TULSA — Oklahoma basketball coach Porter Moser admitted Thursday night that he was a little caught off guard by the recent departures of players he was hoping would impact the 2022-23 season.
But there’s not a lot college basketball coaches can do these days when a player decides to enter the transfer portal.
“I was (surprised by Umoja Gibson’s decision),” Moser said during Thursday’s stop on the Sooner Coaches Caravan. “It was something that — he said he was coming back. We’d talked and he’d been working at a lot of things. And then just this week he came in and said he wanted to look at some different options. So, yeah, that’s the world we live in right now with the portal.”
Gibson led the Sooners in scoring last season at 13.0 points per game and was being counted on to provide both offensive punch and leadership to Moser’s second iteration of OU basketball next season.
Moser said he was a little more prepared for Elijah Harkless’ decision to transfer to UNLV, even though Harkless had previously posted on social media that he couldn’t wait to come back strong from a season-ending knee injury next year.
“Well that’s the thing about the portal. You can put out there that you’re coming back,” Moser said.
“… We talked about it. Right after the season we talked about it and he said that was probably what he was going to look for. So that one didn’t surprise me. I know he put out there that he was coming back and then a couple of weeks later (he left) so it was a surprise. But when he got hurt, he came in and we were just talking about some things. I think he wanted to get closer to the West Coast. … I think he’d indicated that he wanted to get back closer to California and some family.”
Moser explained that coaching and even recruiting in the age of the transfer portal and NIL have undergone a significant evolution.
“Everything’s completely changed,” he said. “… You’re juggling the NIL. You’re juggling the portal. And to be able to have guys immediately eligible. And you need time to build your own culture to where they want to stay. And we’re going to do that.”
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It’s even changed the game in recruiting. Coaches don’t really offer the old tried-and-true promise of free education and a great social experience and great competition and a path to the pros anymore. Now it’s the NBA and NIL — and if that doesn’t work, the portal is always open.
“With the NIL, no question,” Moser said. “That is the end of the discussion, unequivocally. A lot of the stuff is the same. Guys want to play at the next level. I think you’re hearing one thing is a lot of people in our (players’) ears on what they think they have to do to get to the next level. You’re seeing that a lot. Without a doubt, the transfer portal and NIL has changed things with what recruits want.”
Still, although some programs maintain a major inherent advantage, college athletics is mostly a somewhat level playing field. To that end, Moser is trying to keep a positive attitude about rolling with the punches and trying to stay ahead of the curve.
“There’s only two ways you can approach it,” he said. “You can keep getting mad about the portal or… I’m going to make the best of it, man. I’m going to find people to put the best people representing the University of Oklahoma on the floor.”
During his 10-minute interview, Moser frequently pointed at the interlocking “OU” embroidered on his shirt.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to find people who want to wear this OU jersey proudly,” he said. “They want to be in this program. I’m going to keep searching and keep finding. And if someone doesn’t want to be in the program, then they’re not in the program. I’m going to find people that have both feet in, because I’m blessed to wear a hell of an OU (logo). And if they don’t want to wear that, they think they can find something else, this, that or the other, somewhere else. Good luck. And I’ll move on.”
Moser said as the May 1 deadline approaches to enter the portal and still be eligible next season, there have been rumors and discussion at various levels of players getting another transfer eligibility waiver from the NCAA. That would complicate the efforts of many coaches nationally who are trying to build a foundation and establish a culture.
“If you’re a high school young man, you might be getting recruited by 10 or 12 schools,” Moser said. “Sometimes it’s geographical. You’re seeing these portal guys go into the portal, you’ll see them get 50 calls in the first 48 hours. 50. You’re seeing kids get contacted by 50 schools. You’re dealing with that recruiting. It’s just a different recruiting.
“But I’m not wavering. We’re going to field a team that people are so proud to wear that Oklahoma across their chest.”