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April 11, 2012

Transfers tweak 2012 recruiting plan

The NCAA basketball offseason is just over one week removed from the championship game on April 2. Yet over 300 players have announced their decision to transfer from the school they were with in 2011-2012.

Nearly every Division I school has already been impacted, and Robert Morris isn't alone. Tuesday saw freshmen Darren Washington and Brandon Herman confirm their departure from the program in search of better fits. Washington, a 6-foot-9, 220 pound freshman from Michigan, played just four games and worked almost exclusively on the scout team. Herman, a 6-foot-1, 190 pound guard from Tennessee, played in 30 games but averaged just 1.8 points per game.

Herman and Washington are likely casualties of an in-flux recruiting cycle. Both have previous de-commitments on their profiles, something that's becoming more and more common. Washington was originally signed to Eastern Michigan, but got out of his letter of intent after a coaching change. Herman's situation has changed several times. He had offers from Tennessee-Chattanooga, UNC Wilmington, and Eastern Kentucky out of high school but chose to go to Charis Prep for a year. He reportedly committed to North Carolina State, but that changed with another coaching change, sending him to Robert Morris.

The recruiting process has been under fire for the past couple years as the NCAA tries to get a hold on AAU squads, travel teams, and various violations by coaches. They've trimmed spring evaluation periods, and jammed many open contact periods into the summer. The process is full of stops and starts, and that causes uncertainty on behalf of both the college coaches and the players. What seems to be a solid fit turns out to disintegrate as the two sides start working on the same practice floor, and that disintegration leads to more transfers.

In the case of Herman and Washington, they leave with the blessing of coach Andy Toole, who now has three scholarships available for the Class of 2012 after starting the season with none. Indiana forward Steve Hawkins grabbed the lone available scholarship in early November when he signed his letter of intent. Sophomore guard Karon Abraham was expected back from a suspension to take the open roster spot from Lawrence Bridges' graduation, but Toole dismissed Abraham from the program in late March.

So what happens next for Robert Morris? Toole had already expressed a desire for a rebounding forward and a scoring guard. With three scholarships available and the spring signing period starting Wednesday, Toole has a couple options available. He has ten players currently inked for next year, two at each position on the floor, with some flexibility.

At least one forward and one guard will be added to the mix. But that third scholarship gives Toole some leeway, including the eligibility of potential recruits. Based off of the current class situation, Robert Morris is projected to lose three players to graduation after the 2012-2013 season: Forwards Lijah Thompson and Russell Johnson and point guard Velton Jones.

The best option for Toole might be to stagger his recruits. Robert Morris has been connected to a couple transfers, including a couple point guards who would be sophomores once eligible. They could come in, work in practice behind Jones and Anthony Myers, and immediately be ready to step in and contribute once Jones graduates.

Robert Morris has also tested the junior college depths for guards. Instead of hoping a freshman comes in and provides an immediate scoring lift, a junior college guard with range and who is smart defensively could immediately slot in behind Coron Williams.

Such an approach would give Robert Morris a four-man recruiting class of two freshmen, a sophomore, and a junior, and give the Colonials even more flexibility moving forward. It's possible, but less likely, that RMU grabs three true freshmen to join Hawkins as the Class of 2016. Robert Morris brought five true freshmen in this past year and Toole often ended up frustrated with their mental approach. That experience might lead to him seeking more developed players capable of making an earlier impact.

ColonialsCorner will follow the process throughout the spring signing period.

Players are listed with 2012-2013 classification and in role most likely to fill next season.

Center/forward - Lijah Thompson (6'7, 215, Sr.), Keith Armstrong (6'7, 230, So.)
Forward - Mike McFadden (6'8, 220, Jr.), Stephan Hawkins (6'9, 205, Fr.)
Forward/Wing - Russell Johnson (6'6, 180, RSr.), Lucky Jones (6'5, 195, So.)
Shooting Guard - Coron Williams (6'2, 170, RJr.), David Appolon (6'2, 180, So.)
Point Guard - Velton Jones (6'0, 170, RSr.), Anthony Myers (5'11, 170, Jr.)
Walk-ons: G Treadwell Lewis (6'1, 180, Sr.), F Shane Sweigart (6'4, 195, Sr.)

Three scholarships remain available for 2012.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi contributed to this report and can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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