Transfer traffic increasing

Duke's Burgess latest basketball player to switch schools

May 25, 1999|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN STAFF

Before he even attended a college class, Chris Burgess told friends and reporters that he'd probably only stay at Duke for two years. As the most celebrated player of a recruiting class that also included Elton Brand, William Avery and Shane Battier, Burgess figured he would be ready for the NBA after his sophomore season.

Only part of his prediction turned out to be true.

Burgess, a 6-foot-11, 255-pound center, wound up playing a backup role for most of his two seasons with the Blue Devils. While Brand, Avery and Duke freshman Corey Maggette have become part of a growing trend of players to renounce their college eligibility after one or two years, Burgess finds himself with plenty of company, too.

After announcing plans to transfer last month, Burgess announced last week that he would attend Utah, where he will sit out the 1999-2000 season in accordance with NCAA rules. In doing so, Burgess becomes the first transfer from a four-year school accepted by Rick Majerus in his 10 seasons coaching the Utes.

Burgess also joins a staggering list of players who have transferred since the end of the 1998-99 season. As of yesterday, there were more than 70 players on that list, several of whom led their former teams in scoring or rebounding last season and many others who were full-time starters or key contributors.

Among the high-profile players who have announced their intention to transfer are Luke Recker, who led Indiana in scoring, and Adam Harrington, who did the same for North Carolina State. Others include Michael Bradley, who started all but one game for Kentucky, and Ryan Humphrey, who started all but two for Oklahoma.

They have something else in common: They were all sophomores.

"In many cases, college is almost a comedown for a lot of these kids," said Bob Gibbons, a recruiting analyst out of Lenoir, N. C. "Before they get there, they're treated with some sort of VIP status. When they have their first bit of adversity, they leave."

Some, like Recker and Bradley, cited "personal differences" with the coach. Recker became the third starter in as many seasons to become disillusioned with Indiana's Bob Knight. He also will become the second high-profile transfer to go play for Lute Olson at Arizona, following ex-Wake Forest center Loren Woods last year.

Bradley reportedly was unhappy with the way he was being used toward the end of last season by Kentucky's Tubby Smith. Though he has yet to formally commit to another school, he will likely wind up at Ohio State. Three years ago, Bradley was among a group of blue-chip recruits who had committed to Buckeyes coach Jim O'Brien when he was still at Boston College.

Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said that Humphrey's decision to leave after the team's Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament wasn't a total shock, since the talented forward was rumored to be headed that way after his freshman season as well. This despite averaging better than 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots last season.

"The mentality is about shots and minutes and who can take care of me better," said Sampson. "At some point there's got to be a bigger picture than I and me."

If anything, coaches have partly themselves to blame for their players' lack of loyalty. In the case of Bradley and Ryan Hogan, a sophomore reserve guard who also left Kentucky recently, they were recruited by former Wildcats coach Rick Pitino, who left Lexington for the Boston Celtics long before these two recruits ever played their first game.

It used to be that players transferred to improve their playing time by going to a smaller school. Or some would want to step up the level of competition by going to a bigger school. Others simply got homesick. In many cases, it still is that way. More often, it has to do with a personality conflict with the coach.

"Although we can try to explain it and come up with generalities that could come close to hitting the mark, there are some unique circumstances," said N. C. State coach Herb Sendek, who lost Harrington as well as two reserves. "To isolate any one aspect of the system, or to hold it up as the root of the problem will also fall short of the target."

But, added Sendek, "it certainly seems to be an epidemic."

Majerus compares the transfer of players to a divorce between husbands and wives.

"Half of all marriages in this country end in divorce: sometimes it's bad, with a lot of bitterness," Majerus said. "But with these kids who transfer, I don't think it's all bad."

Majerus recalls one of his players transferring because he thought he should have been getting as much playing time as one of his teammates.

"The kid said, `I'm as good as [Keith] Van Horn,' " recalled Majerus. "He would have been the poster boy for having a delusional opinion of himself."

Some familiar with Burgess' situation at Duke might believe that to be the situation. And if not Burgess having a rather inflated opinion of his abilities, then his father.

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