“So Long, Farewell”: Athletes leaving men’s basketball program speak on their decisions to transfer

By Tamar Mosby and Brooke Buerck

After a 16-16 (10-8 MVC) finish to their 2019-2020 season under first year head coach Bryan Mullins, the Saluki men’s basketball team will have more than a handful of new faces when they return next winter. 

Along with senior guard Eric McGill and graduate students Barret Benson and Ronnie Suggs Jr. exhausting their NCAA eligibility this past season, five members of the team have announced their decisions to transfer schools following the end of the season. 

These surprising transfer announcements are the most SIU has seen since March of 2015, when five Saluki players requested transfers from Head Coach Barry Hinson.

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One of the first players to announce their decision to transfer schools was Brendon Gooch, a redshirt junior forward, who joined the Salukis in 2016.

Isabel Miller | @isabelmillermedia
Junior forward Brendon Gooch blocks the ball on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 during the Salukis’ 60-76 loss to the San Francisco Dons inside the Banterra Center.

Gooch said his reason for leaving Southern after four years mainly dealt with the issue of minutes in regular season games.

“I had been at SIU for four years and never really got a chance to play, so I just felt that it was time for a fresh start and [to] play somewhere else for my last year of eligibility,” Gooch said.

Gooch redshirted his first season at SIU (2016-2017) and averaged 6.8 minutes per game with Mullins as head coach. 

In previous years, Gooch averaged 7.3 minutes in the 2018-2019 season and 5.5 minutes in his 2017-2018 season. 

In his search for a new program, Gooch said that he is looking to join a winning program with excellent team chemistry.

“I would like to go somewhere where I can play more and gel with a group of guys to get 20-plus wins,” Gooch said.

For the redshirt junior, Saluki fans and his teammates were important factors that made his SIU experience worthwhile.

“One of the things I will probably miss the most is how great Banterra Center gets when we are winning. When we win, the place goes crazy,” Gooch said. “I will also miss the friends I have made as well.”

Currently undecided on his new destination, Gooch said he is taking the journey day by day and enjoying the recruitment process.

Another transferring Saluki guard who joined the program with Gooch as a freshman that is senior Aaron Cook. 

Isabel Miller | @isabelmillermedia
Senior guard Aaron Cook Jr advances the ball on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 during the Salukis’ 60-76 loss to the San Francisco Dons inside the Banterra Center.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself as a basketball player and a person in my time at SIU, but more importantly, I learned that SIU truly loves their basketball team and that the fans are dedicated to the team through highs and lows,” Cook said. “I’ll always be thankful for my time at SIU and I’m grateful that I was embraced with welcoming arms by Saluki Nation.”

Cook also pinpointed Saluki fans and the energy they brought to Banterra Center as something he would miss upon transferring.

“The thing I will miss most will be playing in front of the fans […] and feeding off of the energy they gave us from hustle plays. Hustle plays mattered just as much, if not more, than actually scoring points,” Cook said. 

Cook said another important thing being a member of the SIU basketball team brought him was a group of teammates that became family and said despite his leaving, the bonds he created would last a lifetime.

As far as finding a new home to play what will be his fifth and final year on the court, Cook looked to schools that would allow him to compete at a higher level.

“In my next destination, I wanted to go somewhere that I can have a chance to play a significant role and win at a high level,” Cook said.

Cook announced via social media on April 8 that he had committed to play his final year of basketball nearly 2,000 miles away at Gonzaga University. 

Gonzaga University is also a Division I collegiate team located in Spokane, Washington. 

The Bulldogs compete in the West Coast Conference and have seen immense amounts of success in this past season, compiling a 31-2 overall record and a 15-1 conference record.

Gonzaga took home the WCC championship trophy this season, but was unable to compete in the NCAA Tournament due to the coronavirus outbreak.

While the coaching staff at SIU did not have an active hand in helping Cook find a new school, they did offer him information on schools that called with interest in him.

“I didn’t plan on receiving help from the staff at SIU, [but] they have reached out to me and let me know when schools have called on my behalf and I am grateful that they were willing to help me in the process,” Cook said.

Another guard who will be transferring universities is freshman Karrington Davis, who came to SIU in 2019 following a redshirt year at University of Nebraska.

Jared Treece | @JaredTreece
Karrington Davis lines up for a foul shot during SIU’s 63-50 win vs Valparaiso on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020 at the Banterra Center.

Davis said in his new school search, he is looking for a program that better fits his style of play. 

“My game is fast-paced, [with a] lot of dunks and just really up and down game more so on the offensive end, so that’s probably the fit I’m looking for a little bit more,” Davis said.

Davis said he is most likely going to attend a junior college rather than another Division I school, and the school that is currently his top interest is Chipola College in Marianna, Florida.

He said Chipola recruited him last year as well and he has a good relationship with their coach since he has previously visited the school. 

Davis’s mentor and his mother, two of the most important people in his life, are assisting him with his school search, he said. 

Davis said he initially chose SIU because of the plans they had laid out for him both basketball-wise and off the court, as well as the type of character of the players already on the team. 

“I think the thing I’m going to miss most is probably my guys, just the bond I’ve built over the year is probably the biggest thing,” Davis said. “It’s frustrating, but, you know you’ve just got to do what’s best for you and find the best fit for you. Just hanging out with my basketball teammates on the team now […] I’m going to miss those guys a lot.”

Davis said he learned a lot from SIU’s coaching staff, especially on the defensive end of the ball. 

“Coming back from injury, [they] let me know to slow the game down and that, as I kept playing, it would get better. [I also worked] with coaches after practice and before practice too, just on shooting and stuff like that,” Davis said.

Sophomore guard Harwin Francois also joined the Salukis this past season and, similar to Davis, has decided to enter his name back into the NCAA transfer portal after having a tough year at SIU. 

Jared Treece | @jaredtreece
Harwin Francois breaks away for the basket during SIU’s 76 – 59 win over Norfolk State on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019 at Banterra Center.

“The biggest factor that influenced my decision to leave was me being unhappy for a majority of the year,” Francois said. “Also, I felt the connections and fit weren’t right for me.” 

The values Coach Mullins and his staff instilled in Francois and his teammates at Southern are something he says he will take to his next destination.

“Being a Saluki, I learned the amount of hard work you have to go through for success [and], on top of that, it has to be matched with consistency,” Francois said. “Playing for Bryan Mullins also taught me how discipline and preparation plays a big role in individual or team success and I’ll carry that with me forever.”

Like many of his fellow transfers, the sophomore guard said that he will miss playing for genuine Saluki fans and the Banterra Center.

In his next destination, Francois looked to universities in the South, where he is originally from.

Francois decided in late March to play for McNeese State University, a Division I men’s basketball program located in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Members of the Southland Conference, the Cowboys compiled a 15-17 overall record in the 2019-2020 season, breaking even in conference play on a 10-10 record.

“I was mainly looking to go back down south because that’s where I feel the most comfortable,” Francois said. “I was also looking to play in a more free-flowing atmosphere where I could be myself and not try to be something I’m not.”

The decision to attend McNeese came after Francois had sorted through the schools he had previously received offers from and organized them according to atmosphere and which school fit his style of play.

Francois said that he received some help from the SIU assistant coaches in his transfer endeavors, but that much of the help he received came from coaches he played for prior to his arrival in Carbondale. 

In addition to Gooch, Cook, Davis and Francois leaving the program, junior center Stefan Jeremic will also be leaving SIU, but with reasoning concerning eligibility. 

At the end of the 2019-2020 season, it was brought to attention that Jeremic had exhausted all of his NCAA eligibility and would not be able to return for a final season. 

After the unexpected departure of these players, the Southern program was left with five open scholarships.

Since the transfer announcements, Mullins and his staff have signed one junior college forward, with no word on other potential recruits.

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.

Sports editor Tāmar Mosby can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @mosbytamar.

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