Razorbacks use transfers to kick-start program

By: Seth Campbell
Published: Thursday, October 15, 2020
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors is shown during a game against Tennessee on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Fayetteville.
Photo by David Beach
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors is shown during a game against Tennessee on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Fayetteville.

The basketball coach on the Arkansas campus most associated with the transfer portal is men's basketball coach Eric Musselman, but women's basketball coach Mike Neighbors has made his own splash in the portal. 

Neighbors currently has three players who are transfers, and all three are redshirt seniors in 2020-21. Chelsea Dungee, Amber Ramirez and Destiny Slocum all transferred into the program from other Power 5 programs, and all of them are battling for a starting spot in this year's lineup. 

Dungee and Ramirez led the team in minutes last year, and they were in the top three in points scored. Neighbors knew he would have to utilize the portal if he wanted to turn around Arkansas' program. 

"We had a very depleted roster," Neighbors said Wednesday. "The first meeting that I walked into had five returners in it, so we knew we were going to have to build."

Neighbors added Dungee from Oklahoma in his first year at Arkansas. 

"We sat down and talked," Dungee said about why she wanted to come to Arkansas. "He just kept it honest and straightforward with me from the beginning and has all the way through my time here. We built a great relationship based off of that."

The common denominator for why these three players were drawn to Arkansas was because of Neighbors. 

"I think initially it's Coach (Neighbors)," Slocum said. "I feel like we've had a bond since he coached at Washington. For one thing, he's a coach that I can trust. I feel like his program fits my game the best."

"It wasn't necessarily about the university, because I'm not an in-state kid," Dungee added. "It was more so about Coach Neighbors and the person he was."

Dungee says her game has completely transformed because of Neighbors. 

"I wanted to play every single game and I wanted to give everything I had to Arkansas because Coach Neighbors believed in me," she said. "I came into this program a completely different player on and off the court, and for that I just feel like I owe Coach Neighbors so much for what he's done for me. I want to be able to leave Arkansas knowing that I gave every single thing that I had."

Neighbors has three criteria for adding a transfer player: They have to be transferring because they want a style change, they have to be a good fit in the locker room and they must make an immediate impact.

"If you bring a transfer in, it's got to be a Dungee, it's got to be a Slocum, it's got to be a Ramirez," Neighbors said. "My daughter was not a basketball player, and I used to take her recruiting with me. If she couldn't tell who we were in the gym to see, we were in the wrong gym. So if my daughter can't walk in and go, 'Oh, is that Slocum? Oh!'

"If she doesn't raise her eyebrows and go, 'Oh wow!' then I've made a mistake in bringing somebody in."

The transfer portal becomes even more important as the NCAA DI Council agreed to put a one-time transfer exception rule into the legislative cycle for January. The rule still has to be voted on, but it is expected to pass, according to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated. 

If passed, a player would be allowed a one-time transfer during their athletic career without having to sit out a year. In light of this news, Neighbors sees the portal becoming a critical piece to recruiting. 

"I think burying your head to the transfer portal would be a mistake," he said. "I think it's going to get even bigger. It's impacted our recruiting board, I can tell you that. I think for a scholastic senior there's a lot of coaches, and I'm one of them, that at least has the conversation of would we rather have that scholarship for a potential transfer or would we rather take an incoming freshman that we're not sure can come in and immediately compete for playing time."

Neighbors also understands that with relaxed transfer rules, players are going to leave his program. 

"We actually had two go into the transfer portal this year, which was the first time we ever really dealt with that," he said.

Arkansas lost guards A'Tyanna Gaulden and Rokia Doumbia after last season. 

"I think it's going to happen both directions," Neighbors said. "I think I've got to come to grips with that. I've always done everything I could do to keep our players our players. I think there is going to have to be a change in that for me to understand that it may be a better situation to let somebody go."

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.