ORLANDO, Fla. — Even College of Charleston guard Dalton Bolon, a 24-year-old senior in his seventh year of college eligibility, is not a big fan of the unrestrainable, uncontainable transfer portal that now runs non-stop throughout college basketball.
And Bolon has actually benefited from the portal. He transferred from Division II West Liberty in West Virginia two seasons ago and was a key cog in helping 12th-seeded College of Charleston advance to the NCAA South Region where they lost, 63-57, Thursday to No. 5 San Diego State at Amway Center.
“I know this is going to sound a little contradictory,” Bolon says, “but I’m a big loyalty guy. I’m a big believer in persevering and battling through it when things get hard. Honestly, I never really wanted to go into the portal.”
Bolon only entered the portal because his coaches at West Liberty urged him to transfer to a Division I program because they felt he was talented enough to spread his wings and perform on a bigger stage. And he has gone on to become one of the most refreshing stories in college basketball.
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His journey started at West Liberty where he walked on, redshirted as a freshman and then played four seasons for the Hilltoppers. He received an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19, transferred to Charleston after he graduated from West Liberty and earned a medical redshirt last season to gain yet another year of eligibility. Thus, this is his seventh year of college basketball in which he has earned three different academic degrees — a Bachelor’s in exercise physiology, a Master’s in biology and another Master’s in communications.
“I’m looking for an eighth [year of eligibility],” Bolon cracked when I asked him about his extended college career. “If there’s a way I can get an eighth, if you could tell me how, that would be great. I feel blessed to have been playing college basketball for seven years.”
If only all transfer stories were like that of Bolon, a guy who actually used college basketball to — don’t laugh — get a free education. Unfortunately, the portal today is out of control for a number of reasons. One of the main ones, of course, are lucrative NIL inducements from other schools, which is an issue unto itself.
However, there is also a portal mentality that is a sign of the times in today’s society. There are simply too many players who are too impatient to wait their turn, work hard and and earn a starting job. Likewise, there also are too many coaches under too much pressure to develop struggling players and, so, they “encourage” these slow-maturing players to transfer and then replenish their rosters with better transfers.
If you think college football has been impacted by the transfer portal, it’s nothing compared to college basketball, where entire rosters are being remade on an annual basis.
Case in point: UCF blew out Florida in the NIT Wednesday night behind 21 points from senior C.J. Kelly, who is on his fourth different school. Nearly half of the players on UCF’s and Florida’s rosters were transfers.
And guess what? Next season, the ratio will be about the same. In fact, the basketball transfer portal opened on Monday (don’t ask me to explain the idiotic reasoning why it opens right before the NCAA Tournament begins) and the mass exodus quickly began. In the first three days of the portal opening, nearly a thousand basketball players had already entered.
And it’s not just men’s basketball; it’s women’s basketball as well. As of Thursday morning, seven players from the Pitt women’s team had already entered the transfer portal.
Even coaches who have just dipped their toe in the portal in the past are now diving in head first. For instance, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton built his successful program the old-fashioned way — by recruiting high school players, developing them and integrating them into his system. However, he just finished a dismal 9-23 season with many of the school-record number of losses coming to ACC opponents whose rosters are chock-full of experienced transfers. You can expect Hamilton to load up on transfers this offseason.
“I just didn’t get the memo,” Hamilton said the other day. “I had to learn the hard way. But I got it now.”
Certainly players should have the freedom to transfer, but that doesn’t mean we have to like the results. Coaches, it seems, don’t really build basketball programs by developing high school players and molding them into young men; they annually throw together basketball teams comprised of gypsies and vagabonds.
It makes you wonder what would have happened if free transfers and the portal had been in effect years ago. Would one of the greatest college basketball teams in history — Billy Donovan’s back-to-back national championship teams at the University of Florida in 2006-2007 — have ever existed?
Joakim Noah, the heart and soul of those UF championship teams, started no games during his freshman season, barely played and averaged just 3.5 points per game. Likewise, Chris Richard, the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year during UF’s championship run, averaged 3.8 points per game as a freshman after being the state’s player of the year as a high school senior.
Sadly, in today’s transfer portal world, Noah and Richard would have likely jumped to another school instead of sticking it out at UF, being pushed and prodded and motivated and mentored by Donovan and transforming themselves into Gator basketball legends.