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Washington State’s Kyle Smith details how the coronavirus has affected NCAA transfer portal during S-R forum

UPDATED: Fri., April 10, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic may be shaping how college basketball coaches are doing business these days, but the business itself is not too much different than usual.

In 2020, there have been 720 Division I basketball transfers, according to VerbalCommits.com, while 99 underclassmen already have announced plans to leave college early and enter the NBA draft, Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reported.

While coaches are unable to meet in person on a daily basis and discuss the state of their fluctuating rosters, preparing for just about every scenario is just as important as it was in a world before the coronavirus.

Washington State’s roster hasn’t been hit hard by transfers – only one player, Daron Henson, is reported to be leaving – and the team’s only legitimate NBA prospect, forward CJ Elleby, still hasn’t announced his intentions for next season.

Even if the Cougars aren’t anticipating an exodus, they still need to have a contingency plan in place if Elleby decides to leave, or if others want to survey their options outside of Pullman. Plus, perusing the NCAA’s transfer portal is a productive way to pass time until “stay-at-home” orders are lifted and coaches and players are allowed to return to the court.

“Our staff has nothing to do, so that’s something to do,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “… We’re keeping tabs.”

In a conversation with The Spokesman-Review as part of the Northwest Passages Virtual Forum Friday morning, Smith detailed WSU’s strategy when it comes to using the transfer portal – a device introduced by the NCAA two years ago to simplify the transfer process for athletes in every sport.

“The transfer market develops for us as the program matures, because it’s usually guys you recruit on the front end that maybe went someplace else,” Smith said. “I don’t usually like taking a transfer I don’t have a relationship with before. But we’re open, we’re checking.”

Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review

The coronavirus pandemic, Smith thinks, could alter where some athletes choose to play next season. Some may feel obligated to move home to be closer to sick family members. The Cougars are unsure when, or if, junior forward Aljaz Kunc will return to Pullman after traveling back to his home country of Slovenia for spring break.

“We’re going to be on top of things, trying to keep things as normal as we can,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, there are not a lot of players that popped out of Pullman that played elsewhere and might be coming home. But there are some guys from the state of Washington that would probably come back and it might be interesting. Who knows?

“I just think you’ve got a lot of coaches sitting at home watching the portal light up and guys are getting a lot of attention. It probably causes more guys to go into the portal. ‘Hey, that looks neat.’ ”

The WSU coach, coming off a 16-16 record in his first season with the Cougars, expects a one-time transfer rule to kick in “next year at the latest, if not this spring.”

Coronavirus is keeping students off campus for the remainder of the spring semester, which means Smith won’t regroup with his players until summer at the earliest. It means the Cougars also have to forfeit a three- to four-week spring basketball/conditioning program that’s used much the same way “spring camp” is in football.

“I think that’s one of our biggest areas of concern, and that’s what we’re missing out on,” Smith said. “We always think your leadership is displayed through actions, so having a good little spring minicamp of three to four weeks where guys kind of separate themselves isn’t going to happen, and summer’s very much up in the air as well.”

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