Dribble Handoff: Kevin McCullar, Tyrese Hunter among picks for college basketball's top impact transfer

Wed, Jul 6, 2022
NCAAB News (AP)

Dribble Handoff: Kevin McCullar, Tyrese Hunter among picks for college basketball's top impact transfer

The commitment of former Memphis guard Emoni Bates last week unofficially closed the book on college basketball's 2022 transfer cycle. While there are still a handful of players in the portal who figure to land at Division I schools next season, nearly all of the transfers with the potential to be difference-makers have announced their destinations.

As rosters for the 2022-23 season inch closer to becoming finalized, some from transfer portal season have emerged from a team perspective. But which individuals will make the most noise on college basketball's national scene as transfers?

It can be hard to project because last season showed us that players can appear from the weeds to become stars once they are in new environments. Look no further than Alondes Williams and Jake LaRavia, who earned All-ACC honors while helping improve Wake Forest from 6-16 in coach Steve Forbes' first season to 25-10 during his second season in 2021-22. Both were transfers who significantly outperformed reasonable expectations based on their production at previous schools.

Given that there are more than 1,700 Division I players who entered the portal this offseason, it's worth seeking out a variety of opinions on which transfer will make the biggest splash this year. So for this week's edition of the Dribble Handoff, our team of writers are each making their pick for who will be college basketball's most impactful transfer in the season ahead.

Malachi Smith

Smith might not be the best player who transferred from one school to another this offseason, but he could definitely be the most impactful considering he's the piece that helped Gonzaga become the favorite in betting markets to win the 2023 NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 19.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists last season at Chattanooga while earning Southern Conference Player of the Year honors. Also worth noting: He shot 40.7% from 3-point range. So Smith is an experienced and accomplished playmaker and shooter who can handle any backcourt spot, on or off the ball. He might start. He might come off the bench. Either way, Smith is another weapon for Mark Few's program that is once again loaded with high-level talent. The Zags will enter the season ranked No. 1 in the Top 25 And 1 and thus have a legitimate shot to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. If they do it, and then eventually cuts nets on the first Monday in April, the guess here is that Smith will be a meaningful part of it.'-- Gary Parrish

Kevin McCullar

Objectively and cosmetically, McCullar easily ranks among the 10 most impressive and high-profile players going from one team to another in 2022. But if you'd like to be more specific and nuanced, the Texas-Tech-to-Kansas shifter ranks third in EvanMiya.com's database of advanced statistics for all Division I men's basketball transfers this offseason. When McCullar opted to not chase a pro career, it amounted to a tasty intra-conference coup for Bill Self's Jayhawks. Quite the get for the reigning national champions. McCullar easily could have put up bigger numbers last season if he was on a team more suited to his offensive skills (that said, Texas Tech unquestionably brought out his best on the defensive side, which turned him into a cream-of-the-crop transfer).'

McCullar averaged 10.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals for a team that made the Elite Eight and finished seventh at KenPom. At 6-6 and nearly 215 pounds, McCullar was second on the team in assist rate. He and Bryson Williams were Texas Tech's premier switchable defenders. Now McCullar's going to a Kansas team that will have to retool after losing lottery pick Ochai Agbaji, top-25 NBA pick Christian Braun, true Final Four MVP David McCormack (Agbaji won it, but real ones know who deserved it) and outward-bound senior Remy Martin. Kansas has needs to fill. Expect McCullar's numbers to improve almost across the board as a senior, meaning he will quite likely be a top-10 all-around player in the Big 12 for a second straight season but in a different-colored uni.'-- Matt Norlander

Tyrese Hunter

Texas needed to fortify its backcourt by adding more playmaking while also doubling down on what has made Chris Beard such a successful head coach: defense. In Tyrese Hunter, the Longhorns got a mix of both. Win-win. Hunter won Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors with Iowa State last season while statistically rating out as one of the five best guard defenders in the league. He's an in-your-face menace on that end of the floor who brings a winner's mentality to the table as a swiss-army knife type of weapon. '

"Tyrese is all character, all toughness, winner," his now former coach, T.J. Otzelberger, said last season. "He has so much pride in how he plays. He cares so much about his teammates. I know that any adversity that he has, he's going to bounce back better for it. In fact, I'm not sure that there's been players I can count on that I've been fortunate to coach that bounce back quickly to the next play to the degree that he does."

Hunter's got the goods to improve markedly as an initiator, too. He was seventh in the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio -- and the only freshman to rank inside the top 12 of that category. That will be where his presence is immediately felt on a Texas team that had only one player -- returning guard Marcus Carr -- average more than 2.1 assists per game. The combo of Hunter's advanced defensive prowess as well as his savvy passing and playmaking could transform Texas in a big way. -- Kyle Boone

Kendric Davis

After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 and losing a close game to No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga in the second round, Memphis is going with a different roster management approach entering the 2022-23 season. Instead of loading up on freshmen -- there are none coming in -- fifth-year coach Penny Hardaway hit the transfer portal to bring in veterans, and Davis is the crown jewel of his haul. The three-time All-AAC performer and reigning conference player of the year is coming over from SMU after leading the league in scoring last season.

As a fifth-year senior and the obvious facilitator for a program that has struggled to find quality play from a lead guard since Hardaway's first season, Davis will have the chance to make Memphis more consistent in the 2022-23 season. To this point, Hardaway's tenure has been marred by some dud performances often created by the program's ugly turnover rate and reliance on young talent. Having an elite guard like Davis with 112 games of collegiate experience running the show should help change that.

This won't be Hardaway's most-talented team on paper. But it will be his oldest rotation yet, and Davis is the type of player who can push a proud program closer to where it believes it should be: playing beyond the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.'-- David Cobb

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