University of Maine men's basketball graduate transfer center Chris Efretuei eyes the basket. Credit: Berry Gutradt / UMaine Athletics

Chris Efretuei was surprised how quickly he began hearing from college basketball coaches last March after entering the NCAA’s transfer portal.

The 7-foot-1 center just completed his senior season at Louisiana-Monroe, but with the NCAA awarding student-athletes an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, Efretuei wanted to play another year while continuing his academic pursuits.

“I think I was one of the first few to put my name in the portal after last season because we didn’t go to the NCAA tournament,” he said. “I was just planning ahead so by the next month a school could contact me, but within the first hour or two a bunch of coaches were calling me and asking what I was looking for and where I was trying to go. I didn’t expect to hear back immediately.”

Efretuei eventually landed at the University of Maine, where he is averaging 5.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game for the 2-6 Black Bears while pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in journalism.

His move did not stem specifically from the transfer portal created by the NCAA in 2018, but came after his former roommate at South Plains College in Texas and ex-UMaine player, Mykhailo Yagodin, sent Efretuei’s recruiting tape to Black Bears head coach Richard Barron.

But the pace at which Efretuei was contacted by coaches upon his entry into the portal and the rate at which players now transfer from school to school – something also influenced by an NCAA rule change that allows players to transfer once to a Division I program without having to sit out a year before playing – has revolutionized the recruiting process.

“I definitely think it gives players the freedom to choose and pick where they want to go,” Efretuei said. “They could be in a situation where they’re not happy and everybody tells them to just stay there and work hard, but I feel mentally if you’re not happy in a place you have to move, and the NCAA with the new transfer rules did a good job helping players be able to pick and choose where their home is going to be for the next three or four years.”

The NCAA Transfer Portal was created in October 2018, enabling a student-athlete to ask a school compliance administrator to put their name in the portal and then allowing the school two business days to publicize the information.

The portal was created, according to the NCAA, as a “compliance tool to systematically manage the transfer process from start to finish, add more transparency to the process among schools and empower student-athletes to make known their desire to consider other programs.”

College basketball transfers were on the rise before the implementation of the transfer portal and have skyrocketed since then.

This year alone, more than 1,700 Division I men’s college basketball players entered the transfer portal, according to, and approximately one-quarter of all players on Division I rosters during the 2020-21 season are playing at different schools this season.

Ten years ago, just 532 Division I players transferred.

“That one-time exemption really makes a difference,” said University of Maine men’s basketball coach Richard Barron during the America East men’s basketball media day in late October, referring to how players no longer have to sit out a year after transferring.

The transfer portal in recent years has steered the recruiting focus more toward veteran players than true freshmen, many of whom need experience to adjust to the demands of Division I basketball.

“I have kind of an all-of-the-above approach for us here at Maine,” said Barron, who brought nine new players into his program this year, four transfers and five freshmen.

“We want to look for good players wherever we can find them, so I don’t know that we’ll look just in the portal or be exclusively looking to recruit a region or something like that. But I do think there definitely are programs that are going to be changing their recruiting philosophies because of this or already have.”

For mid-major and major college basketball programs alike, the portal is a two-way thoroughfare, with Division I players transferring in both directions.

“Coaches will have to constantly be re-evaluating their programs, constantly engaging their own kids as if they’re recruiting them non-stop, and providing them a great experience, which in some ways is a positive,” UMaine athletic administrator Ken Ralph said. “You’re really going to have to focus on the quality of the experience for athletes to make sure they want to stay.”

Ralph added that there is opportunity for mid- and lower-major programs to attract higher-ranked players disappointed in their playing careers at their original schools.

“You could get a kid who’s at a Power 5 program but is having trouble breaking into the rotation,” Ralph said. “He was a superstar in high school and AAU ball, but now his team is only playing eight of their 13 scholarship players and this kid isn’t in the rotation. At some point does he start to look at schools where he could get some playing time?”

Ralph said the new-age recruiting game requires marketing savvy at both the school and conference levels to maximize the attractiveness of a program to players entering the transfer portal.

Take America East, which features state schools with significant enrollments that are established as either R1 or R2 research institutions by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

“I think there’s a point of sale there. I think that’s something you could really push,” Ralph said. “I also think you could push a lot on the facility development side of things if you take a look at the investments schools in America East either have made or are making.”

That includes UMaine, where a 3,000-seat on-campus basketball arena is among the signature projects set to be built in the school’s $110 million athletics facility plan funded largely by a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

“I think [America East has] stayed comfortable in our own little spot, but quite frankly if you look at the quality of play and the quality of institutions we should be considered at a higher level,” Ralph said.

“But you have to make that argument first before others will believe it.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...