That challenge has been magnified for head coach Bob Walsh who, upon his arrival two years ago, took over a program in disarray.
That’s why last week’s announcement that Issac Vann intends to transfer is so unfortunate.
Vann, a freshman from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was among the most exciting players in America East. The high-flying, 6-foot-7 wing threw down numerous highlight-reel dunks and was a proficient 3-point shooter (41 percent).
He has the kind of athleticism and versatility that can impact a program. Vann did just that, but he won’t be around to help the Black Bears on the long road back to respectability.
Vann overcame a signficant ankle injury to lead the 8-22 Black Bears in scoring (16.4 points per game) and average 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals. The America East All-Rookie pick also shot 46 percent from the field and made 78 percent of his free throws.
With continued strength and defensive improvement, he most certainly would have become an all-conference performer. Yet Vann already is infinitely more marketable as a Division I basketball player and he’s ready to take advantage of that dynamic.
Vann told Walsh that he didn’t realize he would be able to make such a significant impact as a freshman. Someone then must have suggested he could find a more attractive situation.
So Vann has opted to transfer. He’ll have to sit out a year due to NCAA rules, but will work on his skills and learn a new system, then have a chance to compete against (presumably) better competition.
Pat Lawless of MADE Hoops lists Northeastern of the Colonial Athletic Association, along with St. Joseph’s, George Washington, Fordham and La Salle of the Atlantic 10, among the programs that have contacted Vann. Those schools are a step up from UMaine and America East.
Vann also reportedly plans to visit Iona of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, another mid-major program with less allure.
Meanwhile, UMaine is hung out to dry. All the time, effort and money UMaine spent to recruit and sign Vann is wasted.
Was Vann so overlooked during his high school and prep careers that only Walsh and coaches from Sacred Heart and Fairfield saw the potential?
Or was it more a case that Walsh and Co. put him in a system where he could flourish?
All UMaine can do now is move on and use the scholarship to recruit another diamond in the rough.
Transfers have become increasingly prominent in men’s college basketball. According to a database being compiled by ESPN, Vann is among 197 players seeking to transfer this year.
Most often, those players are looking for more playing time. Some, like Vann, are searching for a shot to play for a higher-level program.
While Vann should not be denied the chance to pursue his basketball dreams, his decision to leave UMaine also should not be celebrated.
What happened to fulfilling a commitment made through signing a National Letter of Intent? What about demonstrating loyalty to the coaches, teammates and staff members who helped facilitate one’s success?
It is possible there were unreported circumstances that led to Vann’s departure, although both he and Walsh were reciprocal in their praise for the other.
Ultimately, UMaine men’s basketball gets penalized for doing its job: Identifying, recruiting, signing and developing a player — one who subsequently decided he was too good to be there.
The dynamic is part of the college game, but for fans who follow lower-level Division I teams like UMaine, it is another blow to their ability to remain competitive.