Transferring: Advice from a former DI and DII college athlete

Why one college basketball player decided to transfer — and what you can learn from it.

The following is a personal essay contributed to Athletes Anonymous, Trey’s blog series showcasing the experiences of current and former college athletes, at the intersection of life and sports. Email us at info@treyathletes.com to contribute.

My lifelong dream was to play Division I college basketball. I grew up in a very competitive family. Both my dad and uncle played college football in the Big Ten, and I attended my brother’s football, basketball and baseball games from a young age. My brother’s high school teams won many games and tournaments, and he went on to play community college and Division II college football. I also followed the rise of Pat Summit and her winning teams, and Jackie Stiles, who made 1,000 shots per day and always outworked everyone. All of these things contributed to my early love for sports, and motivated me to start my own competitive sports career.

At the young age of 10, I began playing AAU basketball and working towards my dream. I traveled to Florida, New Orleans, Minnesota and many other states to compete and grow my skillset. Extra shooting outside of practice became a part of my daily routine, to gain confidence and perfect my form. I was a shooting guard, and wanted to be able to knock down shots during the game.

In 8th grade, I vividly remember a camp I attended. A coach there seemed specifically interested in me, and told my parents that I had a lot of potential. Potential means “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future,” which meant to me that my dreams of being a college athlete were realistic. This coach had coached many collegiate-level players, and I trusted his judgment. Throughout high school, I had many coaches who believed in me, and some who did not, but they all motivated me to keep pushing for success.

8th grade was also when I received my first college letter. It was just one (and likely not a DI letter), but it encouraged me that I was indeed on the right path and that my dreams were reachable. I remember feeling so proud, but also so motivated to work even harder. My dad and I made a journal entry recording the letter. I didn’t know it at the time, but my dad continued documenting the many college recruiting letters that followed. I am glad he did, because to this day we have a record of all the letters I received. I was lucky to have a very supportive family who never let me give up.

As a sophomore, I was a starter on a very top-notch high school basketball team. In fact, three out of four years we advanced to the High School State Championship tournament, and in the final year, we won 3rd place. My competitive teammates were also instrumental in helping me meet my goals and achieve any of my successes, and many of them continued their athletic careers at DI or DII colleges.

By junior year, I narrowed my college search down to about six different universities: a Big Ten program, a few Big 12 programs, and some DI colleges in smaller conferences. Nowhere in my search was anything less than DI. Why would I consider anything less than DI? Anything less than DI would be considered failure, right? Wrong. But as an 18-year-old high school student, this is how I thought. I eventually accepted an offer from one of the biggest DI schools in my home state. Everyone was excited for me to stay close to home, and I was very excited myself.

Fast forward to freshman year in college. I played in a handful of games for under 20 total minutes, and after the season ended, decided to transfer. My decision to transfer was not all about playing time. I lost all confidence my freshman year and played for a coach who I felt had zero confidence in me. There were also important factors I never considered in my original recruiting process, that I did think about when finding a program to transfer to (more on that in a bit). Not everyone understood my decision. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “Why in the world would you transfer from X school?” I would be rich. Thankfully I had strong support from my family and friends, and even though basketball was not a good fit, I was still able to enjoy the experience in my first year before transferring.

The transfer process itself was straightforward; I let my coach know that I was going to transfer, and followed the process provided to me by the compliance team at my school. It took some time to scout out new schools and get my coach’s approval on the schools I wanted to look at, but my school made the process easy. I considered many DI and DII schools in my search, including a few of the DI schools who originally recruited me. For me, not having to sit out another year was key, because I basically felt I had already done that my freshman year. I ultimately decided to transfer to a DII college that I had not considered the first time around, which allowed me to play right away.

My first year at the new school was definitely challenging. Moving to a new town was hard at first. Even though it was not a big town, learning how to get around town and the school campus took time. However, I felt like I was heading the right direction by transferring, and I was right. In terms of increased confidence, and academic and athletic success, the emotional growth that I experienced from my sophomore year to my senior year was amazing, plus I finally got to play. My first game, I played more minutes than my entire freshman season at my old school. By the third game, I was starting, and I eventually became a very instrumental part of the team.

More importantly than playing time, I clicked with my new coach. He was prepared to help me become the shooter I once was. Thanks to him, I realized that my shooting slump was between my own two ears. I had always loved basketball, but I felt like such a failure after my first year. My new coach helped me believe in myself again.

It wasn’t just me. My new coach seemed to really care about everyone on the team. He knew how hard he could push us, but he also knew how to make us laugh, and could connect with us all. He had a family he would go home to each night, which I soon learned was an important factor I never considered in my original recruiting process. I also felt like I fit right in with the team. Many of my teammates were from the same area of the country as I was, and we shared many common interests.

Now, I want to provide you some advice. I want to help you think in ways that I did not about the factors involved in choosing a college program, or deciding to transfer. First, if you are a high school recruit, I would strongly advise you to think about what traits in coaches are most important to you before committing to play anywhere. I would encourage you to set your dreams at a young age. Don’t worry about how you will achieve them from Day 1, but rather just set the goal and figure out the rest later.

Or, maybe you are already in college and are considering transferring to another team? Maybe you aren’t getting the playing time you would like? Maybe you are looking for a coach that will support your goals better? Or, maybe you want a smaller program where you can get more focused attention? If so, please keep reading:

1) If you don’t have a good experience at the school you signed to play with, your basketball career is not over. You can transfer and everything will work out. When I decided to transfer after my freshman year of college, I considered not playing basketball at all and just being a college student. My dad quickly reminded me that I would be paying for my own school and would need to get a job. It was then that I realized I was not yet ready to give up on my college basketball dream. Transferring to a DII college allowed me to play right away, and I found a coach who I felt believed in me on day one. If you feel your situation is not right, believe in yourself and everything will work out. The process is relatively easy with the compliance team at your school, especially if you keep your grades up.

2) Consider all schools recruiting you, regardless of Division. Division I women’s basketball is great. DI programs have the biggest budgets, they clearly get the most TV time, they have the largest coaching staff, they make the most money, they have easier travel schedules (they fly most places), and they even take more international trips.

However, DI isn’t the only place you can get a full scholarship. Did you know you can receive a full basketball scholarship at a Division II program? And many of the DII schools (including the one I attended) have some of the best women’s basketball fans you will ever meet. In high school, I didn’t know I could play for a DII and still get my school paid for, and still go to team tournaments in fun places like Hawaii. You should consider all programs that are a fit for you, regardless of their Division. If the coach wants you and believes in you, anywhere you can keep playing after high school is worth it. Also, if you want to transfer to a team that’s in the same Division as your old team, you might have to sit out a year. This isn’t all bad, as it will allow you time to get to know the campus and your team, but it’s an important factor to consider.

3) Do not underestimate the talent in Division II. If you think that you will walk into a DII program from a DI and automatically be the best player, think again. When I tell you that the Division II school I transferred to was every bit as competitive and good as the Division I program I came from, I am not kidding. If you are a college athlete, regardless of Division, you are a committed athlete who has likely spent many years preparing for it. Many girls choose DII over DI to attend a school close to home, to attend the same university their parents attended, to continue to play with high school AAU or summer teammates, and for lots of other reasons. Height is also a factor too; DI schools definitely scoop up the tallest players in every position. My point here is: Division II is very competitive and well worth your time and respect. DI was the only thing I dreamed about in high school, and I wish I had been more open-minded.

4) Do what makes you happy, and be thankful. Looking back, I feel like transferring was one of the best decisions I’ve made. At the end of the day, everyone deserves to be happy. I clearly wasn’t happy at my Division I school, mainly because I didn’t feel I could ever get the chance to play. I am thankful my parents realized the DI school was not a fit for me, as thinking through the decision to transfer without their support would’ve been harder. And lastly, I am thankful my DII coach found me. He picked up a folder containing my stats from high school, and called me just to learn more about me. He believed in me from Day 1. You know what’s best for you. Do that, and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks.

Playing college basketball was the best thing I’ve ever done. It taught me more about life and dealing with people than anything else I could have participated in. I wish the same for you, and wish you good luck on the journey!