Shaken and stirred: NCAA transfer portal transforms Pac-12 basketball

Pac-12 basketball coaches face the challenge of retaining stars, embracing the transfer portal in the evolving world of college athletics. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Last Friday, Arizona’s men’s basketball team traveled to Durham to take on Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The game was the Wildcats’ hardest to date in the young season, and they entered the ranked matchup as the underdogs.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love led the upset with one of the top performances, posting 11 points, three assists and two steals to help Arizona move to No. 3 in the rankings as the team looks to continue its dominance in the young season with three new transfers on the roster.

Love is just one of many players who has transferred to the Pac-12 this year and made an instant impact in a new uniform as the transfer portal has forever altered the landscape of college athletics since its launch in October 2018.

As USC men’s coach Andy Enfield put it at Pac-12 Media Days in Las Vegas in October, the transfer portal “certainly changed the game” of college basketball. Washington State coach Kyle Smith compared the sport’s new era to the professional level.

“Like NBA (general managers), we’ve got to get the best players and shape how we play accordingly,” Smith said.

No question, the stakes are raised even higher each offseason with college basketball coaches across the country scrambling to keep their top talent on rosters while dipping into the transfer portal to replenish the void left by NBA draft prospects, graduates and departed players.

But in the new age of college athletics, programs understand the importance of evolving to stay competitive in a game that has more parity than ever due to the seismic turnover from season to season.

New beginnings

Love (Arizona), Joseph Yesufu (Washington State) and Kadidia Toure (Arizona State) on the women’s side are just a few new names to join the Pac-12 this season.

Arizona brought in three key transfers this year to round out an already-stacked roster. Keshad Johnson from San Diego State and Jaden Bradley from Alabama joined Love and made the move to Tucson this season.

In addition to Love’s contributions, Johnson leads the team in scoring averaging 15 points.

“Offensively in our system, that 4-man is in the middle of the action a lot,” UArizona coach Tommy Lloyd said about Johnson’s role. “I’ve really seen his playmaking grow and his shooting grow. And I’m excited for him to get an opportunity to show that stuff.”

Love, who made the move from North Carolina after his first three seasons as a Tar Heel, averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, scored a total of 1,476 points, made 200 three-pointers and had 337 assists in 101 games at Chapel Hill.

Despite his numbers, some critics have called him an inconsistent player, citing UNC’s lackluster end to the 2022-23 season.

“What he did at Carolina, people would maybe say it’s inconsistent or inefficient of whatever you want to say,” Lloyd said. “All I know is this: Two years ago in the NCAA tournament, that guy had 30 points in an Elite Eight game and 28 in a Final Four game. So there’s not many guys in the history of college basketball that can say they’ve done that.”

Yesufu joins the Cougars after spending two years each at Drake and Kansas, where he averaged 5.8 points and 1.2 rebounds per game in 113 appearances. The Cougars initially tried to recruit Yesufu when he transferred from Drake, but he ultimately landed at Kansas.

The new scenery in Pullman, Washington, offers the fifth-year guard another opportunity to showcase his ability.

“Coach Smith took a chance on me,” said Yesufu, who Smith says fits the team’s personnel and culture of the program. “What you guys can expect from me, you’re going to see a different me, a better Drake version.”

Yesufu, a member of the 2021-22 championship team at Kansas, brings playmaking ability, veteran leadership and tournament experience to the Cougars, who are coming off two NIT appearances and eager for a spot in March Madness.

In his first two appearances as a Cougar, Yesufu has averaged six points per game while tallying six rebounds and two steals.

“He’s got a confidence about him, like how you do internal leadership audits with your team and players,” Smith said. “Very quickly, he had a lot of votes for leadership from the players.”

ASU women’s basketball brought in five transfers on this year’s squad – and the wave of incoming talent became more important after Tyi Skinner was lost for the season due to a knee injury. Leading up to the beginning of the season, coach Natasha Adair said some of the transfers had already caught her attention, including sophomore guard Jalyn Brown.

As a freshman, Brown appeared in seven games for a Louisville Cardinals team that made an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA tournament. Coming into Tempe this season, Brown is looking to make an impact.

In the Sun Devils’ 3-0 start to the season, one year after the team finished 8-20, Brown is averaging 13.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

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“Coming in, I mean, explosive on the perimeter. She can score,” Adair said. “She is a three-level scorer, long defensively.”

Toure, who transferred from James Madison University, ranks second on the Sun Devils in scoring average (13.7 points) while tallying four steals per game.

“We just have so many different players and different styles in which we can play,” Adair said. “But just right now, those are the ones that I think are making an immediate impact.”

‘One-year free agency’

After the 2022-23 season, 70 Pac-12 men’s basketball players entered their names into the transfer portal, according to

Cal lost 10 players to the transfer portal – the most of any school in the conference – including its leading scorer, Lars Thiemann, who averaged 9.5 points last year.

“Back in the day, everybody stayed four years,” Madsen said. “Now, it’s one-year free agency every single year … it’s almost like you’re coaching a G League team in terms of all the movement.”

The constant change is a new phenomenon that requires coaches to adapt. Add on the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals, Arizona women’s coach Adia Barnes says, and there is constant change and the challenge to recruit and retain players.

There is a delicate balance to navigate new waters without overhauling the makeup of their programs.

“We’re not going to change what we do and how we do it just because the rules are different,” said Colorado men’s coach Tad Boyle. “Now does NIL change things? Absolutely. Are we in that game? Absolutely. You have to be or you get left behind.”

Stanford men’s coach Jerod Haase has his concerns with the portal and NIL. He shared that he wants to educate others on the consequences of all of these situations. Haase said he thinks there will be a decline in graduation rates, but some other consequences may not be realized yet because of the portal’s unpredictability.

“Honestly, one of the goals we should have is to prepare guys for life after basketball and life after college,” Haase said. “And when you stay at a place and work through the good and the bad, those are the principles and ideas that do help you when you move on to the real world.”

Caitlin Fowble(she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Caitlin Fowble expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Fowble has worked as a digital aide for Arizona PBS and has interned with the Orange County Riptide in the sports information department.