There was a time not long ago in college basketball when transfers were labeled with certain stigmas.
But nowadays, transferring has become as commonplace in the college game as 3-point shots or three-second violations. And like most schools around the country, No. 18 Florida has taken advantage of players changing scenery in an effort to build its team.
Florida began the season with three transfers in its starting lineup — guard Eli Carter (Rutgers), forward Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) and center Jon Horford (Michigan). Carter (sprained foot) and Finney-Smith (broken hand) are currently injured, though it appeared that Finney-Smith had a good chance of returning for Wednesday night’s Battle 4 Atlantis opener against Georgetown.
More than 350 players in college basketball have changed schools since last December, according to ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman’s transfer list. Florida will add another transfer, former Duke forward Alex Murphy, to its active roster Dec. 20 against Wake Forest. Another transfer, center John Egbunu (USF), is sitting out for the Gators this season and will be eligible in 2015-16.
UF coach Billy Donovan said like recruiting high school players, it’s important to gauge the mindset of a transfer. Donovan said he prefers re-recruiting transfers that he recruited in high school.
“I think certainly if you’ve had an opportunity to recruit a young man, I think that’s important,” Donovan said. “Also, the philosophy, why is somebody leaving? I think sometimes when guys think the grass is greener for themselves elsewhere because they’re unhappy at a specific place, sometimes that’s not the case. Sometimes there are things they’ve got to do better. Sometimes kids, for whatever reason, need a change.”
For the most part, transfers have had success under Donovan at Florida. Center Vernon Macklin, who transferred from Georgetown, was a two-year starter at center for UF and helped lead the Gators to the Elite Eight in 2011. He was picked in the second round of the NBA draft. Guard Mike Rosario, a transfer from Rutgers, was UF’s leading scorer in 2013 and helped lead UF to another Elite Eight appearance.
The only transfer who hasn’t worked out so far for the Gators was former South Carolina center Damontre Harris, who never got on the court due to two years of injury and disciplinary issues. Harris left UF last spring for Campbellsville (Ky.) University, an NAIA school.
“The transfers he’s taken are guys that he recruited originally, so he kind of knows who they are,” ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg said. “Billy’s program and his culture is about us, it’s not about any one individual. He had four great leaders last year that really did a great job of selling that. It’s more about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. It’s about guys trusting each other and embracing roles, and Billy does a great job of connecting with players, especially with guys that sat out a year. So they really are immersed in the culture. Before they step on the court, they understand what Florida basketball is all about.”
Florida’s three starting transfers have enjoyed success on the court. Finney-Smith was the Southeastern Conference’s sixth man of the year last season and scored a game-high 15 points in UF’s season opener against William & Mary before going down with a broken hand. Carter averaged 14.5 points over two games and went 8-of-9 from the floor in a 21-point effort against Miami before going down with a sprained foot last week.
Horford has been steady in the middle for the Gators, averaging 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds. The 6-foot-10 graduate transfer also has shown the ability to extend the floor, going 4-for-9 from 3-point range.
“Everybody has been so welcoming on the team, the players, the coaches,” Horford said. “In terms of meshing, I think that makes it easier.”