Examining Ohio State's Hoops Transfers Case by Case

Bruce Hooley

They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but it's more often true that the grass is brown everywhere.

Or, there are more weeds than apparent upon first glance.

Those realities apply in both directions with Ohio State's basketball transfers D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney and Luther Muhammad.

Playing for OSU showed all three that carrying their high school success into college, and then transitioning from college to the NBA, would be more arduous than anticipated.

And having all three on the roster exposed the coaching staff that recruited them to each player's limitations, in basketball ability and life awareness.

OSU fans are perplexed by the totality of the transfers and wonder why players are leaving head coach Chris Holtmann's program in droves.

The reality is there are individual reasons for each departure that compelled each decision:

D.J. Carton

The highest-ranked of OSU's incoming freshmen, the 6-2 Carton loomed as a possible one-and-done. He averaged 10.4 points, but also 2.6 turnovers, playing 24 minutes per-game, flashing brilliance at times, but inconsistency too often to trust him with control of the offense. 

Carton had a great game against Kentucky in December and had his best game of the season at Northwestern in late January. That suggested he might be ready to assume a bigger leadership role on the team at a time when it badly needed someone to step forward and take over.

But later that week, Carton surprisingly left the team to tend to his mental health.

Holtmann staunchly supported Carton in that and never put pressure on him to return. Given the mental health dynamic, and the priority on getting himself solidified in that area, it was never going to be a surprise if Carton transferred closer to his home in Iowa, even when his mother promised on social media that he would return to Ohio State.

Since season's end, people who know Carton admit he never loved school and was nervous about sharing time next season with C.J. Walker. They believe if Carton doesn't get an eligibility waiver to play immediately elsewhere, he will turn pro, because he doesn't like school enough to sit out for a year and then go to school another year to get to the NBA.

Alonzo Gaffney

Recruiting and signing Gaffney was a must, given his status as the No. 1 player in Ohio. It would have sent the wrong message to allow him to go Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina or Kansas so early in the Holtmann regime.

Maybe Gaffney would have connected with another coaching staff or playing style and made more of an immediate impact elsewhere. But at OSU, his defense was inadequate and he lacked the body to rebound in the Big Ten.

Junior Kyle Young gave the Buckeyes more of what they needed from the power forward position, given Kaleb Wesson's penchant for roaming from the post onto the three-point line, and E.J. Liddell proved a better fit at that spot as a backup. 

Anyone who watched Gaffney play for three different high schools in four years knew he'd be higher maintenance than some recruits. Also, it was never a secret that he viewed himself as a likely one-and-done.

When Gaffney left the team in late February, a transfer certainly loomed as a possibility.

He would be wise to land at a mid-major where he can shoot threes and establish himself as a Stretch 4. Will he have the discipline and perspective to do that, or will his impatience to turn professional tempt him to try the European route and forgo his remaining eligibility?

There are many who believe Gaffney will opt for the latter course, risky though it may be.

Luther Muhammad

This is the head-scratcher, because Muhammad started 56 of 64 games in two seasons and would have been the likeliest candidate to win Most Unselfish Player on the roster.

Leaving is, bottom line, a selfish move, and that's OK, because Muhammad has to do what he thinks is best for him to get to the NBA.

The risk is, he's seeking a school which will allow him to try becoming something he's not -- a point guard who slashes to the basket as a scorer -- when he could stay at OSU and perfect the role he's played that offers a very attainable avenue to the NBA.

Bruce Bowen provided the blueprint for Muhammad years ago, and guys like Patrick Beverley, Wes Covington and Danny Green are doing it now as Three-and-D guys.

At 6-4, Muhammad has the size and the competitiveness to defend guards and wing forwards. If he became a reliable corner three-point shooter -- and the college three-point line is at that distance -- he'd stand a better chance of making himself an NBA player.

But how do you convincingly explain to someone who envisions themself as one thing that they're much better off becoming a better version of what they already are?

Unlike Carton and Gaffney, who wanted more minutes or more shots, Muhammad was starting and getting plenty of both.

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