Long Beach State athletics doesn’t mind being an island of misfit toys for elite talent in need of a new home.
A more egotistical sports culture, eligibility rule changes and even the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to turning the NCAA transfer portal into an open window over the past few years. Although LBSU can’t navigate past the bigger budgets and brands of major universities on the recruiting trail, the Beach is uniquely situated to become the greener grass on the other side of the fence for a transfer’s second chance.
“I think it’s because of who we are and what we do,” Long Beach State athletics director Andy Fee said of getting bounce-back talent from top programs. “Sometimes we lose at the outset to a USC or another school because there’s a lot of flashy bright lights at places like that. But ultimately it’s not always a great fit… Here at LBSU we’ve got productive winning programs with some really great resources. Maybe not to the level of the PAC-12, or a Big-12 school, but we have the things that can make a student athlete the best that they can be.”
Most recently the LBSU men’s basketball and women’s soccer program vastly improved their rosters with elite transfer talent.
“A lot of times these kids get pushed to certain places for the wrong reasons,” LBSU women’s soccer coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “I think the most important part of recruitment or process is who you play for and who you play with. That’s what makes an athlete happy. And if they’re happy, then everything else fits.”
LBSU men’s basketball coach Dan Monson has tried to fit quite a few transfers into his squad over the past 12 years. Some were the best player on the team like James Ennis or Gabe Levin. Some of them disturbed the program and some have left before reaching their potential like Josh Morgan did this year. Through it all, Monson knows he has no choice but to play the transfer shell game.
“It’s not a free agency market yet, but it’s going to be, and it’s really close right now,” Monson said. “So you have to change with it — you have to get some of those free agents. If you’re gonna stay in business, you can’t stay old-school. You’ve got to adapt with how it is.”
New methods amidst recruiting changes helped Monson and associate head coach Myke Scholl land two top transfers this summer in Isaiah Washington and Ray Hawkins III.
“It’s become a whole different recruiting game right now with no official visits (because of COVID-19),” Monson said. “We have to trust the people that we know who know him. And he’s got to trust the people that he knows.”
Washington is an exciting point guard from New York where he was Mr. Basketball during a decorated prep career. Poor timing and circumstance ruined his stops at Iona and Minnesota, but Monson knows he’s getting a game-changer.
“We have everybody back so we don’t need a point guard, you know, we needed to move the needle,” Monson said. “With our last scholarship we felt we needed an X factor.”
Washington was a consensus top 100 recruit out of St. Raymond’s High School in New York. The 6’1” point guard averaged 11.4 points 5.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists while playing over 33 minutes per game at Iona.
Former LBSU transfer Edis Deversevic is Washington’s longtime friend from New York. Deversevic was actually suspended multiple times by Monson during his short stay at LBSU, but Monson said Deversevic talked up the program to support Washington’s move to California.
“It’s funny how the ones you butt heads with the most appreciate it the most,” Monson said. “(Deversevic) couldn’t have been more positive about his experience with me and he said to me, ‘Coach that’s really how I feel. I really feel like it changed my life and the place can change his life’.”
Monson hopes Raymond Hawkins III — the other top transfer who spent a year at Alabama — can get through NCAA appeal process to be eligible for next season so he can play with Washington, who only has one year left.
Hawkins is a 6’9” 240-pound forward who was a four-star recruit out of high school. He’s originally from Oakland and is one of many college athletes choosing to play close to home.
“I think you could see even more entering the transfer portal based upon COVID,” Fee said. “Other sports within the collegiate setting are catching up to basketball.”
Ingrassia and his LBSU women’s soccer program have been ahead of the game when it comes to bounce-back talent thriving. The Beach was led by bounce-back and LBSU Hall Of Famer Nadia Link when it reached its first NCAA Tournament in 2011.
Last month, Ingrassia added transfers Sophie Jones (Arizona), Aimee Medwin (Mississippi), Daria Petredes (USC) and Hailey Smith (Washington State) to his roster. He said that established relationships and positive word-of-mouth have given him an advantage when getting talent from top programs nationally.
“Maybe (some players are) lured because of the glitz, and we’re more of a boutique type situation,” Ingrassia said of his program. “Once they go (to big school) and it’s not all it seemed to be on an emotional recruiting weekend they realize, ‘I have to find a place that fits me’ and I think that’s where we come in and we do well.”
Both Ingrassia and Monson said that the influx of experience from these upperclassman transfers will only help their squads — which struggled with inexperience last season.
“It’s hard because you don’t want to mess with that either and just tell them ‘you’re not good enough,’ but when you get an (elite talent) who has credibility throughout the country… Our players are very excited,” Monson said.
“We’ve had student athletes come here out of high school and transfer to LBSU who have great careers that have gone on and played professionally,” Fee said. “This is a place you can do it all. It’s unique. But I think that’s what all of us who live in this community love about Long Beach State.”