Major College Transfers Having
Unprecedented Impacts On ACC

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

The rising tide of major college transfers has changed the face of college basketball, especially over the past two seasons, after widespread immediate eligibility became the new law of the NCAA landscape.

How, specifically, has it changed the ACC? Let us count the ways.

1. Last season marked the highest number (six) and percentage (40) of major college transfers ever to receive All-ACC honors in the history of the now 71-year-old league.

Wake Forest point guard Tyree Appleby (Florida), Pittsburgh guard Jamarius Burton (Texas Tech), NC State point guard Jarkel Joiner (Mississippi), Miami guard Jordan Miller (George Mason), Pittsburgh forward Blake Hinson (Iowa State) and Miami forward Norchad Omier (Arkansas State) all were named to the All-ACC first, second or third team in 2023.

For the first half-century or so of ACC history, transfers — junior college or major college — only rarely developed into the best players in the conference. In most years, every single All-ACC player had joined the league directly out of high school or prep school.

Gradually, over the past two decades, that theme has changed, and major college transfers’ impact on the ACC reached the unprecedented heights outlined above just last season.

As recently as 2017, 2018 and 2020, only one of the 15 All-ACC players (6.7 percent) in each of those three seasons had joined the league as major college transfers. That illustrates the massive shift in play here.

(Click HERE to see a snapshot of the impact of major college transfers on the All-ACC teams over the last 10 seasons.)

2. The ongoing 2023-24 ACC campaign almost certainly will match — or possibly even exceed — last year’s record-setting number of high-impact transfers.

Miami’s Omier, Pitt’s Hinson, Wake Forest guard Hunter Sallis (Gonzaga), North Carolina forward Harrison Ingram (Stanford), NC State point guard DJ Horne (Arizona State) and Clemson guard Joe Girard (Syracuse) are all outstanding candidates for this year’s 15-man All-ACC squad. If all six make the team, last year’s 40 percent transfer threshold (six of 15) would be matched.

If an additional transfer makes one of the All-ACC teams — Wake Forest forward Andrew Carr (Delaware), Boston College forward Quinten Post (Mississippi State), Florida State forward Jamir Watkins (VCU), Miami forward Matthew Cleveland (FSU) and Virginia Tech center Lynn Kidd (Clemson) also are having standout seasons — the ACC’s rising transfer theme would reach an unprecedented level.

All-ACC ballots are due at the end of the regular season. The honorees are announced during the week of the ACC Tournament.

3. On four of the five ACC teams that made the 2023 NCAA Tournament, most of the starting lineup consisted of major college transfers.

Duke won the 2023 ACC championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament with a roster built overwhelmingly through the high school ranks. Of the Blue Devils’ top seven players, only one was a transfer, and he came off the bench. The rest were prep signees.

However, a whopping 14 of the 20 starters (70 percent!) on the other four ACC teams that advanced to the 2023 NCAA Tournament joined the conference as major college transfers. Here are the numbers: NC State (four starters), Pitt (four), Miami (three) and Virginia (three).

That, too, was a truly unprecedented development over the seven full decades of ACC history.

4. At least three ACC head coaches may have saved their jobs with their effective use of the transfer portal, after the NCAA made almost all transfers immediately eligible with a major rule change prior to the 2021-22 season.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga posted three consecutive losing seasons (14-18, 15-16, 10-17) from 2018-19 through 2020-21, finishing in the bottom third of the 15-team ACC each time. In 2020-21, the Hurricanes were 4-15 in conference play, leaving them in 13th place, the worst record and placement of any Larranaga-led team in any league during a mostly stellar head coaching career that began way back in 1977.

Then the NCAA changed its transfer rules, allowing almost all transfers to avoid the traditional sit-out year and giving coaches an unprecedented route to upgrade even the worst rosters more quickly than ever before. Most high school signees need time to become great at the ACC level; many major college transfers don’t.

Over the past two seasons, in the immediate aftermath of those three miserable campaigns, Larranaga led the Hurricanes to arguably their two greatest seasons in program history: 26-11 and the school’s first Elite Eight in 2021-22, then 29-8 and the school’s first Final Four trip in 2022-23.

Last season, which also included a first-place tie with Virginia in the conference standings (both were 15-5), three of the Hurricanes’ four best players (all but ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong) were major college transfers: Miller, Omier and point guard Nijel Pack.

NC State coach Kevin Keatts and Pitt coach Jeff Capel have similar stories.

Entering 2022-23, Keatts had only one NCAA Tournament trip under his belt during his first five years with the Wolfpack, and that had come in his first season. He returned to the Big Dance largely because he surrounded NBA prospect Terquavion Smith, a high school signee, with four seasoned, savvy transfers. On the season, five of the Pack’s top six scorers (all but Smith) were major college transfers.

Entering 2022-23, Capel had zero NCAA Tournament trips during his first four years with the Panthers. He made the Big Dance with four major college transfers in his starting lineup. (The other was a junior college transfer.) On the season, Pitt’s top five scorers all were major college transfers, including several who were 23 or 24 years old.

5. After the first 68 ACC Players of the Year were those who had joined their colleges/universities directly from the high school (including prep school) ranks, that streak finally ended in 2022, and the league just came fairly close to having two straight major college transfers capture its highest individual honor.

Sixty-eight years is a really long time, at least in this context. Never is a very strong word. Yet for 68 consecutive seasons, the best player in the ACC had never come from the transfer ranks.

Then, over the past two seasons, little ol’ Wake Forest came pretty darn close to having back-to-back ACC Players of the Year from the major college transfer circuit.

Former Oklahoma guard Alondes Williams (who won in 2022) and Florida’s Appleby (runner-up to Wong in 2023) had been good players in the Big 12 and SEC, respectively. They became absolute superstars with the Demon Deacons, and Williams made unprecedented ACC history along the way.

6. Since the three-season stretch from 2003-04 through 2005-06, when no major college transfer made any of the annual 15-man All-ACC teams, at least one major college transfer has received All-ACC honors for 17 (soon to be 18) consecutive seasons.

Long before the NCAA created the transfer portal and granted most transfers immediate eligibility, ACC teams occasionally found star players via the major college transfer route. For example, Duke forwards Roshown McLeod (St. John’s) and Dahntay Jones (Rutgers) became first-team All-ACC performers in 1998 and 2003, respectively.

Although such examples were extremely rare prior to 1998 and relatively rare prior to 2007, and even though the NCAA rules at the time included a mandatory sit-out year (effectively creating a redshirt season, in which the player could practice but not play in games during his initial year at his new school) for such transfers, they quickly became a regular part of the ACC landscape soon after the league’s expansion to 12 schools in 2005.

One of Florida State’s best players during its 33 years as an ACC member was transfer Toney Douglas, who played three seasons for the Seminoles after one outstanding campaign at Auburn. A third-team All-SEC selection for the Tigers as a freshman in 2005, he sat out the 2005-06 season at FSU, then became a third-team All-ACC and all-defense pick for the Seminoles as a redshirt junior in 2008 and a first-team All-ACC and all-defense choice as a fifth-year senior in 2009. Douglas also was a third-team All-American and the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year during his final season in Tallahassee.

One of Miami’s best players during its 20 years as an ACC member was transfer Jack McClinton, who played three seasons for the Hurricanes after one superb campaign at Siena. After sitting out the 2005-06 season at UM, he became a three-time All-ACC selection for the Canes, making the third team in 2007 and the first team in 2008 and 2009. More than a decade later, he remains UM’s only two-time first-team All-ACC player.

Although Bob McAdoo (a consensus first-team All-American and first-team All-ACC player in 1972) was North Carolina’s most successful incoming “transfer,” he was a junior college player. Historically, juco signees typically have been immediately eligible, like typical high school signees.

The Tar Heels’ all-time most successful major college transfers both have come in recent years, and both were eligible upon their arrival in Chapel Hill, without the requirement of a traditional sit-out year, although neither Cameron Johnson (a 2019 first-team All-ACC pick) nor Brady Manek (the 2022 Riley Wallace Award winner as the nation’s top transfer) was taking advantage of the revolutionary 2021 NCAA rule change.

Both Johnson and Manek were graduate transfers, meaning they already had earned their diplomas at their previous schools. Another relatively recent NCAA rules change enabled their immediate eligibility.