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The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Student news without fear or favor

A revolving door: How the transfer portal affects Sac State basketball

Hornet hoops try to stay afloat in the midst of a never-ending cycle
Jahson Nahal
Senior guard Austin Patterson and Freshman forward Summah Hanson preparing to take a shot. Hanson and Patterson posing in their new uniforms. (Graphic created in Canva by Jahson Nahal, photos courtesy of Sac State Athletics, Summah Hanson and Austin Patterson)

Sacramento State basketball is feeling the ill effects of the transfer portal yet again, from losing star players to trying to keep a sturdy culture.

When Sac State men’s basketball knocked off top-seeded Eastern Washington in the second round of the Big Sky Conference tournament in early March, it wasn’t by accident.

The Hornets’ late-season surge goes well beneath the surface. It’s a product of the culture, or what head coach David Patrick calls the standard, that’s been put into place.

“If you’re going to bend your standard for one player, because he or she scores a bunch of points, it can mess up your team, especially in this portal phase,” Patrick said. “If you look at what I tried to do this year, I’m just going to play the guys that do things the right way.”

The portal phase has changed the entire landscape of college basketball, and it’s the main reason why the tight-knit culture that Patrick established is impressive.

A record number of over 1,700 students have entered the transfer portal this year, meaning roughly 25% of all college basketball players could have a new home next season.

“I don’t know that there’s an exact science to this,” Patrick said.

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t worry me, but I think you have to adapt to the times at hand.

— David Patrick

Patrick said that retention is important and that it’s tied to success, but he’s well aware of how rare that trait is becoming.

One summer ago, the Hornets were practicing with just four players during their offseason workouts, before welcoming ten new faces; six freshmen and four transfers.

Senior guard Austin Patterson was one of the four to experience the massive roster transformation.

“It’s just so different, when I first came to college and then now, so much has changed,” Patterson said. “In the offseason when you only have four or five guys returning, I think it’s really hard to keep a culture.”

Patrick said he knew the season would be a process, and it was. The Hornets struggled for much of their conference slate, including an 11-game losing streak, before putting it together down the home stretch.

Now another offseason is here, and the portal is once again in full swing.

Patterson, the third-best scorer for the Hornets and best three-point shooter, is transferring to the rival Montana Grizzlies for his final year of eligibility.

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A post shared by Austin (@austinpattersonnn)

“I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the portal, just how everybody can hop from team to team,” Patterson said. “I got nothing against Sacramento State, any of the coaches or any of the players. I just didn’t think it was the best fit for me.”

Sophomore forward Duncan Powell led Sac State in points, rebounds and assists last season and was the highest-rated recruit in the history of Hornets basketball. He will continue his collegiate career for the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns next fall after entering the portal.

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A post shared by Duncan Powell (@duncpowell)

It’s a rinse and repeat operation, and Patrick knows that it isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

“It’s hard to coach somebody if you’re worried about them jumping in the portal,” Patrick said. “If you’re Sac State and you have a player averaging 15-20 a game, then you have to understand that he’s going to get seen.”

From a player’s perspective, it’s an opportunity they can’t afford to pass on.

“This being a smaller school, you kind of want to go on to bigger schools,” Sac State freshman center Bowyn Beatty said. “You want to be seen at a higher level and go on to draft boards.”

Considering the constant turnstile of players each offseason, recruiting has become more important than ever. Patrick said he has to ensure he’s precise with his decision making, because it could make or break his team.

“I think it’s somewhat like speed dating,” Patrick said. “I think it’s important to really do your due diligence and that might mean you miss out on a kid if you take too long, but you have to be willing to take your time. ”

Compared to last season, Patrick and his squad are pleased with the level of continuity they’re experiencing, despite losing some of their best players.

“We’ve got ten guys returning so that’ll give us a good foundation and plus the guys that are coming in as well,” Beatty said. “We’re trying to keep a culture as much as we can and bring in guys that want to build here.”

Whether there’s ten guys returning or four, it just goes to show the type of uncertainty the portal has presented to a school like Sac State on a year-to-year basis.

RELATED: Down under to downtown: Freshman forward left her mark on Sac State

Along with the men’s team, the Sac State women’s basketball team showed glimpses of promise late in the season as they picked up valuable experience through close games.

It was expected that they would build off that momentum, with players like freshman forward Summah Hanson and sophomore guard Irune Orio continuing to expand their game, but the transfer portal snatched them, along with five others on the roster.

Hanson brought home the Big Sky Freshman of the Year award, while putting up 14 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. She also broke her way into the record books, becoming the highest-scoring freshman in Sac State Division I history with 434 points.

Unfortunately for the Hornets, Hanson entered the transfer portal and announced her move to UC Irvine on March 27. Like many other talented players before her, the transfer portal becomes an alluring place for those who look to take advantage of a good season and move to other desired programs.

The Hornets have to deal with this yearly, as just last year’s standout center Isnelle Natabou transferred to the Big 12’s Iowa State Cyclones after averaging 15.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in the 2022-2023 season.

Sac State women’s basketball head coach Aaron Kallhoff said he stressed all year the importance of building a culture during his first year coaching at Sac State, but it can be difficult when there’s a reality of losing your best players to the portal.

“That’s just where we’re at,” Kallhoff said. “We’ll do everything to build relationships and retain them, but also know that’s just part of it.”

As a mid-major, Sac State’s best way to bring in more talent is to build on the momentum.

“The more we win, the more people are going to want to stay,” Kallhoff said.

Although the Hornets went 6-25 during the 2023-2024 season, they began to play better down the stretch and gave themselves chances to win close games. Kallhoff used this season as a way of implementing his style of basketball while trying to establish a culture of hard work, discipline and winning.

“My culture’s intact. I’ve got the people that I want here to build it,” Kallhoff said. “We still have a good core group of seven that will contribute to what we’re trying to do.”

Redshirt junior guard Benthe Versteeg is one of the last players from the roster that won the Big Sky Conference championship two seasons prior and said the transfer portal has heavily impacted team success.

“The transfer portal is very big in college basketball,” Versteeg said. “It can be good or bad, but in my experience every year we happen to lose some.”

Versteeg finished the 2023-2024 campaign averaging 11.6 points, 6.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game to claim a spot on the Second Team All-Conference and All-Defensive Team while leading the Hornets as the main ball handler.

After the transfer portal took some of her teammates away, including two of the starting five, Versteeg said she sees this as an opportunity to step up and become a leader for her new incoming teammates.

“As a leader, it’s easier when people come in and they want the same thing. The more work we put in, the better our success will be” Versteeg said. “We’re striving for that title again.”

As the offseason progresses, Sac State will have to use the transfer portal to the best of its ability to account for the major losses after this season and continue to build a winning culture behind Kallhoff and Versteeg.

“On the way to the top, you’ll always lose people. Sometimes it’s a surprise for a team,” Versteeg said. “It’s hard because you lose your friends and that’s not always fun, but at the same time you get new teammates who you can meet.”

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Adam Camarena
Adam Camarena, Sports Staffer
(he/him) Adam Camarena is a fourth-year transfer student majoring in journalism and in his first semester at The State Hornet. He was previously an editor for Cosumnes River College's publication, The Connection, and a broadcast journalist at Long Beach State. His career goal is to become a sports media member.
Andrew Edwards
Andrew Edwards, Sports Staffer
(he/him) Andrew Edwards is a fourth-year student at Sacramento State in his first semester at The State Hornet. He is a lifelong sports fanatic and has plans to pursue a career in sports journalism after graduating.
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