Transfers Keeping San Jose State Basketball in the Cellar
Spartans unable to find a foothold as top talent transfers out
SJSU loses its best players to transfers … again
For mid-major programs, roster continuity is one of the most important keys to sustained success. Just look at what Nevada was able to accomplish under Eric Musselman over the past few seasons. Of course, the Wolf Pack had a ton of talent – but they also had time to develop it.
But what happens when your top talent bolts for the door?
That’s the problem that San Jose State head coach Jean Prioleau has been facing since he took the job. And the results have been dire.
It all started in July of 2017 when then-head coach Dave Wojcik resigned. Wojcik had just guided the Spartans to a 14-16 overall mark, with a 7-11 record in league play. It was their best finish in six seasons, but personal issues led him to leave the program. And he wasn’t the only one looking for the exit.
The coaching change, which eventually led to the hire of Prioleau from his assistant position at Colorado, was enough to spur some of San Jose State’s best players to head for greener pastures. The most notable of these, of course, is Brandon Clarke.
Clarke was coming off an All-MWC season where he averaged over 17 points and nearly nine rebounds. He parlayed that success into a spot at Mark Few’s vaunted Gonzaga program, where he earned national accolades. One of the nation’s best two-way players, Clarke was just selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Besides the obvious blow of losing such a talented player, the Spartans also lost guard Terrell Brown and forward Cody Schwartz to programs in smaller conferences. Brown headed south to New Mexico State and now has an NCAA Tournament appearance to his name. After sitting out the 2017-18 season, averaged 11 points and shot 42% from downtown for the WAC champions.
Schwartz, meanwhile, went out to the Horizon League, where he now plays for Green Bay in his home state of Wisconsin. While not as successful as Clarke or Brown, he started 24 games on a 21-win team that reached the finals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Then, before last season, leading scorer Ryan Welage graduated and subsequently transferred to Xavier. Rather than spending his final year of eligibility toiling in Silicon Valley, the 6’10” sharpshooter played an important role coming off the bench for the Musketeers. Like the other players to leave the program, Welage got his first taste of postseason basketball when Xavier was invited to the NIT.
Meanwhile, in Prioleau’s two seasons at the helm for San Jose State, the progress made by Wojcik has come undone. The Spartans have won a grand total of eight games in the past two years, including just one in Mountain West play. It was always going to be an uphill battle to bring success to San Jose, but these teams have struggled immensely. The losses of talented players has certainly been a contributing factor to the futility.
Unfortunately for Prioleau, that trend is continuing heading into the 2019-20 season.
Almost like clockwork, the Spartans’ top two scorers from last season have transferred out of the program. Michael Steadman, a 6’10” forward who averaged 13 points and 8.5 rebounds in his junior year, is heading to Montana. He should be a big piece for Travis DeCuire’s squad in 2020-21 and could be one of the more effective big men in the Big Sky.
The other transfer is Noah Baumann, who was San Jose State’s top three-point shooter a year ago. His 45.5% conversion rate on deep shots was enough to attract the attention of Andy Enfield and USC. Baumann will have two years of eligibility for the Trojans after sitting out next season.
One way to mitigate such substantial losses is through recruiting and playing the transfer game, but San Jose State hasn’t had a lot of success there, either. The Spartans do have a couple three-star players who will be asked to contribute next season, though.
Kaison Hammonds, part of the 2018 class and the school’s highest-rated recruit in the 247Sports database, was a non-factor in 11 appearances last year. The other heralded newcomer is Richard Washington Jr., who transfers over from Tallahassee CC after showing some promise as a scorer at the JUCO level. San Jose State will also rely on returning players such as Brae Ivey, Seneca Knight, and Craig LeCesne to develop their games now that Steadman and Baumann have departed.
While these players could help San Jose State crawl out of the cellar, there is always the worry that if any of them are too good, they might not stick around long enough to finish the job. It’s a tricky situation, to be sure.
Clearly, the Spartans’ lack of success has to be a contributing factor to why so much talent is walking out the door. Couple those hard times with an all-time high for transfers and it’s a recipe for disaster. Especially with all of the talent that is transferring in around the league.
It’s hard to put all of the blame on Prioleau’s shoulders, but he does bear the responsibility for fixing the situation. If he can’t find a way to stem the tide of outgoing talent, the Spartans will continue to live in the basement of the Mountain West.
Andrew Dieckhoff covers basketball for Mountain West Wire. He also runs the Dieckhoff Power Index, a website for college basketball analytics and bracketology.