Blum: Hoiberg and the transfer shark tank

The first person to parachute out of an airplane was probably almost institutionalized. Same can be said for the first dude to jump in a shark tank. 

Anytime you are the first to try something new, there is a heaping amount of risk involved. Risk to your reputation and worse. In the aforementioned skydive and shark examples, a person could in fact die. Fred Hoiberg’s player acquisition strategy did not involve sharks or parachutes, but the basketball traditionalists looked at him in the summer of 2010 as some sort of off-the-Vegas-strip huckster. Why is the clean cut Mayor chasing down "trouble-makers" like Royce White, Chris Allen and Anthony Booker? That will never work; if Tom Izzo can’t get the guy to play hard, then the fresh-faced Hoiberg has no chance. A transfer here or there is fine, but assembling a team of them is a recipe for disaster.

With the signing of Hallice Cooke this week, Hoiberg has now inked 13 division one transfers in just over four years. Only one of those 13 transfers left Iowa State unexpectedly (Maurice Jones). And the Jones case was an NCAA clearinghouse issue from his previous stop and there was nothing Iowa State could have done to prevent it.

In men’s college basketball today, roughly 40 percent of players will transfer in their career. This is growing by the year. Hoiberg was not the first to take a transfer, the practice has been a part of college basketball since forever. But Iowa State, under Hoiberg, is seemingly the first BCS conference school to get a majority of their players via the transfer route.

Under Hoiberg, Iowa State has signed nine high school players (note Melvin Ejim, Eric McKnight, Calvin Godfrey, Jordan Railey all signed while Greg McDermott was at the helm so they aren’t included in this exercise). He has signed three junior college players and accumulated the 13 transfers.

So if you are a mathematician, of the 25 players that have penned a letter of intent to Hoiberg, 13 have transferred from other Division-1 schools. This, we can safely assume, has never been done at a power conference school.

The strategy has obviously worked tremendously. Iowa State built a team that returned just four letter winners when Hoiberg took the job to a three-time NCAA Tournament team and a potential national championship contender. This isn’t quite Bill Snyder transforming K-State from the dead to the living, but the rapid ascent of the Iowa State program is something.

Now we see the scorned basketball traditionalists participating in the same free-agent season. The big-time schools all over America are saving one to two scholarships until April in hopes of adding a missing piece. For example, Mike Krzyzewski at Duke took just two transfers in his first 32 years at Duke. He has added two transfers in the last three seasons. He is not alone.

Anymore, the safest bet in acquiring talent is the transfer. First and foremost, college coaches have actual college game tape and numbers to analyze before giving out a scholarship. Hallice Cooke was lightly recruited by the power schools coming out of high school. He was a classic tweener guard and only averaged five points per game as a sophomore at powerhouse St. Anthony’s High School in New Jersey.  But after he committed to Oregon State, played 26 minutes per game as a freshman and shot 45 percent from three in the monstrous Pac-12 conference, any questions about his ability to play at the elite level were erased. The hit rate on a transfer is almost guaranteed to be higher than a freshman because you know what you are getting. And even when dealing with the guaranteed elite high school talent, the chances of them sticking around for more than one or two years is a dicey proposition. Of the projected top 20 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, there is one college junior or senior listed – Doug McDermott.

Not to mention, the overlooked factor in regards to transfers is it is highly unlikely they will transfer again. When two in five players are transferring out of programs, college coaches constantly weigh the battle of who will return next season. Greg McDermott was decimated in his tenure at Iowa State by roster upheaval. It is brutal to assemble a roster when a chess piece may vacate the board at the most inopportune time.

But once a player transfers and sits out a year, if they opt to leave again, they would have to sit out another entire year. No player wants to spend forty percent of their eligibility sitting in street clothes. Fred Hoiberg has benefited from this "last chance motel" scenario. For the initial guys with professional hoops aspirations like Royce White, Chris Babb and Chris Allen, if they failed at Iowa State, the opportunity to latch on somewhere else was essentially zero.

Hoiberg’s initial 2010 foray into the transfer market puts Iowa State a step ahead of some of the other schools due to the proven track record he has accumulated. 

What started out as a last chance landing ground has turned into a opportunistic stage. Now the transfers are seeking out Iowa State because of the success previous men have had. Guys like Cooke and Abdel Nader are coming to the Cyclone program because it is a step up from where they were and gives them a chance to win on the highest level.

Iowa State is benefiting from jumping head first into the transfer shark tank before everybody else. The transfer stigma should be erased. Being first is only crazy if it doesn’t work.