NEW ORLEANS -- There are more than 1,000 names already in the college basketball transfer portal ahead of the 2022-23 season. It's the wild, wild west out there as teams like LSU are and starting anew thanks to a new era of quasi free agency and Name, Image and Likeness opportunities.
But one team has risen above the chaos of college athletics and masterfully laid a blueprint for success: the Kansas Jayhawks.
KU will be playing in Monday night's national championship game as a No. 1 seed taking on No. 8 seed North Carolina, and it will be favored behind a roster that coach Bill Self has tactically developed in-house while plugging holes where necessary along the way via the transfer portal.
"What the transfer portal does, it allows you not to take a step back whenever you have unexpected things happen during the season," Self said on Sunday. "So, for instance, that happens a lot whether it be another guy transfer or where there be a guy or two declare for the draft and have a good year that's maybe ahead of what your schedule was for him. Those sorts of things. You can't get a freshman in the spring like that because they're already taken. So the transfer portal allows you to fill in the gaps, which allows programs to stay at the level that they're presently operating at. And there won't be as many dips like this because of the portal."
This title-contending Kansas squad had very few gaps to fill ahead of the 2021-22 season. Leading scorer and All-American Ochai Agbaji: a four-star recruit who signed with the school in 2018. Leading rebounders Jalen Wilson and David McCormack: four-star KU recruits who have been in the program multiple years. Even junior guard Christian Braun, sophomore Dajuan Harris and super-senior big man Mitch Lightfoot were targeted, signed and developed at KU out of high school.
But there were gaps. Guard play last offseason was one priority area. So what'd Self and staff do? They scooted on over to the portal and landed Arizona State star guard Remy Martin, a difference-making shot-maker who as a senior has been vital in KU's March Madness run. They also signed Drake sophomore guard Joseph Yesufu and Iowa State senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, two depth pieces who have contributed this season.
"The backbones of all of our teams have been our experience," Self said. "It hasn't been our young kids. Even though I've always thought, 'Man, if your foundation is your juniors and seniors but your best player was your freshman, you've got something special. That could be something special.'"
There's certainly no right or wrong way to roster-build in this era of college athletics. Teams heavy with one-and-done players -- like Duke -- have had immense success. Teams heavy with experienced players -- like Chris Beard's teams at Texas Tech and Self's teams the last few years -- have done well taking a totally different path. To each their own.
No one right now can speak with more authority on the subject, though, than Self. He had a team that was old in 2020 and would likely have been the title favorite before circumstances surrounding the pandemic led to the tournament's cancelation. Now two years later, in part because of an NCAA case looming over the program that has hamstrung recruiting the way a blueblood like Kansas typically recruits, he's again got an old roster built with new-age tactics ready to run the table the same way the 2020 team was favored to do.
Maybe other programs take notice. Maybe others won't have the luxury of consistently adding high-level high school recruits like KU can. (It is still raking in top-25 classes even with the NCAA case unresolved.) But Self's got a unique squad that's old, experienced and curated masterfully with patience -- and now primed to potentially hand him his second career championship on Monday night.
"The way this is going, I think one of the keys to college basketball is going to be how to get old and how to stay old," Self said. "And we've been fortunate that we've been able to do that the last couple of years."