November 1, 2022
Pac(king) up and moving: From one Pac-12 program to another
'It's like musical chairs at this point'
The word that came up more than once was “Awkward.” Really, how could it not be?
A player that was on your roster last year decides to transfer and turns up on another roster in the Pac-12 to start the new season. At some point, you are guaranteed to be looking at them from the opposite bench or on the floor in another uniform.
“While it’s awkward and in many people’s minds, not ideal, I can’t say that I’m surprised,” said Oregon State coach Scott Rueck. “Why wouldn’t you go to another school in a conference that we all know is amazing? Why would you want to leave the West Coast? So I can see where if a student-athlete thinks there’s a better opportunity, would find another place [in the Pac-12] potentially attractive.”
Ten players transferred from one Pac-12 school to another in the offseason following the 2021-22 season. The previous season that number was five. In two seasons, an entire collegiate roster has moved to a new school within the same conference.
Pac(king) up and moving
Bendy Yeaney – Arizona to Oregon State
Aaronette Vonleh – Arizona to Colorado
Koi Love – Arizona to USC
Jade Loville – Arizona State to Arizona
Dalayah Daniels – Cal to Washington
Peanut Tuitele – Colorado to Cal
Kemery Martin – Utah to Cal
Alissa Pili – USC to Utah
Taya Hanson – Arizona State to Oregon
Taylor Bigby – Oregon to USC
“It’s like musical chairs at this point,” said Cal coach Charmin Smith. “I’m not a fan, but we have to take advantage of it if that’s the way it’s going to be. I’d rather see someone stay somewhere for four years and stay committed to their decision, but that’s just not the landscape of college sports anymore.”
The movement is now inevitable thanks to the freedom granted to student athletes with the transfer portal. For coaches, it means recruiting young players, monitoring the portal for the experienced players that can help your team, and at the end of the season, recruiting your own roster again, to keep players in your program.
It’s the new reality of doing business, Pac-12 coaches agree.
“It’s the way it is,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes. “You have got to coach with what you have. Basketball has changed and the players have changed … If your players aren’t playing, you’re going to lose somebody.”
Win a scarf and UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 Program!
Throughout the month of November, new subscribers to The IX will be entered to win a special England prize pack that includes a scarf and program from UEFA Women’s Euro 2022. In addition to winning these special items, you will also be supporting the vital work of our staff. Your subscription helps to ensure the pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph this great game, continues and grows.
The Pac-12 has seen as much intraconference movement as any conference in the country. The SEC tops the list with 11 intraconference transfers heading into this season, but with 14 teams. The ACC and its 15 teams saw nine intraconference transfers.
Colorado coach JR Payne said that intraconference transfers make sense to her in the sense that often multiple coaches in the same conference have recruited the same players and when a player wants to move, they will gravitate toward the familiar.
“For example, we recruited Quay [Miller] out of high school,” Payne said of Miller, who initially chose Washington before transferring to Colorado last season. “When Quay went into the portal, we already knew her. We had a relationship with her, so it made sense that she might come to a place where she already has an established relationship.”
In other cases, like Oregon State’s Bendu Yeaney and Washington’s Dalayah Daniels, players have chosen to go home.
Does all of this movement strain relationships between a group of coaches that has been very collegial through the years, working together to elevate the profile of the conference, openly rooting for the success of each other’s programs on a national stage? How does that change when players are moving between programs? If there are hard feelings, so far they are well-disguised.
Teresa Gould, the Pac-12 associate commissioner, said it is not a concern for her.
“Quite candidly, while sometimes it creates difficult challenges among our coaching staffs, we
would prefer that those elite-level talents stay in our league,” Gould said. “I would much rather have those 10 student-athletes stay in the Pac-12 than to go to another Power Five conference.”
Publicly, at least, the Pac-12 coaches seem like they can live with this new reality.
“I think our coaches in this league do a really great job of staying above board, being civil, doing things the right way, and so I think we all have a lot of respect for each other,” Payne said. “I’m sure it’s a little bit awkward.”
Smith said she can only be responsible for how she conducts herself through these situations.
“I know that I try my best to operate with integrity, we’ve never engaged in any tampering, and the coaches that I have experience with have operated that way as well,” Smith said. “As long as I’m operating the right away, I can sleep well at night.”
“Does it make us more competitive? We are competitive anyway,” Barnes said. “I don’t think it’s great, but it’s the nature of college athletics now. Someone can transfer at any time.”
Utah coach Lynne Roberts, who has two intraconference transfers on her roster, including USC standout Alissa Pili (the 2019-2020 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year), said that hard feelings are “not an issue” for her. “If a kid wants to leave, I will wish them well,” Roberts said. “Sometimes things don’t work out and it’s OK. We have Alissa now. I don’t ask her about her time at USC. She’s here now with us and that’s just how I operate.”
Barnes, who lost three players — Bendu Yeaney (Oregon State), Koi Love (USC) and Aaronette Vonleh (Utah) — to conference rivals but scored ASU transfer Jade Loville through the portal, admits that “I don’t love it,” but that her program has also been the recipient of Pac-12 transfers.
Barnes said the availability of players on the transfer portal has forced her to think hard about her philosophy on recruiting experienced vs. younger players.
She said she passed on a couple of “really good transfers” in the offseason to focus on the development of her young players.
“The transfers are more experienced, they are better players, and they probably would have made us a better team, but I think there’s a balance,” Barnes said. “I prefer to get some great young talent, keep them and win big with them when they are juniors and seniors.
“You invest in these freshmen, but if they don’t play in their first year, they leave and that’s hard. It is good or bad. It is what it is and I can’t worry about that. I want players that want to be at Arizona. If you come to a top team and you’re not playing your freshman year and you’re not willing to put in the work and get better, then that’s on you.And if you have to leave to go somewhere else, that’s okay with me. I’m perfectly fine with that. And I will sign the papers.”
Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.