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Johnson and Izundu moves symptomatic of national transfer craze; look for Hawk and Ike to test NBA waters

THE TWIN DECISIONS by Que Johnson and Valentine Izundu to graduate from WSU next month and then use their final season of basketball eligibility somewhere else is symptomatic of a larger trend in college basketball.

The number of players transferring schools has grown like mushrooms in a forest of Douglas Firs. Since ESPN began compiling data a decade ago, the tally of Division I basketball transfers has soared from 200 annually to more than 600.

In fact, the NCAA reports that 40 percent of all Division I basketball freshmen will transfer by the end of their sophomore years.

Graduate transfers, like Johnson and Izundu (pictured above right with Ernie Kent), are a more recent phenomenon.

The rule allowing student-athletes who complete their bachelor’s degrees to attend and play ball at another school for a final season was put in place to accommodate their academic goals (i.e. the current university doesn’t have a law school or the graduate program they desire).

Instead, the rule is largely being used as a loophole for players to seek more playing time at lower-rung schools or to latch onto a program they think gives them a better shot at March Madness.

Based on reputable rumblings we’ve heard out of California, Johnson and Izundu may be entertaining both those notions.

The graduate option also gives players at lower-tier schools -- think quarterback Vernon Adams' move from EWU to Oregon -- a chance to test their game at the highest levels. To that end, ESPN lists WSU among the schools that Coppin State guard Christian Kessee is looking at for graduate school.

Alas, a recent NCAA study showed that just 34 percent of graduate transfers actually complete the graduate program they transfer into. At some point, you’d think the academic side of the nation’s universities would call BS on the mockery athletics is making of their graduate programs (i.e. a student-athlete spending just six months in a two-year program before leaving town).

AS FOR THE 2016-17 COUGARS, the losses of Johnson and Izundu are significant. Not that either was a world-beater, but each filled a niche. Izundu has little offensive game but is an impressive rim protector on defense. Johnson played woeful defense but knows how to score, and averaged nearly one point for every two minutes he spent on the court last season.

Moreover, they fit nicely into head coach Ernie Kent’s plan to have a veteran, senior-laden team turn the corner for the program in a season that shapes up as a down year for the Pac-12 generally.

The Cougs still will be senior heavy, with Josh Hawkinson, Ike Iroegbu, Conor Clifford and Charles Callison all returning, but the notion of having six of your first eight being old vets in a down year for the conference is about as positive a starting point as you can get when coming off 17-straight losses.

While Johnson’s decision is surprising, the fact is that he’s spent four years at WSU and clearly wasn’t going to ever be the centerpiece on offense. Izundu’s decision, though, is more puzzling. He already transferred once — from Houston to WSU — and by all accounts received detailed coaching care from Kent and his staff during a redshirt year and then during this past, injury-plagued season. Moreover, Kent made no secret that a healthy Izundu had a major role to play for the Cougars.

SPEAKING OF HAWKINSON AND Iroegbu, and perhaps Clifford and Callison as well, don’t be surprised to see their names in the news sometime between now and the NBA’s April 24 deadline for early entry draft eligibility. Players can declare but as long as they don’t hire an agent, they can return to school if they so choose.

Those four Cougars, I think it’s safe to say, aren’t going to be taken in this June’s draft, but declaring early allows them to receive a full assessment from pro scouts and perhaps attend the NBA Combine in Chicago next month, thus giving them a template on what they need to be focusing on between now and the 2017 draft.

The intrigue around the WSU program figures to grow this week as the regular signing period for letters of intent begins Wednesday. Kent already has two players in the fold — Jeff Pollard and Milan Acquaah — from the early signing period and has a verbal commitment from Tacoma’s Malachi Flynn, the AP State Player of the Year. Three other slots are open, however, so the roller coaster may just be getting started.

RELATED STORY: Is this wing about to sign with Kent?

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