April 9, 2023 

Column: Even Stanford isn’t immune from the new world order

Three Cardinal players, including former No. 1 recruit Betts, enter transfer portal

So this is weird.

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The transfer of three Stanford players over the course of two days is not what women’s basketball is used to seeing. It’s definitely not what Stanford fans are used to seeing.

Tara VanDerveer has said for a long time that her recruiting choices had better be good ones, because once they get to Stanford, they aren’t leaving. Because a degree from Stanford was worth sitting the bench for, it was worth being pushed by the Hall of Fame head coach, it was worth always playing in an environment of sky-high expectations both internally and externally.

But my, how things have changed. And quickly.

Players want to play. They want NIL opportunities. They want both development on the floor and exposure off of it.


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Lauren Betts, the nation’s top high school recruit only a year ago, was the first to enter into the transfer portal on Friday, becoming the first No. 1 recruit to transfer since Elena Delle Donne.

The 6-foot-7 Betts, it was clear early in the season, would be more project than immediate prodigy for the Cardinal. VanDerveer admitted in December she would be starting on many other teams.

Stanford was both deep and experienced inside this season with Cameron Brink, Fran Belibi, Kiki Iriafen and Ashten Prechtel and Betts would be in learn-and-be-patient mode. That is so much easier said than done.

Her minutes went up as the season progressed, her productivity increased, but her impact was inarguably muted. She played a total of 18 minutes in two Pac-12 Tournament teams that saw the Cardinal bounced in the semifinals. She would play a total of 25 minutes in two NCAA Tournament games, only eight minutes in the second-round loss to Mississippi, going 0-for-1 from the floor with two rebounds and two blocks.

By the end of Saturday, Betts wasn’t alone. guards Indya Nivar and Agnes Emma-Nnopu had both put their names into the portal, too.

Nivar, also a freshman, came off the bench in all but one game this season. VanDerveer liked her perimeter defense, but what the Cardinal needed was more perimeter scoring. Nivar was scoreless in five of her last 7 games, and took just two shots in 20 minutes against Ole Miss.

Emma-Nnopu, a junior from Australia, started 11 games, averaging 13.4 minutes, 3.2 points and 2.1 rebounds. She did hit 20 3-pointers on the season, and had a 17-point game against Arizona State during the conference season that included 5 3-pointers.

With a deep team, VanDerveer had 200 minutes a game to give out. It was not enough to keep some players happy.

The 6’7 Betts will be one of the biggest gets in the portal in every way. Instead of playing another season in Brink’s considerable shadow, and for a team that will have to figure out quickly how to rejuvenate its backcourt, she has a chance to be another team’s centerpiece.

It’s not as if Stanford hasn’t seen players transfer over the past 10 years. Lili Thompson went to Notre Dame as a grad transfer in 2017, as did Marta Sniezek in 2019 and Maya Dodson in 2021. DiJonai Carrington played her final season for Kim Mulkey at Baylor in 2021. Last season, guard Jana Van Glytenbeek also transferred to Baylor.

But three players, including the nation’s top recruit? That rattles some cages.

Stanford hasn’t always been able to play in the same recruiting sandbox as everyone else, because the admissions office had as much input as the head coach. And it’s why the transfer portal may not necessarily be a quick fix for the Cardinal.

Is the suddenly shaky ground at Stanford a larger barometer for the Pac-12, which had a disappointing NCAA Tournament as a whole, with no teams advancing out of the Sweet 16?

Oregon lost its starting backcourt in Te-Hina Paopao and Endiya Rogers, both of whom are transferring. Unlike last year, when transfers stayed in the conference, the top players are leaving — Jadya Curry from Cal to Louisville, Sedona Price (who sat out the season at Oregon) to TCU, with other big player decisions to come. UCLA and USC are on the way to the Big Ten after next season.

Arizona has seen significant roster turnover with seven players opting to transfer, head coach Adia Barnes as active in the portal over the past few seasons as any Power 5 coach in the country.
Barnes tweeted on Saturday that “Nil money is now one of the most important things with the transfer portal.”

Making a WNBA roster is difficult. The overseas options are becoming less appealing and less lucrative. The opportunity to nail down some financial security for many players will come during their college careers in this new world.

LSU’s Angel Reese, the star of a Final Four that may be a tipping point for women’s basketball into the future, perhaps said it best when she said “The price just went up.”

And so did the stakes. And now even Stanford isn’t immune.


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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.

3 Comments

  1. Kenneth on April 10, 2023 at 2:02 am

    I saw Betts’ transfer coming during the season. Way better for overall contribution than Belibi and Pretchel. Nivar is better offensively than Lepolo. I love Jump, but she’s one dimensional with an A-plus jump shot. She’s not a lock down defender too. Tara miscalculated!

  2. Michael Ward, BPE,DVM on April 10, 2023 at 9:13 pm

    The inmates (bench players) are running the asylum. Team development by coaches and year to year continuity is compromised drastically by the transfer portal. This is no better than the one and done approach common to men’s basketball. It is disruptive to the teams left behind and players on the new roster who must accommodate the disgruntled transferee. I e we oils like to see a deterrent such as having yo sit out a year before playing with a new team. Low WNBA salaries and slim chances of a long pro career should not be the driving force in decisions to transfer.

    Ms Betts is a mistake by Tara and any coach who picks her up. She may be 6’7” but cannot jump more than 2” tops. She is not graceful or athletic and lumbers up and down the floor (not a good candidate for any team that runs). Her hands are weak for catching difficult passes. Her moves around the basket snd in the paint shooting is awkward and often off target.

    Agnes, you made one huge mistake and will regret relocation.

    Let’s see if my comments prove correct.

  3. JJ Chester on April 30, 2023 at 10:59 am

    So what makes a player transfer, or select a team in the first place? Coaching, conference, tradition, teammates, championships, TV exposure, atmosphere, or…NIL? It looks like the new kid on the block may be the deciding factor. There are quite a number of female D-1 athletes with NIL deals worth over a million dollars (two SEC gymnast is reported to have $3.5mm and $1,5mm in deals). The SEC seems to be very strong in the NIL department.
    Should a team focus on recruiting players that will stay to get a prestigious degree, or beef up their NIL and dip into the transfer portal? An enterprising player can enter a university with the intent of hopping teams every year (before they wind up at LSU) for better and better deals. Probably the only good thing about this is that NIL keeps the really outstanding women’s basketball players in school because they can make more money from NIL than they can by playing in the WNBA.
    But, as a loyal fan, it does hurt your soul when the players you love beat it to another school for money, just when you thought they were part of the family.

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