The college basketball hierarchy was shaken up on June 20th when Reid Travis announced he was heading to Kentucky. Though it had been rumored that Travis would end up in Lexington for several weeks since he announced his decision to leave Stanford as a grad transfer, it was finally official. All of a sudden, opposing coaches had to deal with the fact that John Calipari has something he has never had during his time at Kentucky: a star senior. In fact, Cal has had just five seniors average more than 20 minutes per game during his eight seasons at UK: Josh Harrellson in 2010–11, Darius Miller in 2011–12, Julius Mays in 2012–13, Alex Poythress in 2015–16 and Derek Willis in 2016–17. Only Poythress (10.2) averaged double-digit points. Travis, meanwhile, reached double figures in all but one game for Stanford last season.
When you recruit like Calipari does, you don’t need to add veteran transfers to be successful. Led by one-and-done future NBA stars, Kentucky has been a dominant force over the past decade. That’s what makes Travis choosing the Wildcats so scary for the rest of the country. Inexperience has been a factor in Kentucky coming up short of the Final Four for three consecutive Marches, and now it has an elite forward who was born 10 days after Karl-Anthony Towns and has played 97 career games.
For teams who don’t land multiple McDonald’s All-Americans every year, transfers are even more important, given that it tends to be more effective to plug roster holes with veterans than with non-five-star freshmen, even if only for a year. Heading into the 2018–19 season, there are plenty of solid transfer players who will play roles in March much like Caleb Martin, Malik Newman and Charles Matthews did this year. But what sets this class of transfers apart from most seasons is the firepower at the top (spoiler: Travis isn’t even No. 1).
Without further ado, here are our top 10 impact transfers for the upcoming season, including both traditional sit-a-year players as well as graduate transfers.
1. Dedric and K.J. Lawson (Memphis to Kansas)
2016–17 numbers: 19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg (Dedric); 12.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg (K.J.)
Plenty of college basketball fans don’t remember Dedric Lawson’s otherworldly 2016–17 season—in which he nearly averaged 20 and 10—simply because he did it for Memphis. Now he, like Travis, has a chance to see his NBA draft stock skyrocket if he has a big year at one of the nation’s elite programs. The Lawsons, like most on this list, transferred up into more of the spotlight to take on a new challenge. A 6’ 9”, 230-pound power forward, Dedric is a polished offensive player who can back his man down or take him off the dribble. He made just 27% of his 111 three-point attempts as a sophomore, so it will be interesting to see if Bill Self allows him to let it fly from deep. Regardless, he’ll be the first option on a team that could challenge Duke and Kentucky for preseason No. 1 honors. His brother K.J. is no slouch either, but may have to come off the bench on a team that returns Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick and also adds Cal transfer Charlie Moore and five-star freshmen Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson.
2. Reid Travis (Grad transfer, Stanford to Kentucky)
2017–18 numbers: 19.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg
Travis and Dedric Lawson are virtually interchangeable for the top spot on this list. Both guys are National Player of the year contenders and will be the best players on blueblood title contenders. Travis played just eight games before getting hurt as a sophomore, then became one of the Pac-12’s best players for two years. Despite his talent, he toiled in relative obscurity playing for Stanford, which hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since the year before Travis arrived. Now Travis, an elite rebounder and interior scorer, gets a massive opportunity on the biggest of stages. With Travis and PJ Washington down low, Quade Green running point and four five-star freshmen joining the fold, a Final Four appearance should be the minimum expectation for John Calipari’s team.
3. Joe Cremo (Grad, Albany to Villanova)
2017–18 numbers: 17.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, 46% 3PT
If you don’t know who Joe Cremo is yet, you will soon. The best shooter available on the grad transfer market, Cremo chose Villanova over the likes of Kansas and Gonzaga and is a huge addition for the defending champs. With Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman leaving school early, Jay Wright was undoubtedly thrilled to add a veteran scorer with Cremo’s shooting ability. Despite their personnel losses, don’t count the Wildcats out this season. Eric Paschall, Collin Gillespie and Phil Booth all have national title experience, and five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly could be an immediate star.
4. Tevin Mack (Texas to Alabama)
2016–17 numbers: 14.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 39% 3PT
Mack had an up-and-down career with Texas. He led the Longhorns in scoring as a sophomore, but only played 15 games that season due to multiple suspensions for violating team rules. His second suspension was an indefinite one in January 2017, and Shaka Smart released him from his scholarship that February. The 6’ 7” wing will play a big role on an Alabama team that has elite athletes all over the court and the talent to receive an at-large bid again, even without Collin Sexton leading the way.
5. Matt Mooney (Grad, South Dakota to Texas Tech)
2017–18 numbers: 18.7 ppg, 3.1 apg, 2 spg
Mooney was one of the more prized commodities on the grad transfer market this offseason, eventually choosing Texas Tech over Northwestern and Creighton in May. He can play both guard positions and will provide a needed scoring presence for the Red Raiders, who made the Elite Eight last season but lost Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith. It’ll be up to Mooney and Jarrett Culver to lead Texas Tech back to the NCAA tournament in Chris Beard’s third year.
6. Brandon Clarke (San Jose State to Gonzaga)
2016–17 numbers: 17.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Mark Few and Gonzaga have a loaded roster that will benefit from the addition of transfers. Clarke emerged as one of the best players in the Mountain West in 2016–17 and now joins a Zags frontcourt that already features Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura. North Dakota grad transfer Geno Crandall was also a big pickup in the backcourt for Gonzaga, but Clarke is the bigger addition and could even wind up being an upgrade from Johnathan Williams. This team has Final Four potential once again.
7. Marial Shayok (Virginia to Iowa State)
2016–17 numbers: 8.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg
Shayok’s decision to leave one of the best programs in the country and sit out a year before his senior season was somewhat surprising, but he’s set up to post the best offensive numbers of his career in Ames. His big-game experience and two-way game will be a big boost to a team that struggled last year but has talented pieces in Lindell Wigginton, Nick Weiler-Babb and Cameron Lard. Shayok left Virginia to play in a more offensive-focused system; he’ll have to have a big year if the Cyclones are to do damage in the Big 12.
8. Tramaine Isabell (grad, Drexel to Saint Louis)
2017–18 numbers: 21 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.2 spg
Saint Louis fans are hoping Isabell’s third stop is his most successful. The 6’ 1” point guard spent his first two seasons coming off the bench for Missouri before transferring to a smaller school and a bigger role. He successfully made a name for himself as Drexel’s best player, and now Isabell has a real chance to see the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2018–19. He didn’t come all the way back to a major conference, but the Billikens may be the favorites in the A-10 with Isabell and Maryland grad transfer Dion Wiley joining Jordan Goodwin and Javon Bess in coach Travis Ford’s third year.
9. Evan Boudreaux (grad, Dartmouth to Purdue)
2016–17 numbers: 17.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 35% 3PT
Boudreaux is not your typical grad transfer, nor did he take a straightforward path to Purdue. After dominating with his inside-out ability for two seasons at Dartmouth (he shot 40% from three in 2015–16 and led the league in rebounding a year later), he sat out last season and got his degree in three years. Boudreaux initially committed to Xavier, but re-opened his recruitment when Chris Mack left for Louisville. He figures to serve as the second scoring option behind Carsen Edwards for a Purdue team that has gone 29–7 in Big Ten play over the past two seasons. He’ll help Matt Painter avoid a rebuilding year despite losing four senior starters.
10. Mario Kegler (Mississippi State to Baylor)
2016–17 numbers: 9.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 34% 3PT
Most of the players on this list have already established themselves at the college level, electing to transfer late in their careers in search of a place to showcase their abilities before their eligibility runs out. Several are already household names for their accomplishments at their old school. That’s not the case with Kegler. A top-60 recruit in 2016, Kegler flashed potential as a freshman for a Mississippi State team that went 6–12 in the SEC. Now in the Big 12, Kegler will have every opportunity to blossom into a star for Scott Drew and the Bears. Baylor graduated its top four scorers this offseason and will need Kegler’s scoring from the wing to stay afloat in one of the country’s toughest conferences.
Chase Jeter (Duke to Arizona)
C.J. Bryce/Devon Daniels (UNC-Wilmington/Utah to NC State)
Ryan Welage (grad, San Jose State to Xavier)
Desean Murray (grad, Auburn to WKU)
Ryan Taylor (grad, Evansville to Northwestern)