College basketball is changing rapidly, and there might not be any place more evident of that than in the transfer portal. Three or four years ago, the transfer portal didn’t even exist. Now, it is a crucial part of recruiting. In many ways, recruiting the transfer market is just as important – if not more important – than recruiting high school players.
Because of it, in the coming days, weeks and potentially months (until the transfer market slows down) we’re going to give you updates on where things stand and who are the players you need to know. Jack Pilgrim is doing an awesome job of keeping you updating on who Kentucky is recruiting, but think of this as more of a national big board, of the guys who might be in Lexington, but also the players that UK fans need to know about and might be competing against next season.
Here is the first edition, as we look at the 15 best players currently available in the transfer portal and any updates we may currently have on the player’s recruitments. Also, at the bottom we’ve added five uncommitted high school players to monitor as well, who could make an impact in college hoops next season.
1. Marcus Carr, G, Minnesota
There’s no other way to put it: When a senior, who has averaged double-figures in both the ACC and Big Ten, and earned All-Big Ten honors this past season enters the portal, he has to be atop this list.
Carr finished this year as Minnesota’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, to go along with 4.9 assists per contest and a respectable 32 three-point shooting from behind the arc. While he can be a little shot happy at times, Carr is a lead guard that could be a difference-maker at any school he chooses to attend.
That last part is probably the interesting thing though: Will he actually play college hoops this next season? After beginning his career at Pitt and spending the last two seasons at Minnesota, Carr is at least checking in on his NBA options before committing to another school. There’s at least a chance he doesn’t play another second of college hoops. And it also appears that until he figures out his pro options, he likely won’t be deciding on a college.
Recruiting buzz: Will test his NBA options before making a college decision
2. Walker Kessler, F/C, North Carolina
Put simply, when Kessler decided to enter the transfer portal on Monday, it sent shockwaves throughout college basketball. It’s just not that often that a 7’1, former McDonald’s All-American, with that much skill enters the portal.
Overall Kessler’s numbers weren’t outstanding this season (4.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg) but that was more due to North Carolina’s loaded front court (which featured Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe) than it was anything Kessler did wrong. Not to mention that when Brooks went out late in the season with injury and Kessler’s number was called, he delivered, tallying 20 points and eight boards against Florida State. He also had a 16-point, 12 rebound effort against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament.
Kessler is a player with real NBA potential that could one day evolve into an All-American at the college level. He will be one of the most in-demand players in the portal all off-season.
3. Justin Powell, G, Auburn
We all know the way college hoops works: We spend all off-season hyping freshmen. Some of them end up working out and others don’t. But rarely, if ever, does a freshman emerge basically out of no where.
That’s what makes Powell’s story so fascinating. The 6’6 combo guard was ranked just 185th nationally according to 247 Sports’ composite ranking of the class of 2020, yet outperformed just about everyone in his class not named “Cade Cunningham” during his freshman season. Despite being limited to just 10 games this year due to a concussion, Powell averaged 11.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists, while shooting 44 percent from behind the three-point arc. In the process, he emerged as a legitimate NBA Draft prospect.
Despite his success at Auburn though , Powell decided to transfer and will bring dynamic playmaking, creativity and shot making to his next stop.
KSR’s own Matt Jones says that he believes that if the SEC alters a rule that forces players to sit out for a season if they transfer in-conference, the Kentucky native could come back home and play for UK. Until then however, it appears as though Powell will have plenty of suitors across college hoops.
Recruiting buzz: A potential Kentucky lean, with interest from all sorts of other schools ranging from Gonzaga, Virginia, UCLA, Louisville and more.
I think Justin Powell is likely to be a Kentucky Wildcat IF (and this is an important if) the SEC changes the rule requiring players to sit out a year for an in-conference transfer
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) March 16, 2021
4. Kellen Grady, G, Davidson
Grady spent the last four seasons in the A-10… correction, he spent the last four seasons tearing up the A-10, averaging at least 17 points in all four seasons, and shooting 37 percent or better from beyond the three-point arc in three of them. And with the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to everyone, he is exploring his options at other schools.
It’s entirely too early to know where Grady’s recruitment stands, but both Cats Illustrated and Kentucky Sports Radio have confirmed that Kentucky is a school that is absolutely interested. Whoever gets him will get a super-skilled scorer, who can fill it up from all three levels on the court.
Recruiting buzz: Kentucky interest, but too early to tell
5. Tre Mitchell, F/C, UMass
Another A-10 product, Mitchell may have spent the last few years outside of the Power 6 conference structure – but make no mistake he is good enough to play anywhere in America. The 6’9 forward is a former Top 100 recruit who averaged 18.8 points and 7.2 rebounds this past season, and was previously recruited by the likes of UConn and Notre Dame before committing to UMass.
The only real recruiting update we’ve gotten on Mitchell comes via Adam Zagoria, who said that Mitchell has heard from “over 75 schools” including dozens of power conference schools.
One other thing worth noting with Mitchell: He followed his high school coach Tony Bergeron to UMass a few years ago. It was recently announced, shortly after Mitchell’s departure, that Bergeron would not return to UMass next season.
Do with that information as you please.
Recruiting buzz: Too early to tell
6. Xavier Pinson, G, Missouri
Another one that was a flat out shocker when it was announced, Pinson was Missouri’s second-leading scorer last season, prior to announcing his decision to enter the transfer portal on Tuesday. Pinson averaged 13.6 points and 2.9 assists for the Tigers this season, but decided to move on anyway. The fact that he played just 10 minutes in the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament loss to Oklahoma may have played a small role in his decision.
In terms of what’s next, we got our first update on Thursday from his former AAU team, Mac Irvin Fire in Chicago. According to their Twitter feed, the early list of schools to reach out is Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Saint Louis and San Diego State.
— Mac Irvin Fire (@TheMacIrvinFire) March 24, 2021
Like Powell, a source has told us at KSR that the SEC’s decision to overturn its interconference transfer rules could impact his final decision.
Recruiting buzz: Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Saint Louis and San Diego State among the early suitors
7. Fatts Russell, G, Rhode Island
Yet another All-A-10 member on this list (the third so far), Russell is a dynamic, playmaking guard, who can attack off the dribble and finish off the rim. He averaged 14.7 points per game this season, to go along with 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in 2021. It is worth noting – as many did when he entered the portal – that Russell wasn’t a particularly good three point shooter this year. He shot just 23.5 percent from behind the arc.
However, take that with a grain of salt.
That’s because it’s also worth noting that Russell’s stats were much better in 2019-2020, when he was surrounded by better talent. Two years ago, Russell averaged 18.8 points and 4.6 assists per game while shooting closer to 36 percent from the three-point arc. And that season he had the likes of Tyrese Martin (who eventually transferred to UConn) and Jacob Toppin (who eventually transferred to Kentucky) by his side.
Russell has already heard from some of the biggest names in college hoops and should help some power conference school next season.
Recruiting buzz: Gonzaga, Michigan and Oregon are among his Power 6 suitors, per ESPN’s Jeff Borzello
8. Armaan Franklin, G, Indiana
Indiana elected to fire Archie Miller last Monday, and after a quiet few days, there has been a mass exodus in Bloomington. In total, five players have already put their names into the portal, including three of the team’s top four scorers a season ago. That includes Franklin, who finished second on the team in scoring at 11 points per game. He was also basically the only three-point threat on the roster, shooting 42 percent from behind the arc. It’s worth noting that a Franklin ankle injury directly coincided with the Hoosiers’ free fall late in the season.
The 6’4 guard should and will be in high demand in the coming days. He has already heard from the likes of Virginia, Louisville and Xavier, per Jake Weingarten.
Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin tells @Stockrisers he’s heard from Xavier, Butler, Minnesota, Louisville, Penn State, Clemson, Texas A&M, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Georgia, Kansas State, Georgia Tech, and Virginia.
Averaged over 11 points per game on 42% shooting.
— Jake (@jakeweingarten) March 24, 2021
9. Nimari Burnett, G, Texas Tech
Burnett is the only player on this list who actually put his name in the portal mid-season (as opposed to after the season), and according to someone I spoke with recently, he is simply biding his time, waiting to see how rosters shake out this spring. Whoever gets Burnett though will be getting a dynamic, play-making guard. He was actually the first McDonald’s All-American to ever sign with Texas Tech out of high school when he chose the Red Raiders back in the fall of 2019.
And while it didn’t work out for Burnett at Tech (5.3 points per game, 1.9 rebounds this season) it’s not as though he doesn’t have suitors. Burnett will choose in the coming weeks between Alabama, Oregon, USC, Vanderbilt, Illinois and Auburn per Weingarten.
Recruiting buzz: Choosing between Alabama, Oregon, USC, Vanderbilt, Illinois, Auburn and LSU
10. Jaemyn Brakefield, F, Duke
Brakefield is another guy who didn’t put up monster stats as a freshman, averaging just 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. But based on his pedigree I’m betting that he becomes a difference-maker somewhere at the college level.
The 6’8 forward is a former Top 50 prospect in the class of 2020, choosing the Blue Devils over the likes of Michigan, Louisville and a host of other Power 6 conference teams. Brakefield also showed flashes this season at Duke, including a couple big games after Jalen Johnson departed. That included an 11-point, 10-rebound performance in a win over Virginia that briefly put Duke back into the NCAA Tournament bubble picture.
Again, I’m going to bet that in the right system, Brakefield can be an All-Conference type player at a high-major school.
He just entered the portal on Wednesday, so it’s too early to know what schools he might consider.
Recruiting Update: Too early to tell
Other names worth watching:
11. Xavier Johnson, PG, Pittsburgh
12. Earl Timberlake, F, Miami
13. Race Thompson, F, Indiana
14. Al Durham, G, Indiana
15. Au’Diese Toney, G/F, Pittsburgh
High school players:
In addition to all the players filling up the transfer portal, there are still some elite high school players on the market as well. Here are five guys you need to know this spring.
1. Chet Holmgren, F/C, Minnehaha Academy (Minneapolis, MN)
By now, we all know the scoop on Holmgren. Seven-foot, stretch five, who can hit 24-footers, while also anchoring your defense in the paint and sending every shot that comes his way to the 10th row of the stands.
The only thing we don’t know is if, or where he’ll play college basketball next season. Gonzaga has long been seen as the favorite, but with travel limited and the recruiting experience much different for current high school seniors than any other class in history, it really is hard to know where he might be leaning.
Home-state Minnesota, Ohio State are also in consideration, as is a professional route.
Recruiting buzz: Gonzaga, with Ohio State, Minnesota and professional options on the table as well
2. Patrick Baldwin, F, Hamilton High School (Sussex, WI)
Baldwin is another player whose game and story have been well-documented at this point. He has long-been considered one of the best players in the class of 2021, a fluid, big 6’9 wing with elite scoring ability and deep three-point range.
Unlike Holmgren, his recruiting process has become a bit more clear in recent weeks. As most reading probably know, his father is the head coach at Milwaukee, and that school is in the mix, as is Duke.
Recruiting buzz: Milwaukee or Duke
4. Hunter Sallis, G, Millard North (Omaha, NE)
A dynamic, playmaking combo guard, Sallis is another player whose recruitment has been well-documented. For a time in the summer and fall he was considered to be a heavy Kentucky lean. Then, as the season wore on, he has reportedly switched things up and now Gonzaga is considered to the favorite.
Sallis will be making his decision on Friday, so we should get some verification very soon.
2021 five-star Hunter Sallis will announce his college decision tomorrow at 9am CT.
— Joe Tipton (@TiptonEdits) March 25, 2021
4. TyTy Washington, PG, Compass Prep (Chandler, AZ)
Washington is a fast-rising combo guard who originally committed to Creighton, but backed off that commitment in recent weeks. And since he re-opened his recruitment he has seen his stock blow up, with interest ranging Kentucky, Duke, UCLA and Illinois, the school he originally chose Creighton over.
According to a recent article by Rivals.com, the Illini seem like the team to beat, with Kentucky right behind.
Recruiting buzz: Illinois the projected leader, with Kentucky and others in the mix
5. Trevor Keels, PG, Paul VI Catholic (Fairfax, VA)
Keels isn’t an elite athlete, but a powerful guard, who can get to his spots and finish in the lane. His recruitment had seemingly been about Villanova, Virginia and Duke for some time, although Kentucky did make some headway late.
Interestingly, for a time, it appeared as though Villanova was all but a lock to get Keels, but recent chatter is that Duke is the team to beat. Keels is a former high school teammate of current Duke guard Jeremy Roach.
Recruiting buzz: Seemingly down to Duke or Villanova
(Also, if you’re looking for more transfer content, make sure to listen to today’s Aaron Torres Podcast, where I go even deeper on the best players in this year’s transfer portal. You can download here or listen below)