Isaiah Still is transferring, so let’s talk about it

By @C_Cappella

So, the day has come yet again where we have to have the transfer talk.

A rising junior, Still led the team in minutes (32.6) and points (15.7) per game, was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (32.6 percent) and was second is rebounds per game (4.6). He finished as a second team All-NEC guard.

This will be the second year in a row Robert Morris has lost their top scorer from transfer, albeit Rodney Pryor was a graduate transfer, which is a little different. It’s also the second year in a row where Robert Morris will lose their top two scorers from the previous season.

The Still transfer caught me more off guard than probably any other transfer. It seemed like a given Marcquise Reed was gone after his freshman year. The writing was on the wall for Elijah Minnie and Pryor deserved a chance to play basketball in a higher-level conference.

Still is clearly pretty good at basketball – the coaches named him one of the 10 best players in the conference by putting him on the NEC second-team. His scoring was pretty integral to Robert Morris’ success. In case you missed last season, the team struggled for offense. He’s got good size, can attack the rim, played pretty well against top opponents and saw a nice jump in outside shooting percentages from his freshman to sophomore year.

But how good is he in the general landscape of college basketball? Now that’s what I’m really interested in.

Reed and Pryor set the bar pretty high in their respective transfers to Clemson and Georgetown. Other high-caliber NEC guards, like Sacred Heart’s Cane Broome, went off to Cincinnati. A few years back, it was Central Connecticut State’s Matt Mobley who went to St. Bonaventure. Mobley had a very nice year (18.5 points, 5.8 Rebounds) for the Bonnies, a member of the Atlantic 10.

This is where things get messy. I don’t want my words to get twisted here, so please understand I’m about to start speaking in generalities.

Let’s use Mobley as an example. I’ve never met him. I think I talked to him once after a game at the Sewall Center. Mobley left a pretty poor CCSU program for the A-10, one of the top mid-major conferences that usually sends three to six teams to the tournament every year.

From Mobley’s perspective, was it worth it to leave a low-major, one-bid league for another mid-major, multi-bid league? Given his success at St. Bonaventure, I would be he would say yes. But at the same time, the Bonnies missed out on the tournament and not every player is going to average the ridiculous amount of minutes he played (38 per game).

I think Still is a pretty good basketball player. Is he good enough to play in a Power 5? In my opinion, no, but we’ll certainly see. The A-10 might be a good fit for him but in what role, I’m not exactly sure.

It’s easy to forget that the players, in some cases, are just teenagers. They might not like the school. They might be homesick. Maybe they don’t like the coaches or their teammates. I have no problem giving them the benefit of the doubt.

But in Still’s case, if the motive is purely about basketball and he has aspirations to play at an extremely high level, we’ll see what happens.

As we’ve detailed seemingly 1,000 times the past few years, Robert Morris has been crushed with transfers. Andy Toole was even highlighted in a recent Sports Illustrated article about the topic.

Last year, there were more than 700 transfers. Feel free to check out the list here. I’ll give you guys a hint: NEC schools were not beneficiaries of transfers.

Building a low-major power in the current landscape doesn’t really feel possible anymore. Like I highlighted earlier, RMU just can’t hang on to their top players. But it’s not even a Robert Morris problem… it’s a low-major problem. Bryant lost their top-scorer, Nisre Zouzoua. St. Francis PA lost Josh Nebo, the NEC Defensive Player of the Year. Mount St. Mary’s – perhaps the program with the most success at keeping their players – had their top scorer (B.K. Ashe) transfer before the start of this season.

When you combine the quantity and quality of players that have left Robert Morris the past few seasons, there probably hasn’t been an NEC school that’s been hit harder. Remember the 2015 team that went to the NCAA Tournament? There’s not a single player on the current roster that played on that team. That’s just brutal.

And it also brings up my least-favorite conversation in the world: Is Andy Toole too harsh on his players?

I almost started laughing when I wrote that. It’s a comical conversation, at least in my opinion. Toole has high standards and is demanding. I think most people would agree with that. But guess what, this is Division I basketball! I’m not sure there are any coaches who don’t demand a lot from their players. What would the whole point of being a coach be otherwise?

Maybe you could say that his style/personality drives kids away. I’m not sure how we would know that. The way some people talk, it must be a pure miracle that guys like Velton Jones, Anthony Myers-Pate, Kavon Stewart, etc. survived four years under this “lunatic”. We’re not there. We do not know.

I can tell you from my experiences covering the team for about two years, Toole was demanding but also kept it real with guys. If you made continuous mistakes, you didn’t play. He made sure guys worked on their weaknesses. If you were bad at something, it wasn’t swept under the rug. It was brought up so it could be worked on. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear.

And maybe that just isn’t for everyone. Maybe more guys need to be comforted or just mesh better with different personalities. I was never a Division I athlete. I do not know the mental and physical rigors of that life.  I feel like I’m an old man talking about the way things used to be. College basketball is just different now.

So where does the program go from here? I’d suspect they’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll be Wednesday. The world moves on. A young core of Clive Allen, Matty McConnell, Dachon Burke and some top recruits (like Koby Thomas) still has me pretty damn excited for next season. They’ll have to win a lot of rock fights, but they’ll be tough defensively and athletic as hell.

And moving forward, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the coaching staff get even more aggressive in the Junior College market. Most JUCO guys only have two years of eligibility remaining. They’re not bouncing after their junior year of college. The staff has hit on some gems like Karvel Anderson and Pryor. Obviously, they won’t all be that good, but Toole & Co. seem to have a good eye for these things.

Maybe the new facility will help. I don’t think it’ll make too much of a difference but it does open up for a conference switch way down the road. From the school’s standpoint, that move seems years away.

If this was two years ago, the Still transfer would have ruined my week. But we’re Robert Morris University fans. We were made for days like today.

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