The days of roster building from the high school ranks are long over, and any college basketball coach with aspirations of playing deep into March knows the transfer market is just as vital.
With some players, even more important.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. is one of them. He had 18 points and 11 boards for Virginia Tech while going toe-to-toe with Zion Williamson in an NCAA Tournament game against Duke. And when he announced shortly afterward that he would enter the NBA draft and the transfer portal, his phone never stopped ringing.
Blackshear ultimately withdrew from the draft and narrowed his choices to a select few, including perennial national title contender Kentucky, before deciding to play this season at Florida.
He rounded out a roster that returns Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson and lured elite recruit Scottie Lewis to Gainesville, and is a big reason why the Gators are the preseason No. 6 in the Top 25 poll.
“He’s very talented. He’s smart. He understands the game at a high level,” Florida coach Mike White said. “He’s tough. He’s stronger than he looks. He looks strong, but he’s really strong, and he’s difficult to defend. He’s a good defender, as well. … He’s good at a lot of things.”
Blackshear isn’t the only transfer that carries those traits. Nor is he the only one who could have a big impact this season, potentially reshaping what the NCAA Tournament could look like in March.
SHAKUR JUISTON, Oregon
Largely forgotten after a knee injury ended his season after eight games a year ago, Juiston made the jump from UNLV to the Ducks as part of a massive rebuild in Eugene. He averaged 14.6 points and 10 boards for the Runnin’ Rebels, and brings to the Pac-12 a decidedly different brand of toughness. He’s joined by fellow transfer Anthony Mathis, a sharpshooter from New Mexico, in providing Ducks coach Dana Altman with some experience on a team that lost several major scorers.
NATE SESTINA, Kentucky
The 6-foot-9 forward was a role player at Bucknell until last season, when he took over for the departed frontcourt of Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas. Sestina went on to average 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds, shoot 81 percent from the foul line and, perhaps most importantly, finish his degree. That allowed him to jump to the Wildcats as a graduate transfer, following in the footsteps of Reid Travis, who had a successful stint in Lexington after beginning his career at Stanford.
“It’s nice having a veteran that talks. I mean, he over-talks,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Nate lost 25 pounds. So he’s at what, 235 right now? Physically in great shape and running and he has really been a great addition to this group.”
DERRYCK THORNTON JR., Boston College
Once a five-star recruit coveted by everyone, Thornton never really fit at Duke before leaving for Southern California. He only averaged 7.7 points and 4.3 assists for the Trojans before graduating and deciding to transfer cross-country one more time to finish his career with the Eagles. He joins a roster that returns big man Nic Popovic and forward Steffon Mitchell, and could be the piece that helps keep Boston College coach Jim Christian off the hot seat come March.
TJ HOLYFIELD, Texas Tech
Along with the national runners-up, Holyfield parlayed his excellent career at Stephen F. Austin into offers from Kansas, Miami, Oregon and others before deciding on the Red Raiders. Now, the 6-8 forward hopes to accomplish what former transfers Tariq Owens and Matt Mooney did in leading them back to the Final Four. He’s joined by Virginia Tech transfer Chris Clarke in reloading a team that returns only one starter in guard Davide Moretti.
ISAIAH MOSS, Kansas
The Jayhawks might have missed out on Holyfield, but they snagged Iowa’s top 3-point shooter and filled perhaps the only significant hole on a roster that could compete for a national title. Moss averaged 9.2 points for the Hawkeyes last season, but he shot better than 42% from beyond the arc. That could help balance a team that should rely on big men Udoka Azuibike, Silvio de Sousa and David McCormack, along with talented point guard Devon Dotson.
“I was ecstatic he decided to join the team,” Dotson said. “I can’t wait to play with him.”