBA talents Georges Niang and Monte Morris as freshman recruits in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Iowa State has won at least 22 games in eight of the previous 11 seasons, dating back to the 2011-12 team.
However, Hoiberg recognizes that putting together the 2011-12 club now would be more difficult.
“All you have to do is market your circumstance as best you can,” he stated. “Back in the day, a [transfer] would be considering two colleges. Now, they have 20 [schools] in the first round, then they reduce it to 15, then to 10, and finally to five.
“So it’s not like in the past, when it was clear straight away whether it would be us or another institution. You also knew who you were up against. It’s simply different now since there are so many schools engaged.”
Otzelberger concurred. As a head coach, he has seen the possibilities and limitations of the transfer site. Izaiah Brockington, a transfer from St. Bonaventure and Penn State, scored 16.9 points per game last season and helped the Cyclones reach the Sweet 16 in Otzelberger’s first season as head coach, a year after the club had only won two games. Tyrese Hunter (11.0 PPG, 4.9 APG), a mainstay of the team after being named Big 12 Freshman of the Year, entered the transfer portal this summer. At his new school, he could get six-figure NIL transactions.
“Because of the enormity of how outstanding those men were as athletes, I believe it would be quite difficult to do so today. It is expected that NIL would have a role in their decision-making process “he remarked. “Unless you were one of the schools that had a lot of NIL money and was simply dishing it out, getting all those men would probably be quite difficult.”
However, the players of that 2011-12 Iowa State squad today look back with the knowledge that they created a blueprint that other teams would soon follow. They were the first squad packed with high-level transfers to show that such a strategy might work for programs.
The Cyclones set a precedent.
“It doesn’t surprise me that other teams are doing it now since it has worked,” Ejim, who is now a professional basketball player in Israel, said. “And given the current state of collegiate basketball, when anybody may transfer without consequence at any time, why wouldn’t you?”
Iowa State has been the first basketball team to transfer players from one school to another since the NCAA instituted a rule that allowed it in 2005. The Iowa State men’s basketball team, led by coach Fred Hoiberg, is expected to be one of the top teams in college basketball next season. Reference: iowa state basketball recruits 2022.
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