Transfer portal scrambles basketball rosters across state

Every Division I team in North Carolina has been impacted by player movement

Guard Kellan Grady is staying a Wildcat but moving on from Davidson, opting to transfer to Kentucky. (Gary Landers / AP Photo)

Spring: That time of year in North Carolina where, if you don’t like the way your favorite team’s roster looks, just wait a minute, and it’ll change.

No team has embodied that idea more than UNC. It wasn’t that long ago that the Tar Heels were known as the model of stability. Coach Roy Williams did things old-school, and that included keeping players around and developing them.

Williams’ transfer-free streak ended two years ago when point guard Seventh Woods left for South Carolina. Big man Brandon Huffman and guard Jeremiah Francis joined the exodus after last season.

This season promised to dwarf Williams’ previous transfer totals. With the NCAA loosening transfer rules and players having an extra year of eligibility to play with due to the coronavirus pandemic, the offseason promised to be a “wild west,” according to rival coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Sure enough, more than 1,000 players have already entered the transfer portal, topping the total for last offseason before the season even officially ends for everyone. And North Carolina has been at the center of the transfer drama.

Almost as soon as the Tar Heels’ season-ending loss to Wisconsin was over, reports began surfacing of players unhappy with playing time and looking for better opportunities to develop.

Freshman 7-footer Walker Kessler was the first to leave, hitting the portal just over two days after the season-ending loss. Redshirt junior big man Sterling Manley followed, announcing his intention to graduate and move on. The latter’s decision wasn’t a shock, as Manley went out to center court with his graduating classmates on Senior Night to salute the Smith Center crowd.

Freshman big man Day’Ron Sharpe also announced he was headed to the NBA, and — based on statements from Sharpe and the school — its sounds like a permanent move rather than testing the waters.

Thus far, however, the stampede for the door appears to have quelled. Freshman guard Caleb Love, thought to be one of the likeliest candidates to leave after his father posted messages of frustration on Twitter early in the week, announced he’d be back to complete “unfinished business.”

The biggest question marks remaining on next season’s rough draft of a roster are Garrison Brooks, who has the option of returning as a super senior, and Armando Bacot, who could also choose to test the NBA Draft waters.

UNC is, of course, also shopping the transfer portal as well as reaching out to uncommitted 2021 high school seniors to try to fill out its roster, although nothing appeared imminent as the sport still seems more focused on exit doors than new entrances in the portal.

Duke also hasn’t seen quite as much wild west activity as Krzyzewski might have expected, although the Blue Devils have seen some churn. Super senior Jordan Goldwire announced he would be using his extra year of eligibility elsewhere, and freshman Jaemyn Brakefield entered the portal.

The biggest unsettled decisions that will determine Duke’s 2021 roster are freshman guard DJ Steward, freshman big man Mark Williams and leading scorer Matthew Hurt, who could all choose to test the NBA waters.

Surprisingly, NC State — which has leaned heavily on transfers under coach Kevin Keatts — has been the model of stability in the transfer portal era. Since the portal was implemented in early 2018, the Pack had been one of two power conference teams not to lose a player. Iowa was the other.

That streak ended, however, when guard Braxton Beverly left for Eastern Kentucky for his super senior season. The Wolfpack did, however, make an addition Wednesday, getting a commitment from 6-foot-8 Providence forward Greg Gantt, a Fayetteville native.

One year into the transition to coach Steve Forbes, Wake Forest has seen the most outgoing activity in the portal of the in-state ACC teams. Six Deacons have entered the portal, with Quadry Adams already finding a new home at St. Bonaventure. Blake Buchanan, Jalen Johnson, Ismael Massoud, Jahcobi Neath and Emmanuel Okpomo have also joined him in the portal. Former Indiana State forward Jake LaRavia has joined the Deacs.

The transfer portal is far from just an issue for the ACC teams, however. Western Carolina saw double-digit scorer Matt Halvorsen leave for Florida Gulf Coast for his fifth year. Three other Catamounts, including leading scorer Mason Faulker, are also in the portal. WCU also added a transfer.

East Carolina has four players in the portal, including leading scorer Jayden Gardner. The Pirates picked up Boston College sophomore Wynston Tabbs.

Davidson has lost a pair of players, with super senior Carter Collins leaving for Murray State and super senior Kellan Grady headed to Kentucky. David Czerapowicz is also in the portal.

Charlotte’s Caleb Byrd, one of two 49ers freshmen in the portal, left for Jacksonville State.

UNC Asheville saw reserves BJ McLaurin and AJ McBride leave, with Lavar Batts, who started at NC State, also in the portal. UNCA also added a player from the portal.

NC Central has seen an eye-popping nine players hit the portal, including eight of its top nine scorers and nine of the top 11. Central has added College of Charleston’s Dontavious King and Providence’s Kris Monroe.

A&T has five players in the portal, Campbell one, App State three, High Point two, Elon two, UNCW five and UNCG one. UNCW has added two transfers and High Point one.