Relationships key as college basketball coaches navigate transfer portal

Sports

ST. LOUIS–Bruce Weber’s phone rang a few weeks ago, earlier in the morning than he’d expect to hear from one of his coaching colleagues, and former players from his days as a Purdue assistant coach years ago. It was Cuonzo Martin, Missouri’s men’s head coach, wanting to talk about DaJuan Gordon, the Kansas State guard who entered the transfer portal and would ultimately land at Mizzou.

“I did not want to lose him…he had his mind made up, I hope the best for him. One of the last things I told DeJuan is that make the right decision, not the school, but the coach, because I think for him, I’m worried about his future, I want him to make it, I don’t want him to be somebody that doesn’t make it,” Weber said in a Zoom session with reporters this week. “I told Zo (Cuonzo Martin) after he committed to him I couldn’t be more happy that he’s going to a guy that’s gonna care about him and worry about him for life.”

The two had another conversation this offseason, when Weber recruited Mark Smith, the Edwardsville grad who decided to use his extra year of graduate eligibility to enter the transfer portal. In this case, Weber already knew plenty about Smith, having recruited him several times previously, first before Smith landed at Illinois out of high school, and then after his freshman year, when Smith left for Missouri.

“It was important to me to reach out to Cuonzo (Martin) after Mark decided to transfer and get his perspective and he was very positive about him. Once I had that conversation, we reached out to Mark and his family, and after some time, we all came to the realization that it was a good fit,” Weber said in a statement released when Smith’s transfer to Kansas State was announced.

In an era where players are entering the transfer portal at record rates, and can’t be recruited in person until the NCAA lifts its pandemic-inspired dead period until June, coaches are having to rely on Zoom and relationships built with high school and grassroots coaches, and friends in the college coaching fraternity.

“My college assistant coach coached him (Gordon), so he’s coming from a program where he was taught the game, a level of toughness, how to compete, all those things,” Martin told reporters recently.

“Hopefully it will work out for both of us,” Weber said.

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