NCAA transfer portal makes it tougher for UTC men's basketball coach Lamont Paris to rebuild

UTC men's basketball coach Lamont Paris, pictured, is beginning his third year with the Mocs still in rebuilding mode after losing SoCon freshman of the year Kevin Easley to the NCAA's transfer portal.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball coach Lamont Paris has the same challenges this time of year as Kentucky's John Calipari and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.

Paris just doesn't oversee a perennial pipeline to the professional ranks.

There are 353 Division I programs in men's basketball, and all of them are having to rebuild like never before with the growing number of transferring players, both undergraduates and graduates, in addition to those leaving early for the possibility of playing in the NBA. Roughly 900 players in recent weeks have entered the NCAA transfer portal, which is nearly three per program, and the days of having four-year loyalists such as Auburn's Bryce Brown, North Carolina's Luke Maye and Tennessee's Admiral Schofield are dwindling rapidly.

"I think this is very detrimental to something that has been built for so many years," Paris said. "It tears at the fabric of what we've established. Hopefully we can make some changes, because we're looking at there being no such things as four-year players.

"If kids aren't playing enough, they're leaving. If they play too well, they're leaving. If they don't like the temperature, they're leaving."

Paris was hired in April 2017 to continue a four-year run of winning seasons under predecessors Will Wade and Matt McCall, but McCall's veteran team in the 2016-17 season imploded down the stretch and lost its final five games. The Mocs underwent a complete roster overhaul and had tepid expectations in 2017-18, which were reflected by a 10-23 debut season for Paris that included a last-place finish in the Southern Conference at 3-15.

UTC also had one of the nation's youngest rosters this past season, but a 2018 signing class produced freshmen and leading scorers Kevin Easley and Donovann Toatley, who helped the Mocs improve to 7-11 in SoCon play and a fifth-place seeding in the league tournament.

That youthful 1-2 punch is no longer around, with Easley and Toatley having transferred.

"This makes it extremely difficult to build," Paris said. "It's a little easier to navigate that or withstand it if you've got some veteran guys, but we started out wanting to build this thing with young guys. We got a guy like Kevin Easley, and we're like, 'Wow. We got this one right. When it's all said and done, this guy is going to be a force in the league.'

"He was the type of guy you could build around, and if we could get a couple more like him, now we're talking about a super-high level of success. It's almost like they develop an encouragement to transfer, because this happens whenever someone feels like they are good enough to play at the next level."


Paris paid the price for a successful recruiting catch when Easley, who averaged 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds and was the SoCon freshman of the year, decided a Power Five program was better suited for his abilities. The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder found one in the Big 12 and is now at TCU.

Easley's departure did not shock Paris, simply because of this existing landscape enhanced by the transfer portal.

"Because of the transferring and being a grad transfer, someone like Kevin could start here and transfer to TCU," Paris said. "If it doesn't work at TCU, you've sat out for a year and played for another year, so now you grad-transfer to a third school. There will be more kids who play at three schools than at two schools within the next year or two, and that's ridiculous to me."

Of course, the transfer portal can giveth as well as taketh away.

Joining the Mocs for the 2019-20 season is one of those players who will have competed for three different colleges. Matt Ryan, a 6-8, 210-pound forward, played two seasons at Notre Dame before sitting out a year and suiting up this past winter for Vanderbilt, where he started 25 of 29 games.

Now a graduate transfer, Ryan will spend his final year of eligibility with the Mocs.

"If we can attract guys like that, we're going to have to get involved," Paris said. "All the stigma that used to be associated with kids leaving is out the window at this point."


The NCAA transfer portal went into effect this past October.

It is a website that serves as a database for student-athletes interested in transferring and is open only to NCAA coaches and administrators. Athletes are not required to reveal transfer intentions to any of their coaches but must submit their names through their school's compliance offices.

Once a name is entered into the portal, coaches of other schools can contact that athlete.

The transfer portal was established to help student-athletes, who before were often at the mercy of a coach who could approve or deny potential transfer destinations. The plethora of basketball players in the portal follows a football cycle in which several touted quarterbacks changed locales, most notably Justin Fields going from Georgia to Ohio State, Tate Martell from Ohio State to Miami and Jalen Hurts from Alabama to Oklahoma as a grad transfer.

Fields has been Georgia's most notable defection since the end of last season, but tight end Luke Ford, linebacker Jaden Hunter and defensive backs Tray Bishop and Deangelo Gibbs also entered the transfer portal with considerable eligibility remaining.

"You're going to have to do something to make your younger players play more often," Georgia football coach Kirby Smart told reporters last week at a golfing event in Birmingham, Alabama, "because you're going to have very few juniors and seniors on your rosters through transfers, graduate transfers or an exodus to the NFL."

Said Alabama football coach Nick Saban: "Whatever the rules are, we have to live with them, but if we make it where guys have an easy way out, that's not always going to be the best benefit for them."

Saban and Smart can create more conversation about the portal compared to Paris, who doesn't have nearly the platform or the annual talent. Paris isn't asking for sympathy, as this issue is currently overwhelming college basketball programs both large and small, but he does believe there has to be a better way.

After all, how awkward must it be walking into the living room of a prospect knowing you could coach him for one season before he looks for greener grass?

"Everyone is navigating this," Paris said. "It's still about people and relationships, and all you can do is make them feel comfortable about your relationship. The chance of you coaching that man for three years or even two years is unlikely, and you have to talk about that with some guys.

"It's a little easier to explain since it's happening all over the place, but it does make for a unique conversation in that living room."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.