Preparing for the portal: A look at the type of player VCU pulled in last offseason

With the Rams' season officially ending in Utah this past week, Ram Nation collectively holds their breath as they brace for the portal and its give and take nature. The black and gold have been linked to a number of targets already and were even prior to their season officially ending, but let's take a quick second to look at the type of player the Rams were actually ABLE to bring in this past offseason, their first really in the era of NIL, to get a sense of what realistically are the types of players the Rams may be able to acquire this offseason.

MAX SHULGA (Utah State)
VCU's biggest offseason pickup, Shulga came from an NCAA tournament team as a double-digit scorer (11.9 ppg, 4 ast). He likely had a number of options, but having really seen his growth come under Ryan Odom, the Ukrainian chose to follow the man who got him to that point, securing VCU a talent via relationship that perhaps they might not have been able to get otherwise.

Like Shulga, Sean Bairstow followed his coach from Utah to Richmond, bringing with him a recent junior year resume of 10.3 ppg, 5.2 rebs, 38.6% 3p% at 6'8. He had major conference interest, but like Shulga, opted to follow his coach to VCU.

Bamisile was one of the more interesting portal options, having thrived in the A-10 at GW as a 16 ppg, but then fighting to simply get off the bench in his following location in Oklahoma where he averaged just 11.4 minutes of playing time. A "transfer down" to not only the conference he found his most success, but perhaps more importantly, back to his hometown, perhaps made Bamisile and even easier get for the Rams than had the Chesterfield native grown up elsewhere.

Nelson was one of the spicier transfer situations of the offseason, becoming the first player ever to transfer from Richmond to VCU (or the other way around for that matter). The then-freshman starter for Richmond left last season's 12th-placed Spiders to join the returning Atlantic 10 champ. Nelson averaged just over eight points in 27.3 minutes per game for the Spiders, starting 28 out of 32 games his freshman year.

KUANY KUANY (California)
The smiling Australian started 26 games his previous year with the Cal Bears, averaging almost nine points in 25.4 minutes per game. That however, came on a 3-29 team under a then-head coach, Kuany Kuany's coach, that was shown the door. When coaches are fired or hired, player movement is always eminent, so in the portal era, it's a virtual certainty.

The 6'11 big man was a prized top-100 recruit out of high school, yet under two different coaches at Louisville (Chris Mack and Kenny Payne), failed to really log many minutes, averaging 6.6 as a freshman and 8.8 his sophomore season. A return home to join his former teammates at VCU made this a natural landing spot for the John Marshall product.

The real outlier recruit of the bunch seems to be Kuany Kuany there. He's the only player that hadn't either called Richmond home previously or played under Ryan Odom, making it somewhat hard to predict just what types of players VCU's current staff will go after and can actually get for current vacant roster spots and spots the portal may create as well (note: I've seen most of VCU's interest linked to distributing point guards and taller shooting wings/stretch 4s, which will make sense later in this blog post when you piece together who is definitely out). Much of Odom's previous success in acquiring transfers as Head Coach at Utah State fit that similar profile of being guys who had previously played for Odom and staff at his previous home at UMBC.

Odom's prized transfer overall in his career I'd say is St. Joe's transfer, Taylor Funk. Funk chose the Aggies over Alabama, Florida, Miami, Arkansas and LSU among others and shows this staff does have the ability to bring in elite talent.

“It was a good fit,’’ Funk told Pennsylvania's Lancaster Online. “I really connected not only with the coaches but the players. I can see myself on that team and in that offense.’’ Funk had averaged over 13 points his final season at Saint Joseph's and over 17 ppg his previous season and as a 6'8 knockdown three-point shooter.

That addition came not too long after the Supreme Court's NCAA v. Alston ruling that opened the flood gates in regards to NIL as well, so in theory, the Aggies were competing with similar challenges the Rams will likely face this offseason, which is to say an NIL arms race forcing players to take a hard look at just how much "fit" can outweigh a potentially exponentially larger payout.

VCU seniors Max Shulga and Zeb Jackson, plus grad transfers Sean Bairstow and Kuany Kuany, were honored during this year's Senior Day ceremonies. Shulga and Jackson have the option to return, but will they take it or opt to head elsewhere, either within college hoops or in beginning their pro careers this offseason? The only real confirmation the black and gold have gotten on a returner for next season is Joe Bamisile, who is looking to play for the same team in back-to-back years for the first time in his college career -- Bamisile played for three separate teams prior to landing at VCU. No players have announced transfer intentions as of this post, but who ultimately joins Bamisile next season in this wild era of college hoops remains to be seen.
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Mat Shelton-Eide
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