Transferring student-athletes resort to virtual tours amid COVID-19 pandemic

Media Credit: File Photo by Sabrina Godin | Staff Photographer

Sophomore forward Mezie Offurum is among three members of last year's men's basketball team that will leave the squad, freeing up spots on the roster for transfers into the program.

Some transfer student-athletes will commit to programs they haven’t yet seen in person because of the ongoing pandemic.

The NCAA extended the recruiting dead period through May 31, restricting face-to-face contact like on campus visits between student-athletes and coaches. Transfer student-athletes said they’ve taken virtual facility tours and spoken with coaches over the phone to learn more about programs before they ink commitments.

“When you go to visit a school you might get a good feeling, a good gut feeling,” senior forward and recent men’s basketball graduate student transfer Matthew Moyer said. “That’s something that you can’t simulate with this pandemic. So a lot of these commitments you see recently with transfers and high school kids I guarantee you is mostly relationship-based.”

Moyer is one of four new additions to the men’s basketball program for the 2020-21 season. Sophomore forward Ricky Lindo Jr., freshman guard James Bishop and senior guard Brandon Leftwich will also join the squad.

Moyer appeared in 55 games at Vanderbilt after transferring from Syracuse in 2018. He called the process of transferring during the pandemic “crazy” in comparison to his first transfer experience.

After Vanderbilt was eliminated from the SEC Tournament March 11, Moyer returned to campus planning to enter the transfer portal just as he had after his redshirt freshman season with the Orange. But within days of getting back on campus, Vanderbilt made the decision to send students home for the remainder of the semester.

“Before I went home, I went to go to compliance, put my name on the portal and right after that, had to go back to my dorm and move out of my dorm,” Moyer said. “So there was definitely a weird, funky series of events.”

Moyer said he took an online tour of facilities and campuses from every program he was considering, and GW stood out because head coach Jamion Christian did an “excellent” job in giving Moyer a feel for the school and program and made him feel wanted. Moyer said transferring during the crisis could be a good opportunity for athletes to discern which coaches really want them and how willing they are to build a relationship.

Having transferred twice during his collegiate career, Moyer said he is leaning on advice his dad gave him to “love who loves you” when it comes to picking a program. He added that the facilities, education and basketball components are important, but it’s the close relationship with coaches and players that Moyer looked for when transferring.

“Who cares what the arena looks like,” Moyer said. “Are you going to play? Are you going to get shots? That’s what matters. I think obviously it sucks because kids can’t go experience campuses, and I wish I could go visit George Washington right now, but I have a great relationship with the staff, great relationship with the team.”

Along with players transferring into the men’s basketball program, three members of last year’s team are switching out. Freshman guard Shawn Walker Jr., senior forward Arnaldo Toro and sophomore forward Mezie Offurum all announced their intentions to leave after the season concluded.

Women’s basketball also saw two players enter the transfer portal after the season ended. Sophomore center Kayla Mokwuah and redshirt freshman guard Tori Hyduke will transfer over the summer.

Mokwuah and Hyduke declined requests for comment, and Walker Jr. and Toro did not return requests for comment.

Offurum said the lack of on-campus visits made it more difficult to meet his new teammates, but coaches have arranged tours of facilities and team meetings online.

“A lot of the coaches are setting up live videos, just doing a lot of things virtually,” Offurum said. “I know many were just trying to give a virtual tour of the locker room, of campus.”

Since team activities are also suspended, athletes are practicing from home based on regiments from their training staff to stay in shape during the pandemic. Offurum, who will move to Mount Saint Mary’s next season, said the first session of summer school and training could be cut short, leaving him with less time to adjust to his new program.

“The first sessions at some of the schools are going to be ruled out,” Offurum said. “So I guess when we get back, whenever you’re able to see your new school, just going to have to hit the ground running, just try to make up for that loss.”

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