When West Virginia faces Iowa State on Wednesday night in Ames, the storyline will be thick with players who launched their college careers somewhere else.
WVU began this season counting on three Division I transfers to contribute, a heavy dose of relocated talent. But that’s nothing like the Cyclones, who feature four starters from other Division I programs, and a fifth player who is redshirting this season under NCAA transfer rules.
When coach Fred Hoiberg came to Iowa State in 2010 from the Minnesota Timberwolves, he brought an NBA front-office mentality with him, courting other schools’ castoffs and malcontents as free agents. While not every transfer warrants a stigma, Hoiberg offered second chances to several players who had run-ins with police or administrators at previous schools.
“In a lot of cases, yeah, they’ve used their bullets. When they come in there, it’s their last chance.” — Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg
“Some have left the program because it wasn’t the right fit, and a couple of them left because they had some issues,” said Hoiberg, likening his evaluation process to that of NBA scouts profiling draft prospects.
“We always check with the old coach. You find out if there was an issue, what that issue was, and you talk about if you think it’s worth taking another chance on this kid. You just try to put everything together when doing the background on them. We’ve had success with that.”
Point guard Korie Lucious, a senior playing his one and only season with Iowa State, was dismissed from the Michigan State team by Tom Izzo in January 2011. Four months before meeting his end at MSU for what Izzo called “conduct detrimental to the program,” Lucious pleaded guilty to reckless driving in the wake of a DWI arrest.
Lucious was the second dispatched Spartan to spend his senior season playing under Hoiberg. Last year, guard Chris Allen averaged 12.2 points and helped ISU to a 22-10 record and the NCAA round of 32. At MSU, he had run afoul of Izzo based on tardiness and academic issues, though the coach told reporters at the time of Allen’s dismissal, “He’s a good enough kid. It’s not like he raped and pillaged anyone or robbed a 7-Eleven.”
Last season’s most celebrated transfer, forward Royce White, did steal clothing from a mall store while he was a freshman at Minnesota, and later was charged with trespassing in the theft of a dorm laptop. That wayward path led him to the Cyclones, where in his lone season White became the only NCAA player to lead his team in scoring (13.4), rebounding (9.3), assists (5.0), steals (1.1) and blocks (0.9). He became the No. 16 overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, forgoing his final two years of college eligibility.
Even while offering a do-over at a new campus, Hoiberg said transfers with past transgressions are held to a stricter standard. Their baggage matters.
“In a lot of cases, yeah, they’ve used their bullets,” he said. “When they come in there, it’s their last chance.”
Transfers have been a quick rebuilding fix for the thin roster Hoiberg inherited from Greg McDermott, who’s now at Creighton. Though Hoiberg hopes to eventually land more top recruits out of high school, he appreciates that transplants arrive with a more developed sense of what’s expected from a major-college athlete.
“The biggest thing is they know what to expect because they’ve had good coaching,” he said. “Two played for Izzo and one played for Tubby Smith. You get guys who have already gone through that learning curve that freshmen have to go through.”
Among the other transfers on ISU’s current roster, Lucious leads the team with 5.4 assists per game, Will Clyburn (Utah) is tops in scoring at 14.3 points per game, guard Chris Babb (Penn State) leads in minutes and owns a nearly 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and forward Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois) has made nine starts and averages 4.7 points and 4.0 rebounds. Only Babb, who arrived with a clean state after two seasons at Penn State, has encountered a disciplinary issue under Hoiberg. The senior was suspended the first two games this season for what he called a “mistake” that happened last year.
Former USC point guard Maurice Jones is sitting out and will be eligible at Iowa State next season. He averaged 13.0 points and led the Pac 12 in minutes during the 2011-12 season but but was ruled academically ineligible last September and opted to change schools.
At West Virginia, Huggins brought in junior center Aaric Murray (LaSalle), sophomore point guard Juwan Staten (Dayton) and senior guard Matt Humphrey (Boston College) — a trio that has produced mixed results on the court or drawn Huggins’ ire off of it:
• Murray, who was arrested for possession of marijuana while sitting out last season, averages a team-high 10.6 points and 7.5 rebounds but has been criticized by Huggins for inconsistent effort. He didn’t travel to the Michigan game Dec. 15. “I’ve left guys home who were way, way, way better than Aaric Murray,” Huggins said that night. “I mean, honestly, did we miss him? I don’t think we did. And if he doesn’t do right in the future, we’re not going to miss him then either.”
• Staten is average a team-leading 30.6 minutes but is currently benched. “He has to get on the same page as me or he is not going to play anymore,” said Huggins.
• Humphrey is averaging 4.5 points in only 10 minutes of action and hasn’t appeared in any of WVU’s three Big 12 games.
Still, Huggins said he understands pursuing transfers as a means of filling needs.
“We haven’t had a whole bunch (at WVU), but we’ve had a few over the years that turned our really well for us,” said Huggins, referencing Jermaine Tate at Cincinnati and a host of transfers at Akron. “I like it.”