Do Graduate Transfers work in the ACC?

The graduate transfer rule has been in place for a seven years now, long enough that coaches are using it to fill their coffers in place of traditional recruiting in some cases. Many coaches are purposely leaving roster spots open going into the summer as some transfers shake loose extremely close to the season.

In 2013, when the rule was first implemented, there were 38 graduate transfers in Division 1 Men’s Basketball. In 2018, there were 121. So far this season there are 615 transfers according to Verbal Commits. On it says 411 with nearly 40 of those to be graduate transfers and it isn’t even April yet.

These transfers have become the “new normal” in college basketball with experienced mid-major players typically transferring up to a power 6 school in hopes of both making the NCAA Tournament as well as potential careers after college. The question I have for you today is: Do Graduate Transfers work in the ACC?

Before you give me the auto-knod, think about it. What was the glaring issue for the North Carolina Tar Heels this past season aside from the Cole Anthony injury? Their graduate transfers did not produce as expected. Justin Pierce had moments and Christian Keeling came on after the season was already decided but as an overall season? Disappointing.

Other graduate transfers from this past season included Fresh Kimble at Louisville, Pat Andree at North Carolina State, Tevin Mack of Clemson, Keith Stone of Miami (Fl), and Derryck Thornton of Boston College. Of those listed, only Mack and Thornton were statistically relevant for their teams and their teams were not very good.

The ACC has had some quality traditional transfers in the past, Roshown McLeod will always be one of the first to come to my mind. The St. John’s wing transferred to Duke following his sophomore season in 1995 and was a straight up assassin for the Blue Devils, he was also mean to boot. During his senior campaign in Durham, he teamed with a freshman class of Elton Brand, William Avery, and Shane Battier along with Trajan Langdon and Chris Carrawell to go 32-4 overall, 15-1 in the ACC and landed a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Some recent significant transfers into the ACC include Trevor Lacy to North Carolina State, Angel Rodriguez to Miami (FL), Dwayne Sutton to Louisville and last season’s leading scorer in the ACC, Elijah Hughes of Syracuse.

The original question remains however, what impact is the graduate transfer market having on the league? Damion Lee was good for Louisville, but the Cardinals self-imposed a postseason banned and really screwed him. Adam Smith was good for Georgia Tech in Brian Gregory’s final season but the Yellow Jackets didn’t make the tournament.

The truth is, since the rule was implemented in 2013, no graduate transfer has ranked inside the top 20 in the ACC in rebounding and very few have been big time performers. Here is a table showing some instances where the transfer:

Eli Carter15-16Assists12thBoston College
Adam Smith15-16Points12thGeorgia Tech
Jon Gillon16-17Assists3rdSyracuse
Andrew White16-17Points6thSyracuse
Al Freeman17-18Points13thNC State
Christen Cunningham18-19Assists4thLouisville
Derryck Thornton19-20Assists14thBoston College
Lamar Kimble19-20Assists20thLouisville
Rankings according to

So, as you can see, it is not unheard of for graduate transfers to do well in the ACC but it is rare. The other thing about that list is that only Cunningham and Freeman were able to make the tournament. Kimble would have been the third had the tournament happened this past season. Andrew White III has been the best we have seen and he came from a power 6 school, not a mid-major, so the transfer “up” didn’t have much effect on him. In fact, every player on that table played for a power 6 program at one point before arriving in the ACC with the exception of Cunningham and Kimble.

There is one player who is not on that table that was technically a graduate transfer and was very good. North Carolina sniper Cameron Johnson bolted Pittsburgh following Kevin Stallings first season with the Panthers. Johnson was limited to 8 games as a true freshman and was able to graduate following his third year in college as a graduate transfer. He then went on to play two seasons in Chapel Hill after appealing to the NCAA for an additional season. In those two seasons with the Heels, Johnson averaged 15 points per game and shot 41.1% from behind the three-point line.

This season, we are once again seeing some interesting additions to the ACC via graduate transfer, the most notable players being Ian Dubose at Wake Forest and Cartier Diarra to Virginia Tech. Dubose comes from an up-tempo attack at Houston Baptist where he averaged 19 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that the Huskies went 4-25 on the season playing in the Southland Conference. Similar to Bubba Parham at Georgia Tech last season, it would be safe to assume that a significant drop in production is on the way.

Diarra may be a different story. Virginia Tech assistant Chester Frazier was Diarra’s coach at Kansas State for a number of years so the familiarity and level of comfort for the 6’4 wing should be immediate. The fact that Diarra played in arguably the toughest conference in the nation for the last three seasons suggests that the transition may not effect his productivity as drastically as others as well, though he is not terribly efficient to begin with.

The most anticipated decision of the graduate transfer market may be that of Radford leading scorer and all Big South performer Carlik Jones. Jones averaged 20 points per game for the Highlanders last season and is arguably the most coveted graduate transfer on the market. With Jordan Nwora almost certainly going pro (but yet to declare) the Cardinals will have a large scoring void to fill. It has been reported that Louisville head coach Chris Mack was reportedly the first person to contact Jones following the announcement of his intentions.

The question remains, what would Louisville be able to expect from Jones as he transfers up from the Big South to the ACC? Let’s take a look! The following is Carlik’s career against the upper echelon conferences in the nation. I left out the Pac-12 because he hasn’t played any games against those teams.

Big Ten319.7681.8
Big 121740
Big East11140
Statistics according to

So it is about what you would expect, of course that data is also quite limited.

The question remains. While graduate transfers have become the norm, is their impact on high end college basketball really noticeable?

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