Over the past several years, college basketball has seen freshmen impacting the game more so than ever before. The NCAA has experienced Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley and Tyreke Evans, just to name a few, all in the past three years. Not only have these rookies dominated the collegiate ranks, freshmen have also taken over the NBA Draft, leaving upperclassmen as the forgotten classes every June. With first year players John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors likely to be called by NBA Commissioner, David Stern, amongst the first few selections, this year is no different. However, another storyline has developed over the course of this season: the tale of the transfer. Over 200 NCAA players began their collegiate careers at one college or university two years ago, but played the 2009-2010 basketball season for another coach, for another school and with different teammates by his side. Transfers usually depict the image of an underachieving player or those who carry a bigger stigma with each stop. But few players have gone against the grain more so than Syracuse's Wesley Johnson, Xavier's Jordan Crawford, Ekpe Udoh of Baylor. Several others outliers include Tre'Von Willis (UNLV), Elliot Williams (Memphis), Elijah Millsap (UAB) and Armon Bassett (Ohio).
In the Jim Boeheim era, Syracuse has had five transfers from four-year, Division I schools, including Wesley Johnson, the 2010 Big East Player of the Year. The former Iowa State Cyclone had only planned a few visits to prospective schools back in the 2007-08 season, but canceled the remaining after meeting with Coach Boeheim at Syracuse. Johnson has helped the Orange in their "rebuilding" year, when Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris all left the university early. His impact leading the team has been undeniable. He is armed with a smooth jumper, a 43-inch vertical leap and a knack for corralling rebounds. His unselfishness is perhaps his most overlooked attribute, one that Coach Boeheim loves. Despite being the team's leading scorer, he is only attempting 11 shots a game. Despite
the lack of experience at point guard, Syracuse was second in the nation this season in assists per game.
Johnson's court vision and natural unselfish instincts have much to do for Syracuse's success this season. And although the Orange fell short in the NCAA Tournament, Johnson's career is just getting started. He possesses elite-level talent and is expected to be one of the first names called in the 2010 NBA Draft.
The bad news for a Xavier team that was coming off a Atlantic-10 regular-season championship and an NCAA Sweet 16 berth was that their top three scorers were not returning to school and a new coach was being welcomed in town. Crawford's departure from Indiana University, left his former school in shambles, amongst recruiting violations, massive player exoduses, and a little to no player experience. His new program at Xavier has become transcending to "elite" status after making to the NCAA Tournament four years in a row and winning the past three A-10 regular-season championships. After averaging nearly 10 points per game in his freshman campaign as a Hoosier, Crawford would be immediately welcomed in the empty Musketeer backcourt. He got hot quickly, recording 20+ point scoring games in three of his first five games at Xavier, but had an even greater impact at the end of his sophomore year. He led Xavier to their third straight Sweet 16 appearance, joining Michigan State as the only other team to do so. He tallied 12 more 20+ scoring performances in the team's last 15 games, including an incredible career-high 32 points in a double-overtime loss to Kansas State. His scoring instincts are matched by few collegiate players, but it is his athleticism scouts are raving about. Just check YouTube for his dunk on NBA superstar, LeBron James, at James' camp this past summer. Crawford's feat caused a media frenzy, but it is his high-level of play over his sophomore season that could make him a 1st Round pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
In his second season in Ann Arbor, the lanky 6'10" forward, Ekpe Udoh, was named to the Big Ten's All-Defensive Team after leading the Big Ten in blocks, but that was not enough. Rumors swirled around his transfer status for various reasons, including changing in the coaching staff and he wanted to join a top flight team to better prepare himself for the NBA in his future. Whatever the exact reasons may be for his departure from Michigan, Udoh joined a talented Baylor team in 2008-09. Unfortunately, he was game-ineligible per NCAA transfer rules. When he became eligible at the end of last season, Baylor's team looked drastically different. It was missing three 1,000 point scorers in starting guards Curtis Jerrells, Henry Dugat and starting forward, Kevin Rogers. Enter Ekpe Udoh. He was thought to be an immediate contributor on the defensive end with his length, athleticism and shot blocking ability. He would serve as a staple to Baylor's defense, allowing the Bear's guards to be more aggressive on the defensive end, knowing Udoh was protecting the rim. However, few expected the kind of offensive production that Udoh has produced. After averaging 5.5 points in his two years at Michigan, Udoh kick-started the season with an 18-point performance and a 21-point game, followed by six more double-figure scoring games. He was dominating the glass and altering shots on the defensive end as expected, but his offensive game showed tremendous growth and development. He was aggressive in the low post and knocked down several 3-pointers throughout the course of the season. In a four-game stretch prior to Big 12 Conference play, Udoh averaged 15 points, 17 rebounds (including 8 offensive rebounds), and over 7 blocks per game. He recorded his first-career triple-double during this span, electrifying NBA scouts and the media with his potential. His astounding play on both ends of the court was the reason that the Baylor Bears, who were predicted to place 8th in the Big 12 preseason polls, were able to make a run deep into the NCAA Tournament before being eliminated by Duke in the Elite 8. If he chooses to leave school after leading his team on an improbably run, Udoh will be a lottery pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
A few other players have made such significant impacts with their new teams that they could also heard their names called on Draft night if they so choose to leave their university early. These players include a former Memphis guard, now leading the UNLV Rebels, Tre'Von Willis, a current Memphis Tiger guard who made his way from Duke, Elliot Williams, Elijah Millsap, a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette who is finding success at UAB, and another former-Hoosier guard, Armon Bassett, led his Ohio Bobcats to victory in the MAC Tournament before knocking off Georgetown in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.