Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: On NIL, the Final Four and Derrick Walker’s Last Ride

March 29, 2023

Former ESPN broadcaster Dan Dakich did what he does best on Tuesday: sticking his foot in his mouth.

A twitter user changed his profile photo to impersonate ESPN’s Jeff Borzello and tweeted that Purdue star (and soon-to-be-named National Player of he Year) Zach Edey had entered the transfer portal and was seeking a massive NIL deal. Ol’ Dakich must have seen the tweet (which tricked at least two different people I follow) and decided to chase some clout. So he tweeted this.

Let’s set aside the fact that he both got duped and decided he wanted to try to pretend he had inside information by passing off someone else’s reporting as his own and focus on WHY he fell for the fake tweet: because he wanted to believe it. The last line of that tweet proved that.

People like Dakich hate the idea of players having more options. In their minds, student-athletes shouldn’t be allowed to transfer nor should they get even a tiny piece of the giant money pie that is collegiate athletics because all they care about is their enjoyment and their desire for things to continue being the way they’ve always been.

That the fake rumor was so unbelievable for so many reasons (one of which being Edey is Canadian and not eligible for the same kind of deals as U.S. citizens because of visa restrictions) made the situation even more comical, and what put it over the top was that Dakich’s tweet made its way to Edey himself, who rarely tweets.

This column isn’t about Dakich, however; the less of him in my life the better. It’s about people like him who think NIL and the transfer portal are destroying the game.

Many argued that once recruits were allowed to accept compensation beyond scholarships and the other perks of being a student-athlete, it would spell the death of the little guy and destroy any kind of parity within the Division I ranks.

How’s that going?

Looks at my NCAA Tournament bracket.


On that note, this year’s Final Four is actually a fascinating case study of the state of college basketball. One year after we saw a Final Four made up essentially of four blue bloods, we have a semifinal round featuring a No. 4 seed, two No. 5s and a No. 9, three of which have never won a title. The national championship will feature a team from either the Mountain West or Conference USA.

Miami might be the poster child for the NIL movement with LifeWallet CEO John Ruiz making it very clear just how much he paid Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack. Miami’s leading scorer, Isaiah Wong, has been a Hurricane for his entire career, but the team’s other three double-digit scorers all started their careers elsewhere with Pack and big man Norchad Omier both transferring in before this season. With the Hurricanes in the Final Four, it looks like Pack’s deal was $800,000 (and a car) well spent for Ruiz.

The Hurricanes will face UConn on Saturday in the high-major side of the bracket. The Huskies are the prohibitive favorite to win the whole thing, and the makeup of their roster is quite a bit different than Miami’s. Five of Coach Dan Hurley’s top six scorers have spent their whole college careers at UConn while guys seven, eight and nine were transfers. Hurley built his core with high school recruits (three of which were ranked in the top 75 of their classes) then filled out the rotation with role players from the portal (a couple from mid-majors, a couple from other high-majors).

The other side of the bracket features two teams from outside the power conferences.

San Diego State is one of the oldest teams in college basketball, ranking 21st in the country (our of 363 teams) in average Division I experience. The Aztecs don’t have an underclassman in their rotation as seven members of their nine-man rotation are seniors (and the other two are juniors). One of those seniors is one-time Husker commit and Omaha South product Aguek Arop, who is in his fifth season at San Diego State. The Aztecs are about half and half — five career Aztecs and four transfers — but all four transfers are in the top five in scoring.

The Owls of Florida Atlantic are probably the closest thing to a true home-grown team in the Final Four. FAU typically goes nine deep and its top eight were all on the team last year. Vladislav Goldin and Bryan Greenlee each spent one season barely playing at a high-major before transferring to Florida Atlantic where they developed into key players for the Owls. Their top two scorers, Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin, are both in their third year at the school and averaging north of 13.0 points and 5.0 rebounds. The only newcomer is UConn transfer Jalen Gaffney who is averaging 4.4 points and 2.4 assists.

All four of those teams took dramatically different paths to get to this point with very different methods of roster building and team development, yeah they all made it to the biggest stage of the sport while so many others — including every blue blood and each of the teams in the top three seed lines — fell short.

There’s no one correct way to build a roster, even in the age of NIL and the transfer portal. Ultimately, there are more talented players than there are prominent rotation spots at the schools with the biggest collective funds. The Dukes, North Carolinas or even Miamis of the world aren’t going to be able to hoard all of the talent in college basketball, and not every talented player is looking to go to the highest bidder anyway.

And if you’re looking for another example of why student-athletes making some coin isn’t the worst thing in the world, take a look at Derrick Walker. While he told me he ultimately decided he couldn’t leave Fred Hoiberg coming off a 10-23 season, he also admitted NIL made it a much easier decision to return for his COVID year.

His decision to come back paid off in a big way as he led the Huskers to a .500 season and had by far the best season of his career, and now he gets to close out his college career in the NABC Reese’s Division I College All-Star Game this weekend in Houston alongside 20 other talented seniors.

Walker is one of many players who decided to stick around in college rather than pursuing a professional career in part because of the financial opportunities now attached to college basketball for prominent players, and the game is better for it.

  • Never miss the latest news from Hail Varsity!

    Join our free email list by signing up below.