Alihan Demir will graduate from Drexel University this spring, and with that, he has made the decision to enter the NCAA transfer portal today as a graduate student transfer, today, April 4th. And while this doesn’t mean he’s leaving Drexel University, all signs point to that occurrence. And while it may be water under the bridge, the question worth asking is a simple one: Is that a good thing for anyone?
Losing 15 points and 6 rebounds per game from an experienced player will undoubtedly hurt the Dragons and Alihan’s former teammates. On it’s face, it’s a tough day to be a Dragon. And it is. But, despite what ESPN wants to tell you, there are nuances to all stories, and in this one in particular, it’s important to note that there are two sides to Alihan’s decision.
On the one hand, Alihan got the call from his coaches out of timeouts and stoppages more than any other player on the roster this year. He was often isolated or sent into the paint, and was the focal point of plays drawn up by the staff, who seemed to have great respect for the skillset that the bigman had to offer. Let it be jumper or hook shot, or getting to the rim for a layup, Demir had a multitude of ways to beat his opponents, and it was fun for fans to watch him empty out that toolbox on his opponents.
The other side to that, as it relates to the Drexel team, is that against the most difficult opponents (dubbed tier A and B games by Kenpom) this season, this was Alihan’s stat line: 12.4 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game on 50% shooting from two, but only 27.8% from deep and a wretched 56.5% from the free throw line and almost four turnovers per contest. Alihan wasn’t winning games for his team on the defensive end – he’ll never be considered for an all defensive team, but he did win games for the Dragons on the offensive end. But with an offensive efficiency rating of just 88 in the big games, he wasn’t doing it there either. When it mattered most is when he came up least. And that’s unfortunate. He has the skillset. He had the deepest toolbox on the Dragons, but the bigger, longer teams challenged him. It left room for great growth as he entered his senior season in an offensive system that celebrated him, but will now be left with a 6’9″ gap.
That gap will hurt a Dragons team as it would almost any mid major. This is a loss, and not a positive for the Dragons. He was a big offensive piece to what this team did. His skillset was unique. But when looking at the picture of his all around game, this feels a recoverable hole, especially with a number of players returning from injury, and a lot of opportunity in next years edition of the CAA.
So while this is a loss for the Dragons, a player who earns his degree has every right to transfer in the current system. Fans may feel invested, but it’s up to the player and those in his ear to do what is best for the player. So in this case, this must be a positive move for Alihan.
For all of the heroics of the A10 tournament, Tramaine Isabell didn’t have a great season at St. Louis. Tramaine actually kept his minutes in the move, only decreasing from 34.4 to 32.5 minutes per game, but his point totals dropped off a cliff, from 21 points per game to 14. It appears the Billikens did the impossible and took the ball out of Tramaine’s hands. But that is a single case study, so lets take a look at the broader picture of what is being called the “up transfer” market, containing players moving “upwards” in order to get more exposure.
During the 17-18 season, the Big Ten had six incoming grad transfers – none even scored six points per game. There is no doubt that most grad transfers that move up are unsuccessful doing so. Craig Meyer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette examined Pitt’s prior Grad Transfers last summer, and he concluded with this:
Of Sports Illustrated’s top 100 transfers heading into the 2017-18 season, 26 were graduate transfers who were entering one of the sport’s six major conferences after having not played in such a league at their most recent stop. Of those 26 players, only three improved their scoring average from their final year at their previous school, with an average dip of 5.5 points per game (from 13.2 points to 7.7 points per game).
That prompted my own study of the 18-19 season. And the numbers are grim. Grad transfers who transferred into a “Major” school this sesaon averaged 11 less minutes per game, and collectively went from scoring 12.6 points per game to 5.6 points per game. Only 12 of the 32 players played in the NCAA tournament. Only 2 of the 32 saw an increase in minutes. And only one, Christen Cunningham of Louisville, saw an increase in points per game. Unless you’re moving up to Gonzaga, Kentucky, or Duke (and that isn’t happening for Alihan) the chances of dancing are no better in an up transfer than they would be at Drexel, a team that was projected to be part of the top three, if not the favorite, in the CAA next season. And the possibility of increasing his offensive output? It’s virtually non-existent. As a matter of fact, if we look at uptransfers that averaged at least 30 minutes per game at their school the season prior to moving, the numbers are even worse. The average transfer lost 14 minutes per game and scoring output went from 15.4 ppg to 6.2.
If I’m Alihan and I’m marketing myself for a professional contract, I’d much rather leave school averaging the close to 20 points per game at this level than the single digits that he’s looking at after an up transfer.
Alihan Demir is a player who has struggled against bigger more physical opponents during his time at Drexel. If he chooses to move up a level, as it seems is his desire, not only will he be playing against those players more often, but he will be doing so as a grad transfer, with a coach who hasn’t had to invest in his progress. The dip referenced above would be the expectation, being successful would make him a major exception, it can’t be the expectation. And if one is a senior, defensive liability who may or may not crack 10 points a game, it’s hard to see a coach at a major level fighting to find him more time. While anything is possible, it’s much, much easier to see Alihan end up with his stock falling from this move than rising. It’s very risky. In staying at Drexel, he would have had a prime scoring role on a team that would be picked in the leagues top three in the preseason. In leaving, he’s losing that promise, and in return accepting great risk. From an unbiased observer, it’s hard to see this as a risk that is worth the reward.
Calling whatever voice was in Alihan’s ear pushing him this way “what’s wrong with college basketball” is dramatic. But very likely, that voice that Alihan has put his trust in just did this talented young man a great disservice.
And that’s the real story here. Alihan has every right in the world to make this decision. We here at Always a Dragon wish him nothing but the best as he continues to prove himself as a skilled playmaker wherever his career takes him. But with this decision, everyone seems to lose, and likely he himself loses more than his Dragons do. It’s baffling, it’s unfortunate, and it’s now reality.