Last spring, the NCAA’s controversial graduate-transfer rule wasn’t so good to Gonzaga. Faced with a shortfall of big men when Kelly Olynyk went early to the NBA, Gonzaga went hard for Mike Moser, who was leaving UNLV, but he chose Oregon. Gonzaga wanted Josh Davis, outbound from Tulane, but he picked San Diego State.
Truth is, the rule has helped the Zags, too. Saturday, they visit 24th-ranked Memphis, and among the GU entourage is grad student Drew Barham, who has a degree from Memphis.
“For sure, it’s been a blessing for me,” Barham said recently. He referred to the rule that allows an athlete to play immediately at a second school if it has a grad program not offered by the school from which he just graduated.
Graduate transfers are common these days, but this matchup is somewhat unusual in that it creates for Barham a reunion with family, the place he grew up and a renewal with a school far from Gonzaga.
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“All my family can’t wait,” he said.
On a team of shooters, Barham is statistically the best, averaging 48 percent on threes in his 19 minutes a game. That won’t surprise anybody in Memphis, where at Christian Brothers High School, he once scored 27 points in one quarter, with eight threes.
Three years ago, he started 10 games for the Tigers, but he sensed his time with them was short.
“I didn’t fit in,” said Barham, averaging 7.1 points and studying organization leadership. “I was a shooter, and they really didn’t know how to use a shooter. They were playing athletes who ran up and down the court and jumped real high. It just wasn’t the right fit.”
So the 6-foot-7 Barham took the next season as a redshirt at Memphis, after which he graduated. Before that, he had a couple of weeks’ tour with Athletes in Action in Europe, where, ironically, he played against Przemek Karnowski, the big Polish center who had already committed to play at Gonzaga.
“It was kind of weird,” Barham said. “I’d already planned on going on the trip before I decided to transfer. So when I decided to transfer, it was like I needed to be home to get to the phones. I lost all connection with the states and coaches.”
But through then-assistant coach Ray Giacoletti, Barham lined up a trip to Gonzaga, after which he was supposed to tour Saint Mary’s as well.
“I liked it so well here (at Gonzaga), I just turned it down,” Barham said of the latter trip.
In the bigger picture, the spotlight on the volatility of college basketball has recently swung from the one-and-done phenomenon to the wave of players who pull up stakes and find a new roster, playing for two programs within eight months’ time.
“It’s a bad rule,” Kansas coach Bill Self said recently.
The rule was studied by the NCAA’s transfer-issue subcommittee, but the NCAA leadership council tabled a proposal in January that would have required all transfers to sit out a year.
That’s a concept that seems to have the favor of many coaches.
“With the epidemic of transfers we have,” said Arizona State coach Herb Sendek, “it would probably make sense for everybody to sit out a year, regardless of circumstances.”
There are dark suspicions that some high-level coaches might be preying on good players from mid-major or low-level programs.
“I came from Xavier,” says Sean Miller, the Arizona coach, “and they have some guys unheralded out of high school. You give your heart and soul to develop them … there are those players looking for a big stage and they leave, at that time when they could be at their very best for the university.”
Saturday, when ESPN GameDay’s basketball crew will be in Memphis, Barham won’t be caught up in the philosophical ramifications of the rule. But he’d like to show the Tigers how they could have used a shooter.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org