November 9, 2023 

The balancing act of the transfer portal at mid-majors

Missouri Valley Conference coaches, players discuss benefits, pitfalls

After seeing limited minutes as a freshman, a lost season due to an ACL injury and then a whirlwind trip to the Final Four last spring, Shateah Wetering finally notched her first collegiate start Monday night after entering the transfer portal. 

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And she couldn’t be happier and more at home on her new team.

Wetering, a redshirt sophomore, transferred from the University of Iowa to the University of Northern Iowa last spring. 

“At the end of the season, I knew that I had three years left that I was eligible for and I knew that I just didn’t want to spend it at Iowa. And I just wanted a new opportunity with new people,” she told The Next. “I kind of decided that it was time for a new place where I can start fresh, especially after an injury. That was kind of the point where I was like, ‘I need my confidence back.’”

The 6’ forward was a decorated three-sport athlete at Montezuma High School in a small town of about 1,400 residents in eastern Iowa, averaging 23.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in her senior basketball season. 

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While playing for the Hawkeyes was Wetering’s lifelong dream — she was Iowa’s first commit in the 2020 class, which also included reigning NPOY Caitlin Clark, Sharon Goodman and Lauren Jensen — reality began to set in as she saw limited minutes in her freshman season, which had already been disrupted by COVID-19. 

An ACL tear ended her sophomore year, making it difficult for her to come back and contribute quality minutes to the 2022-23 Hawkeyes team that won a second straight Big Ten Tournament championship and advanced to the national championship game in April.

While the Final Four experience was “surreal,” Wetering knew she wanted a fresh start on a new team.

“I didn’t know it was UNI at first,” she said. “I knew I wanted to stay in Iowa because I knew I wanted to fight for my state. So I took both visits [she also visited Drake in Des Moines], and I actually just loved this one way more. I felt like it was a very hometown feel, and it felt like they were real with me about everything.”

Wetering felt right at home Monday night, getting the start against Green Bay and scoring seven points in 34 minutes in the Panthers’ 78-67 victory.  

She will face her former team — No. 3 ranked Iowa — on Sunday in the first sold-out game in UNI women’s basketball program history, at the 6,650-seat McLeod Center in Cedar Falls. 

“I feel like it’ll be fine,” Wetering said. ”People try to hype it up and stuff, when really it’s just a game. I’m just really excited to play them.”

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Win some, lose some

For mid-major teams like UNI in the Missouri Valley Conference, the transfer portal carousel typically balances out with breakout star players leaving for bigger schools and players from larger programs transferring in to restart their careers.

Belmont, which is beginning its second season in the MVC, has had a dose of both. After placing second in the MVC regular season and tournament in 2022-23, the Bruins’ top two scorers entered the portal and landed with storied women’s basketball programs. 

Madison Bartley, a senior forward, transferred to Baylor, while senior guard Destinee Wells is now a starter at Tennessee, having made her first appearance for the Lady Vols on Sunday night against the U.S. national team. 

Jailyn Banks, a freshman guard who head coach Bart Brooks calls “probably the most athletically gifted player I’ve coached at Belmont,” will likely “be more recruited after this year than she was in high school.”

In Banks’s college debut Monday against SEC foe Missouri, she led all scorers with 22 points, adding eight rebounds as the Bruins fell short, 61-72.

While Brooks, in his seventh year at Belmont, appreciates the talent he has recruited, he won’t change his approach to keep players from leaving.

“I’m not trying to walk on eggshells to coach them. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” he told The Next. “We lost our two leading scorers last year. And if that experience taught me anything, it was that you can treat kids really well. You can do everything in your power to give them a great experience, and it still might not be enough for them to stay. And so at that point, I can’t control it. I can only control the experience that we try to give them, how we treat them, how we try to pour into them on and off the floor. All this stuff that I think makes Belmont special. And sometimes that’s still not enough, and I found that out last year.” 

Instead, his focus is on the players who have committed to his team, including Carmyn Harrison, a junior forward transfer from Georgia Tech. 

“She brings inside depth. She’s a very dynamic athlete,” Brooks said. “She had very limited minutes for two years at Georgia Tech. So, it’s been a little bit since she’s been on the floor and confident. We’re working to try to help her find her game again.”

Ranked as the No. 10 post player in the country in the 2021 class by ESPN, Harrison was a five-time all-region performer and three-time all-state selection at Hutchison School in Memphis. But that success in high school didn’t result in much playing time at Georgia Tech her first two years.  

“It’s like you’re basically getting someone who’s broken in a sense. It’s not that they’re disgruntled, but their vision for what their college career was going to be and what it is, there’s a big gap between that,” Brooks said. “And then to get them into a confident place after not being confident. That’s not every transfer, but I think it’s Carmyn’s situation. It’s her trying to find that passion and excitement to play again.”

Belmont players Tessa Miller and Tuti Jones smiling
Belmont players Tessa Miller and Tuti Jones at the MVC Tipoff held Oct. 24, 2023, at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. (Photo credit: Emma Allen/MVC)

Brooks will also rely on his veteran leaders, junior forward Tessa Miller and junior guard Tuti Jones. 

“I think we’ve got the best group of leaders we’ve ever had since I’ve been at Belmont because of those two,” he said. “I love coaching the team we have this year. I’m enjoying this year’s team more than I’ve enjoyed any team since I’ve been at Belmont. It’s potentially a blessing that we’ve got the group we have this year together.” 

Jones, who missed most of her sophomore season due to a thumb injury, hasn’t considered leaving, even in the days of NIL deals at larger schools. 

“My loyalty is with Belmont. I just like the coaches. It’s very family-oriented, and I love the people I’m around,” she told The Next. “NIL isn’t huge where we’re at, but that wouldn’t be a reason why I would leave and go somewhere else.”

Miller is also fine where she’s at.

“Yeah, money’s not necessarily a happiness factor for me at all, so I’m just gonna stay somewhere always where I believe that people are the best and there for me, and that’s at Belmont,” she said. 

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Finding the right fit

Chad Killinger, in his third year as head coach at Indiana State, doesn’t sweat the transfer portal, largely in part to his 18 years coaching at the junior college level. 

“It’s just very similar. I think some coaches at our level now would struggle with having 10 new kids. For me, it’s not really a struggle, because at a junior college you’re cycling them out every two years anyway,” he told The Next.

The way he builds relationships with his players also factors in their trust and loyalty. 

“I don’t think it’s all about bringing them to your house and going on boat rides and whatever those things may be that coaches are doing to try and build team camaraderie,” Killinger said. “I think it’s more about just how you are with them genuinely. I don’t pull punches. I’m tough on them when I need to be. But I also joke around a lot with them and try to get to know them on a different level, not just as a basketball player.”

Like Brooks, he also realizes that if a player desires a different opportunity, for whatever reason, there is no sense in trying to make them stay. 

“If a kid doesn’t want to play for us, I’m not gonna beg them to stay. Whether it’s playing time, or style of play, or whatever it may be that they don’t like, we’re not going to be in a situation where we’re going to beg kids to try to stay and play for us because they’re not going to be happy and they’re not going to like their role, probably, that you have them in,” Killinger said. “What you’re trying to do is find kids that fit what you need and where you feel like you can help them find what they’re looking for.”

Family-like relationships

Katelyn Young, a Murray State senior forward, was a bright spot on the 15-16 team last season. She led the MVC in scoring with 21.35 points per game, earning her a spot on the 2022-23 conference first team. 

Murray State forward Katelyn Young  goes up for a basket
Murray State forward Katelyn Young (31) goes up for a basket in the 2023 MVC Tournament at Vibrant Arena in Moline, Ill. Photo credit: MVC

But despite the Racers’ eighth-place finish in the MVC last season, Murray State head coach Rechelle Turner has never been worried about losing her star player to the transfer portal. 

“Relationships are the backbone of our program, and they trump everything,” Turner told The Next. “My relationship with Katelyn and her family is second to none, but again, Katelyn’s different, she’s loyal. She could have gone into the portal and picked where she wants to go, but that’s not what she’s about. We’ve lost players to other schools. It’s gonna happen, but specifically with Katelyn, that’s not anything that I ever think about.”

Young concurred with her coach that leaving Murray State has never crossed her mind.  

“I just feel very comfortable with the coaches,” she said. “We’ve created great relationships over the years while I was getting recruited, and I trust them with all my heart. So why change that when you know what to expect? You trust them with everything.” 

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The NIL draw

It’s no secret that NIL deals draw players to top programs and are a lure for players from smaller schools looking to improve their stock.

While money may be a motivating factor for some, there are all sorts of reasons players choose to leave — or stay at — a program. 

“It’s hard to say really what motivates them,” Belmont’s Brooks said. “What is hard to factor into this is the voices that are outside of our circle that are giving players a ‘this is what’s important.’ It’s no different for a coach — ‘you should want to be a head coach at a Power Five school.’ That’s what we’re told. For us to choose not to do that when we have an opportunity, you’ve got to have some conviction or internal intrinsic motivation to stay where you are. It’s different for everyone.”

Killinger said NIL deals have yet to affect recruiting at Indiana State. 

“I don’t bring up NIL during recruiting because we’re not gonna have the money to offer that right now,” he said. “We’re working on having people that can get us a pool or collective and all those things. But at the same time, that’s not a concern for me, either, because I just don’t feel that at our level of women’s basketball, that it’s a big deal.”

Killinger doesn’t begrudge players who leave for more lucrative or high-profile opportunities, saying it is a personal choice.  

“Everybody was shocked when the two kids left Belmont,” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Why are you shocked? They’re going to Baylor and Tennessee.’ We are what we are; this conference is what it is.”

He also lost one of his best players, guard Del’Janae Williams, who transferred to Alabama as a graduate student.  

“That doesn’t bother me; that’s really awesome. That’s part of college athletics now,” Killinger said. “I’d love to have her. But I understand the opportunity. She can go do that and make some money, or maybe it gives her a better chance to play professionally. We live in the good old USA. That’s part of it.”

Written by Angie Holmes

Angela Holmes is the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) reporter for The Next. Based in the Midwest, she also covers the Big Ten and Big 12.

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