Saturday, December 15, 2007

Legion is my name. There are many of us.

As Kentucky freshman Alex Legion searches for a new team, we take some time to look at what causes players to leave their programs. Legion will decide between Illinois and Notre Dame for a new home, with Michigan and Cincinnati staying in the hunt as long shots. The Inkster, Michigan, native signed with the Wolverines in high school but asked out of his letter of intent after coach Tommy Amaker was let go. Legion's decision to transfer from Kentucky followed disagreements with new coach Billy Gillespie.

Last season, made a list of the top 10 transfers in the country. J.R. Giddens went from Kansas to New Mexico and averaged 15.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Teammate Aaron Johnson transferred from Penn State and led the Lobos in rebounding. Also from the Land of Enchantment was New Mexico State key defender Fred Peete. Peete was named to the WAC all-defensive team after leaving Kansas State.

This year, former Mississippi State forward Walter Sharpe is impressing for the UAB Blazers, scoring 14 points and grabbing 7.4 rebounds a game. His teammate Robert Vaden came from Indiana to play alongside Sharpe and help the Blazers to seven early wins this season. At South Carolina, two Mr. Basketball awardees came home to help the Gamecocks this season. Guards Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick came from Cincinnati and Georgia Tech to average 34 points and eight assists a game between them this season.

What caused these transfers? For the South Carolina twosome, it was all about playing at home. "I am excited to be back home and playing in the home state. It won't be such a stretch for anyone to come see me play anymore," said Fredrick. Walter Sharpe's decision to leave Mississippi State for Birmingham came after some turmoil that saw teammates Gary Ervin and Jerrell Houston also leave the school. Sharpe had some academic struggles that held him out of his freshman year for the Bulldogs. Vaden followed Coach Mike Davis to UAB.

While some programs shy away from accepting transfers, both UAB and South Carolina have improved their squads through this player movement. The reasons for transferring, however, were quite different. Mike Davis added academic liabilities in Sharpe and Channing Toney and a loyal pupil in Vaden. South Carolina's transfers were highly talented players who got homesick.

How does this relate to Alex Legion? His desire to leave the program so early is pretty discouraging to coaches who might be interested in receiving his services. As the ESPN analysts noted during the UAB-Kentucky game today, a very good one-on-one interview would be needed before Mike Brey or Bruce Weber decide to bring Legion to South Bend or Champaign. Like how Davis trusted Vaden and Sharpe enough to give the two players the opportunity to become his team's top scorers, coaches who accept transfers must balance the risk of immaturity against a chance of increased talent when adding new players to the program.

This post, part of a weekly series from BlackandGreen on, can be found at the weekly blog here.

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