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On pickups and good gets

We need to talk about how we talk about the college basketball transfer market.

Ford Suspends Production Of Its Popular F-150 After Fire At Supplier Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Former DePaul guard Brandon Cyrus announced his transfer to UC Santa Barbara yesterday. The 6’5 sophomore wing started 55 games for the floundering Blue Demons, who have won 20 games over the past two seasons. When Cyrus becomes eligible in the 2019-20 season, he will be one of six guards (assuming everyone stays) on the depth chart; his experience and body of work will put him in a good position to crack the starting rotation and be a good player in the Big West.

But this isn’t about Cyrus, UCSB, or any transfers, for that matter. Instead, this is about how college basketball media needs to change how it talks about the transfer market. The clichés — the “good gets,” “great pickup,” “perfect fit in Coach ____’s system,” and so on — have been stale for quite awhile.

Unfortunately, firing off a knee-jerk reaction for any college basketball transfer is too easy. Start off by calling the player a “pickup,” “get” (or even “find” will suffice if the transfer emerges from an obscure JUCO or non-Division I school), then attach an adjective like “good,” “great” or “nice.” Thanks to Twitter’s 280-character limit, adding a catch-all phrase about a transfer’s “athleticism,” “high ceiling/potential,” or projecting “he’ll be an all-conference selection in the _______” usually shows the audience that this media member knows what they’re talking about.

But here’s the problem: That’s incredibly lazy and, if we’re honest with ourselves, a little misleading.

Put all of those clichés together, and the description isn’t really saying anything. It’s a perfect example of the Barnum Effect: the psychological term for giving seemingly tailor-made, hyper-accurate assessments by using open-ended statements that fit anything. To revisit the previous hypothetical, I could be talking about everyone from Nico Clareth, to Trae Berhow to either of the Martin twins. The lack of descriptiveness is insulting and lackluster when describing athletes’ incredible feats and talents.

Not only that, almost every transfer is probably a good fit. Each time a player transfers, he’s more than likely been in extensive talks with a myriad of head coaches and assistants. They’ve probably talked to athletes they know — either through AAU, high school or anywhere else from the insular world of highly competitive youth basketball — on different teams. Who knows, maybe they’ve watched a game or two from a team they’re eyeing.

Since these athletes are potentially putting a year of eligibility or a redshirt season on the line, they’ve had better information on hand about their new school than (stares directly into a mirror) a blogger with an internet connection and KenPom subscription. Of course a transfer will thrive in a new system; clearly the last one didn’t work, he’s already discussed his potential role with assistants, and he’s in favor of the way this new school plays basketball. And if a transfer wouldn’t be a good fit, another coach probably wouldn’t have contacted him and vice versa.

So college basketball media world, let’s give a little more effort into our transfer takes. Let’s watch the tapes. Dust off that thesaurus and tweet about Richie Riley’s latest eminent acquisition for South Alabama (okay William Wordsworth, maybe don’t do that).

And yes, there’s always the option to not tweet about how that Rutgers transfer whom averaged 0.6 points and 1.1 rebounds per game will fit at Towson. At the end of the day, abstaining from tweeting your two cents about one of the 750-plus Division I transfers won’t kill you. Yet that’s easier said than done. In an era of prolific social media posts and blazing news cycles, the rapid tide of information forces every member of the college basketball media world to tweet half-cooked opinions first and ask questions later. Thoughtful analysis takes time that most media members don’t have. But that’s for another column.

Instead, let’s all try to do better (myself included). Be thoughtful. Be specific. Stand out amongst the sea of “good gets” and “perfect fits.” Put some effort into talking about what the transfer will bring to the table instead of lazily labeling them a “good get” and waiting for the next scoop.

Thankfully, this offseason has had its fair share of impact transfers, so it’s easy to call them something more than “good gets.” There’s Trey Porter, whose eye-popping advanced statistics (while averaging a mere 23.6 minutes per game!) offer plenty of intrigue for a loaded Nevada team. There’s the aforementioned Berhow, a 6’5 guard who can take over games, and is equally adept at rebounding as he is draining threes. Or there’s UC Irvine’s newest Anteater, Robert Cartwright: the former four-star prospect who, on the heels of sustaining a compound arm fracture, worked his way into Stanford’s rotation, became a steady backup point guard and helped the Cardinal make two NIT appearances. I could go on, but the point remains: Do actual research on transfers, and you’ll call them anything but “good gets.”

And let’s stop referring to transfers like they’re goddamn Chevy Silverados.