Northwestern's transfer approach

How Northwestern has pursued the transfer market, and how the Wildcats will continue to uncover every possible route in order to improve for next season.

In December, Northwestern landed JSerra Catholic HS (Calif.) point guard Johnnie Vassar — an immediate signifier that the roster shuffling would continue.

At the time, NU's five-man recruiting class included only one big man prospect, and even Gavin Skelly qualifies as a stretch-four type most comfortable in a rotation where he can spread the floor with his athleticism.

Per multiple sources close to PurpleWildcats.com – all of whom are happy to state the obvious – the coaching staff recognized the need to recruit power forwards and centers. Still, the Wildcats comfortably accepted a point guard upgrade in Vassar, knowing that there were one or two expendable players on the current roster.

Worse, the staff's frustration with the team runs deep, even given the inevitable tough season in Collins' first try. They're not close to satisfied with the progress of Alex Olah, who continues to earn the "soft" label and struggles against opponents of equal or greater size. In fact, they're not looking for someone who can "back up" Olah; they want someone who can supplant Olah and perhaps earn the starter's role.

Their transfer pursuit began immediately. Before Vassar's commitment, the Wildcats pursued UNLV transfer Jamal Aytes, who landed at BYU. Then, they had the space to consider transfer routes.

But with Vassar's pledge and a persisting need – recruiting forwards – they desperately needed room to operate on the market. Cue Ajou's transfer, which, unlike Mike Turner's situation, likely arrived through mutual decision.

Last Friday, a source close to the situation told PW that Northwestern would pursue transfers after the normal midseason lull. They're not trying to land late 2014 commits; they hope for a fifth-year center or power forward who can contribute immediately and fill out the front court.

PW recently reported the likelihood of transfers – with some skepticism from fans – and mentioned one or two candidates. One fell as expected on Tuesday morning; another could be next to follow after the season.

The basic structure is this: Players arrive on campus expecting to contribute, and when minutes disappear, transfers can arrive through mutual decision. They want to seek opportunities elsewhere, and that makes sense for at least one player on the NU roster who might see his role diminish with incoming recruits.

The overall focus is this: The coaching staff's overwhelming priority is to recruit players who "eat, sleep and breathe" basketball. For better or for worse, Bill Carmody's recruits often lacked the requisite intensity to play for Collins — who expects intense disposition and commitment from all of his players. Tre Demps is one of the few players earning rave reviews from those inside the program because of his excellent work ethic and willingness to play aggressive, high-tempo basketball.

Watch the team, and there is admittedly an obvious disconnect between Collins and his players. The offense continues to stumble in every possible situation, with guys including Dave Sobolewski looking lost in the new offensive system.

Much depends on the postseason transfer market, with very little projected to open up in the next couple of months. If, more likely when, another player transfers from the current team, that would open a third scholarship for NU's 2015 recruiting class.

It's been a controversial process, but coaches reserve the right to alter inherited rosters. Collins faces an especially difficult double standard arriving at Northwestern, a school preoccupied with the "right way" while also concentrated on winning at a school that has never achieved basketball success.


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