Finding a new home: how the transfer portal changes athlete’s lives and careers

Portland State transfer Mike Nuga (1) goes up for a dunk against Northern Kentucky University. Nuga finished the game with 19 points in 34 minutes on the court. Dec.13, 2020.

Sean Blevins Sports Reporter

One night in April 2019, Kent State women’s basketball coach Todd Starkey opened up the computer in his office to check the NCAA’s transfer portal. He jumped back when he came across Linsey Marchese’s name. 

When Starkey was an assistant coach at Indiana University, he had recruited Marchese out of high school, where she was an all-state center from Georgia and a top 100 recruit in the country. As soon as he saw her name in the portal, he started formulating a recruiting strategy. 

Within a day, Starkey emailed her — the only contact information he had from the portal. 

While he was waiting for Linsey’s reply, he texted Marchese’s father, whom he had known from recruiting her, though he wasn’t sure whether the phone number was still the same. It was, and on the phone, they talked about what Linsey was looking for and whether she might be interested in Kent State. 

Marchese’s father told Starkey that Linsey had started to get calls from other schools but that she likely would be interested in Kent State. Starkey started to feel he had a chance to land a Big Ten transfer.

After Linsey agreed she was interested, the family scheduled a trip to Kent. The family and Starkey spent the day together and discussed what her role with the team might be. 

Throughout the course of their visit, Linsey became more and more enamored with the idea of becoming a Flash.

“Knowing coach Starkey helped ease the whole process,” Marchese said. “I sort of had a feeling where I might end up.” 

Marchese is one of two KSU women’s players who have used the transfer portal since it opened in 2018. The portal was designed to give players an easier and more fair path to transfer. In the same time, the men’s team has gotten six transfers. 

“It’s not everyday that you can get a Power Five transfer,” Starkey said. “Good post players are hard to come by.” 

The move to enter the portal has changed players’ lives; they and their coaches say it has changed KSU’s basketball programs for the better. 

Why they decided to transfer 

Tervell Beck, a senior transfer to the men’s team from UNLV, knew he wanted to leave the school as soon as the coaching staff that recruited him got fired. He said he loved his time there, but didn’t want to wait and see who would replace them and was ready to leave Las Vegas. He also felt a little homesick and wanted to play closer to home, which is Cleveland. 

Beck originally went to UNLV to play with some of his closest friends, one of them being Brandon McCoy, a former McDonald’s All-American now playing for the Wisconsin Herd in the NBA G-League. 

Beck appeared in all 33 games in his freshman year there, starting in the last 13 of them and averaging 7.3 points per game. He put up 4.1 points a game in his sophomore season. 

For Marchese, she began seriously considering leaving Indiana after a workout that occurred a few days after her sophomore season ended. She was not fully satisfied with her role with being a key reserve and was having doubts about her future there. 

She said her time at Indiana, where she played in 67 games, was a great learning experience that showed her what she needed to do to be successful. But she felt like she needed a change of scenery to become the player she wanted to be.

She remembers being nervous about telling her coaches of her intentions to transfer. She wanted to do what was best for her but didn’t want to disappoint them. After hashing everything out in a long conversation, she and her coaches mutually agreed to part ways. 

“If you are not satisfied where you are, then don’t be afraid to change your environment,” Marchese said. 

Officially Entering the Portal

Bexley Wallace, who transferred to the women’s team from Penn State last summer, said she had a hard time making the decision to enter the portal. She initially thought about transferring the previous year when the coaching staff that recruited her got fired. She tried to make it work by staying at Penn State an extra year. 

Ultimately, it didn’t work out and when she went to the new staff at PSU to tell them she wanted to transfer, they were not happy because the program had already lost four players to the portal. They eventually came to an understanding, and Wallace was the fifth and final player to exit the program. 

“It just wasn’t the best coaching fit,” Wallace said. “I needed to go to a place where I felt like I belonged.”

She said a long call with her former head coach at PSU helped her realize that transferring was the best option for her, the program was simply not the same under the new coach.  

When Wallace was fully sure she wanted to transfer, Penn State’s compliance department entered her name into the transfer portal. She started receiving calls from schools less than a day later. 

Going Through The Motions

Beck had visited Kent State when he was a senior in high school so he said didn’t need one this time around. He has known Senderoff since the coach saw him play in the eighth grade. He played his high school basketball in Cleveland, where he dominated the local scene and earned All-Ohio first team honors in 2016. 

This time around Beck knew he wanted a school where he would play a bigger role and be closer to home. KSU checked off both of those boxes. 

He said he almost committed to Cleveland State before coming to KSU, but then CSU had a coaching change and that ruled the Vikings out. 

Several days after entering the portal, Senderoff called him and KSU became his first option. 

Senior Mike Nuga had already transferred twice before. He knew this was the last chance he would get to play college basketball, so he had to make it count. He spent two seasons at Eastern Florida Junior College and one at Portland State. 

He said Senderoff called him a few days after entering the portal. Senderoff had seen him play once in high school and kept tabs on him when he was at other schools. They rekindled their relationship during that call. 

When Nuga visited the KSU campus in 2019, he saw his mother for the first time in over a year. His family lives in Toronto and wasn’t able to make it to see him play the year he was at Portland State. 

He said it was a surreal moment for him and a key turning point in his recruitment process. 

“I saw my family, and it felt like home,” he said. “So right away I knew this was where I needed to be.” 

Nuga also had offers from Washington State and Hawaii but said KSU was an easy choice because the Flashes were willing to give him a bigger role on the team and he wanted to play for a winning program like Kent. Senderoff is entering his 10th season as head coach and he has never overseen a losing season in Kent.

“I felt like I belonged on a bigger stage and Kent State gave me the best chance to showcase my talents,” Nuga said. 

How the transfers have fared at Kent State

Nuga sat out last season due to the NCAA’s transfer eligibility rules, but has not missed a beat this season. He has led the team in scoring through four games, with 17.8 points per game. He is third on the team in rebounds, with five rebounds per game. He led all scorers with 20 points when the Flashes lost 71-64 to No. 15 Virginia in overtime on Dec. 4.  

Beck was injured late in the preseason and is out indefinitely. He played in 31 games last year, putting up 4.4 points per game in 13 minutes a game. 

Marchese sat out all of last year because of the NCAA’s transfer rules. She has started in all four women’s games so far this season. She is averaging 3.8 points per game and five rebounds per game. 

Wallace has not been able to play this year because of the NCAA’s transfer rules. 

However, the Division I Council is expected to approve a blanket waiver on Dec. 16 granting immediate eligibility to all college basketball transfers, according to Nicole Auerbach of the Athletic. So Wallace could suit up for the Flashes’ next game.