A few months ago, it seemed like the men’s basketball team at Marist was building a program ready to succeed for years to come. But thanks to the current rules and regulations of the transfer portal, the team is now looking to rebuild its roster. After it looked so good for this group, how did Marist end up in this position?
With less than a week left in the 2021-22 regular season, the Marist men’s basketball team seemed primed to have a strong finish to their season. A single road win at Niagara or Canisius would have secured a top-five finish in the MAAC, sending the team to Atlantic City with a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Marist failed to win either of those games, leading to the team falling to sixth place in the MAAC after the regular season. That meant the team would play in the first round of the postseason tournament, featuring in the 6–11 matchup. Their opponent was the Quinnipiac Bobcats, a team full of experience with a good mix of talented freshmen and experienced upperclassmen.
Unfortunately for the Red Foxes, that opening game in A.C. did not go well. Marist fell behind early and never threatened mount a comeback, losing 77-52. For a team that was so close to a top-four finish in the conference, it was a painful way to go out.
Less than two weeks after that first-round loss to Quinnipiac, potential changes to the roster quickly came to fruition. Players began to enter their names in the transfer portal, one after another. On March 18, senior guard Raheim Sullivan was the first Marist player to enter his name. Later that week, sophomore Ricardo Wright, senior Matt Herasme, and senior Braden Bell all entered the portal.
“The connection I had with the coaching staff wasn’t as strong as I wanted it to be. So that kind of led up to my decision to go into the portal. I just felt like we didn’t have that bond where I could just go up to his office, you know, and just talk about things on and off the court,” Sullivan said about his decision to leave.
Once four of the men’s basketball players had entered their names in the portal, the expectation was that the team would also lose their most talented player.
Jao Ituka, a 6-foot-1 guard out of Gaithersburg, M.D., was a unanimous selection for the MAAC Rookie of the Year. The ultimate fear was that he would join the rest of his teammates by entering the portal and looking for greener pastures.
On March 29, Ituka announced that he was entering the transfer portal, taking the total to five players from the program at the time.
“My decision to leave was something that came later on after the season was over. After much talk and thinking and conversations with my family,” Ituka said about why he entered the transfer portal.
One of the things Ituka mentioned revolved around his own personal relationship with the head coach.
“There wasn’t a relationship there. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking to him [coach Dunne]. You know, he didn’t speak to me. Even when I needed my coach to be there, he wasn’t at times, but that is all in the past now. So, the coaching was a very big part in why I’m leaving and why I left,” Ituka said in response to his departure from the program.
Just over a month after Ituka entered the transfer portal, the former Marist guard announced that he would be heading to Wake Forest University for the 2022-23 season. The Demon Deacons compete on one of the biggest stages in college basketball, being members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The men’s basketball program went on to lose two other players to the transfer portal in senior Samkelo Cele and redshirt senior Victor Enoh. At one point, seven former Red Foxes were in the portal.
Ituka is one of three former Red Foxes to have already committed to another school for next season. Ricardo Wright is heading to Southern Methodist University (SMU) in the American Athletic Conference. Matt Herasme will be moving onto the University of New Hampshire in the America East Conference.
“With the nature of college basketball now, when younger, underclassmen have success, it’s a little bit in vogue to want to put your name in the portal, and you know, and bring your talent and so to speak, you know, somewhere else,” head coach John Dunne said. “So that’s happening across the country, you know, not just at Marist, but it’s happening in our league and a lot over the last few years.”
There is no denying that the transfer portal adds a different dimension to college basketball. Coaches are put in a position where they need to recruit players after every season, including those who were on the team the previous season.
“A lot of the mid-major leagues are getting hit with a ton of guys leaving. It’s just the nature of the game now, you know, and coaches are just recruiting out of the portal, first and foremost, throughout the country at all levels,” Dunne said.
The program is in a very tricky spot as the men’s basketball team prepares to build a roster for the upcoming season. They will return four scholarship players: freshman Noah Harris, freshman Rollin Belton, sophomore Javon Cooley, and junior Tyler Saint-Furcy.
A point of emphasis for the coaching staff will be to find good fits for the program through the portal.
“I’ve never shied away from recruiting transfers. Whether that be junior college or four-year transfers, I always think there’s a place where you can fill a need with one or two. That’s kind of been my philosophy,” Dunne said.
Marist has already recruited three transfers to join the team for next season. Stephane Ingo, a 6-foot-9 power forward, averaged 7.3 points per game for the University of Maine last season. Patrick Gardner, a 6-foot-10 power forward, averaged over 20 points per game at Saint Michael’s College. Anthony Cooper, a 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 19 points per game in nearly 35 minutes of action for Caldwell University last year.
Gardner and Cooper both hail from non-Division I schools.
The Red Foxes are just two years removed from a season with a winning record (12-9 during the 2020-21 season). Marist is in an offseason of roster turnover, so building continuity throughout the group will be crucial heading into October.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane
Header photo from Marist Athletics