Maybe you can tie college basketball’s transfer mania into a statement about society today, about me-first attitudes and immediate gratification.
Dan Monson wonders sometimes. The Long Beach State coach, whose 49ers will face No. 6 Arizona tonight at McKale Center, wondered when three players created chemistry issues during the middle of last season, and especially on the last day of the season.
That’s when Baylor smacked Long Beach State by 46 points in the NIT.
It was then that Monson knew something had to change.
So, after the spring semester ended, Monson dismissed three players from the team. Not because they broke rules or failed academically, he said. Just because, he said, they weren’t team players.
“It was one of those situations where the team never represented the university the right way, in the way they played and in the way they acted sometimes,” Monson said. “I feel it’s a privilege to be here. We worked really hard in the culture of this program and I felt like that team, even though we won the (Big West), didn’t do that.
“If you can’t get them to respect the program, I didn’t feel another year was going to change anything. So we decided not to have everybody back and build the culture back up.”
It wasn’t an easy decision. Two of the dismissed players — Tony Freeland and Keala King — were starters. The third, wing Deng Deng, averaged 5.3 points a game.
But King (from ASU) and Freeland (DePaul) were already transfers. And Deng repeatedly clashed with coaches in high school in Utah, according to a Deseret News story, even criticizing one of them on Twitter.
Bob Keisser of the Long Beach Press-Telegram wrote that newcomers King, Freeland and center Dan Jennings never fit in with the 49ers’ key returnees last season.
“They played herky-jerky basketball,” Keisser wrote, “with an emphasis often on the jerk.”
Still, a divorce wasn’t ideal for either side. Because Freeland and King were juniors who had transferred into Long Beach State, they couldn’t leave for another Division I school because they didn’t have time on their five-year eligibility clocks to sit out another redshirt season.
Nor did Monson want to push them away, he said, adding that dismissals aren’t something you ever want to do.
But, the way he described it, he had to.
“They all wanted to stay,” Monson said. “It was just one of those things … where we had a lot of guys going in their own direction.
“I think sometimes it’s society in a way, it’s all about the person. But there has got to be a team concept. You can’t win at the mid-major level if you don’t have that.”
It’s a lesson Monson learned through different experiences as a head coach at Gonzaga and Minnesota. His Zags grabbed national attention when they reached the 1999 Elite Eight, but at Minnesota, Monson resigned under pressure during the 2006-07 season after taking over a program loaded down with NCAA sanctions resulting from an academic scandal.
“At Minnesota, I should have been more firm as a coach and ultimately at that program, I didn’t do a good enough job,” said Monson, whose father, Don, coached at Oregon from 1983 to 1992. “So you learn from that. The culture of a program you can’t compromise.”
Even if the short-term reality is difficult.
Monson’s decision meant that in year seven of his LBSU tenure, just as the 49ers have rolled to three straight Big West regular-season titles, they are suddenly, oddly, in something of a rebuilding mode.
Mike Caffey is back at point guard, and Jennings, a transfer from West Virginia, is at center. Monson said he’s glad that the two most valuable positions are taken by those veterans, but everything else is a question mark.
Monson said he’s expecting to get an infusion of wing scoring when UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb becomes eligible in December, but the 49ers now are mostly trying to mesh in junior college transfers and other inexperienced players.
It may not be easy. They beat Division II Hawaii-Pacific just 71-59 in their season opener on Saturday in Long Beach.
“It was a very trying offseason to bring in four kids from junior college — that’s not what you want to do,” Monson said. “But in April, there aren’t a lot of options. And now we’ve got some kids excited for the opportunity and representing the program the right way.”