History of Division II to Division I Transfers at the High-Major Level
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

History of Division II to Division I Transfers at the High-Major Level

April 30, 2020

In his first two recruiting cycles at Nebraska, Fred Hoiberg has left no stone unturned in his search for talent. He’s signed three American high school seniors, one player from overseas, three graduate transfers, four junior colleges transfers and five traditional transfers.

On Tuesday, Hoiberg turned over yet another stone as Nebraska signed Trevor Lakes, a transfer from the Division II ranks.

Lakes is a 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward who shot 40.7% from 3 during his three years at the University of Indianapolis. An easy way to view this addition is the Huskers are hoping that Lakes can be what Matej Kavas was supposed to be — a sharp-shooting stretch-four who could provide the spacing necessary for Fred Hoiberg’s offense.

Kavas was one of the best shooters in the country while he was at Seattle, converting 44.7% of his nearly 400 3-point attempts. In eight career games against high-majors, he averaged 13.0 points and shot 35.2% from 3 — not great, but not awful either.

However, his slow release didn’t translate to a full high-major schedule as he shot 33.8% from 3 at Nebraska, and his lack of physicality made him a liability on defense and the glass. Why will Lakes be any different?

First of all, there’s a physical difference. Lakes has a good 30 pounds on Kavas which should give him a chance to hold his own a little better in the paint. Second, Lakes has a quick, high release with little wasted movement and he has no problems shooing from well beyond the arc. 

However, perhaps the biggest and most important difference is Lakes will get a redshirt year to further develop his body in a Division I strength and conditioning program and adjust to the level of play and speed of the game in practice.

Taking transfers from lower levels is always a gamble as we saw last year, but grabbing someone from the Division II ranks seems like an even bigger risk. It’s becoming more and more popular, though, and has really paid off for some teams.

Perhaps the most famous and successful example of this in Big Ten circles is Duncan Robinson, the 6-foot-8 sniper who made the leap from Division III Williams College to Michigan. Robinson shot 41.9% from deep in his three-year career at Michigan and was one of the best shooters in the NBA this season with the Miami Heat.

This season, 20 Division II players have transferred to Division I schools according to VerbalCommits.com’s transfer page. Three of those transfers have gone to high-major schools: Xavier’s Bryan Griffin and DePaul’s Courvoisier McCauley in addition to Lakes.

In the last five years (not including this season), 32 players have made that D-II to D-I leap. Seven of them have gone to high-major schools. Big thanks to Kevin Sweeney of CBBCentral.com for compiling this list.

In 2015, 6-foot-4 guard Derrick White transferred to Colorado after three seasons at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. After a redshirt year, he led the Buffaloes with 18.1 points, 4.4 assists and 41 rebounds per game while shooting 50.7% from the field, 39.6% from 3 and 81.3% from the free-throw line. He’s currently playing in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs.

In 2016, 6-foot-6 wing Max Strus transferred from Lewis to DePaul, redshirted for a year then started for two seasons. He averaged 16.8 points and 5.6 rebounds on 40.8% from the field (33.3% from 3) and 80.3% from the free-throw line as a junior then followed that up with 20.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game on 42.9% from the field (36.3% from 3) and 84.2% from the foul line as a senior. He’s bounced around the NBA on two-way deals.

In 2017, Creighton signed Manny Suarez as a grad transfer out of Adelphi to add frontcourt depth, and that’s about all he gave the Jays at 3.0 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. Vanderbilt also picked up Yanni Wetzel, a 6-foot-10 post, who spent his first two seasons at St. Mary’s University. He redshirted for a year, then averaged 5.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per game with 10 starts. He graduated and transferred to San Diego State this season and was a key part of an Aztecs squad that went 30-2, averaging 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds on 59.2% from the field and 64.2% from the line.

In 2018, two more D-II players made the leap to high-major D-I schools. Zach Hankins, a 6-foot-11, 245-pound big man played three seasons at Ferris State before landing at Xavier as a graduate transfer. He started 22 games and averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 68.6% from the field and 61.5% from the foul line. Tony Miller, a 6-foot-6 wing who spent two seasons at Seattle Pacific, transferred to Montana and sat out the 2018-19 season, then transferred again to Washington State. He played in 23 games this season while dealing with injuries and averaged 7.7 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 62.3% from the field and 59.4% from the free-throw line.

In 2019, Austin Hutcherson received plenty of high-major interest before choosing Illinois where he sat out this season.

D-II to D-I transfers have been all over the map at the mid-major level, but the history of those that have made the leap to high-major schools has been very solid. The only one who hasn’t really contributed significantly has been Suarez, and he was a last-second addition after Creighton missed out on some other transfers.

We’ll have to wait a while before we know whether or not Lakes is a hit for Nebraska, but on paper his skill set is a perfect fit for Fred Hoiberg’s offense and the track record of similar players in recent years is certainly encouraging.

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