Friedlander: Top 5 ACC basketball players to enter the transfer portal (so far)
Thanks to Miami, there’s still plenty of Madness left in March. But with the transfer portal already open and all but 1 ACC team having already been sent to the sidelines, college basketball’s free agent frenzy has already begun.
The flood of players heading for the door includes several big names that were key performers for their now former teams, including 1 that has already committed to a rival ACC school.
Though the rankings are likely to change as the movement continues on, here’s a look at the top 5 ACC players – at least so far – to announce their intention to transfer:
5. JaeLyn Withers, Louisville
A 6-9, 220-pound stretch 4 with 2 years of eligibility remaining, Withers was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the Cardinals. He started 29 games, averaging 8.9 points, with a team-leading 170 rebounds.
He was also Louisville’s most accurate 3-point shooter, going 40 of 96 from beyond the arc. His .417 percentage was a dramatic improvement from his 23.4% rate the previous year.
Withers was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school in Charlotte, NC, and spent a redshirt season in 2019-20 before earning ACC All-Rookie team honors while averaging 10.1 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 55.2 percent from the floor.
Although he has yet to match those numbers, he is a solid performer with leadership skills. Among the schools that have already shown an interest in him are conference teams North Carolina and Pittsburgh.
4. Puff Johnson, North Carolina
Johnson followed his older brother Cameron to Chapel Hill in hopes of continuing a family tradition with the Tar Heels. Cam was a 1st-team All-ACC performer in 2019 before becoming a 1st-round NBA draft pick.
But things haven’t gone exactly according to plan for Puff, whose given name is Donovan.
He’s struggled with injuries throughout his 3 seasons at UNC, including a redshirt year in 2020-21, and has never averaged more than 2.7 points or 15 minutes per game. But when healthy, he’s shown flashes of the talent that made him a 4-star prospect coming out of high school in Moon Township, Pa.
The 6-7 wing, who has 3 more years of eligibility, played his best ball coming off the bench during the Tar Heels’ surprise run to the national championship game last March. His 11 points on 5 of 9 shooting with 6 rebounds in 18 minutes in the final against Kansas before getting the wind knocked out of him with 4½ minutes remaining.
Cam Johnson started his career at Pittsburgh before transferring to UNC. Now Puff is hoping to follow in his brother’s footsteps again by blossoming at his destination school. He’s the 4th player to leave UNC since the end of the season, joining Dontrez Styles, Tyler Nickel and Justin McKoy.
3. Cormac Ryan, Notre Dame
A big guard who has been around the block – a few times – Ryan announced Friday that he’s declaring for the NBA Draft. But with a 6th-year of eligibility still available to him, he’s also keeping his options open.
It apparently won’t be for new Irish coach Micah Shrewsberry, though. The 6-5 shooting guard, who started his college career at Stanford, has also entered the transfer portal.
Ryan’s size, experience and ability to knock down the 3-point shot will make him an attractive addition looking to add veteran leadership or the final piece to a contending unit. Even though his team underachieved this season, Ryan posted career-best marks of 12.3 points per game, 63 3-pointers and 79 assists.
He scored 23 points and went 6 of 7 from distance to key Notre Dame’s best win of the season, against Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 30.
2. Jack Clark, NC State
The 6-8 forward was part of the 2022 transfer class that helped the Wolfpack win 23 games, return to the NCAA Tournament and save coach Kevin Keatts’ job.
When healthy, Clark put together a solid campaign in his only season with the Wolfpack after coming over from LaSalle. But the problem is, he wasn’t always healthy.
He encountered a groin issue on Dec. 30 at Clemson and missed the next 10 games. He then came down hard on a dunk attempt against Wake Forest in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
While Clark didn’t shoot as well from 3-point range as Keatts had hoped, making only 28.9% of his 97 attempts from beyond the arc, he still managed to shoot almost 44% overall while averaging 9.0 points and a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per game. He was also one of State’s best defenders, finishing fourth on the team with 39 steals.
1. JJ Starling, Notre Dame
A 5-star talent who earned a spot on the ACC’s All-Rookie team this season, Starling didn’t bother to wait to find out who Notre Dame would hire to replace coach Mike Brey. He entered the transfer portal on the day it opened and stayed there only a few hours before changing his ACC address and committing to Syracuse.
In doing so, he went from being Brey’s last, best recruit with the Irish to the 1st recruit brought in by new Orange coach Adrien Autry in the post-Boeheim era. He’ll join fellow All-Rookie team member Judah Mintz to give Syracuse 1 of the best backcourts in the conference moving forward.
A solidly built 6-4, 200-pound McDonald’s All-American, Starling is equally adept at playing both guard positions. But he’s still young at just 18 years old. That might be the reason he plans on waiting until 2024 to enter the NBA draft despite being considered a potential 1st-round pick.
Starling averaged 11.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game while shooting 42% in his only season at Notre Dame. He drew interest from the likes of UNC, Kansas, UCLA and Alabama, but chose to play close to his hometown of Baldwinsville, NY, a suburb of Syracuse.