On Friday, Marquette men’s basketball officially announced that they had hired Shaka Smart to be the next head coach of the team.
That wasn’t the only news about the team of the day. In moves that were likely propelled forward by Smart’s deal being officially worked out and finalized with MU, 2020-21 seniors Koby McEwen and Jamal Cain entered the transfer portal.
Marquette G Koby McEwen (RS SR) has entered the transfer portal. Grad transfer. https://t.co/BqaYsAe0HH— Verbal Commits (@VerbalCommits) March 26, 2021
Marquette F Jamal Cain (SR) has entered the transfer portal. Grad transfer. https://t.co/k5Y4Fw2SbO— Verbal Commits (@VerbalCommits) March 26, 2021
Now, you may be saying, “Wait, they were both seniors, how are they transferring?” Well, the NCAA granted every winter sport athlete an extra year of eligibility with the idea being that if they wanted to sit out the 2020-21 season because of the pandemic, they could without losing a year of eligibility. You didn’t have to sit out and still get that extra year, though, and so McEwen and Cain are pursuing their extra year. Entering the portal doesn’t necessarily require you to leave the program that you’re at, but it does generally mean that you want to leave. In both men’s cases, if they want to play another year of college basketball, McEwen and Cain are going to have to do it for a new coach no matter what, so it makes sense to explore every single option available to them.
Will they play another year? Who knows! Entering the portal just means you’re telling other coaches you’re available. Both men are apparently going to have their degrees from Marquette at semester’s end, so the future is wide open to them from here on out. I would imagine finishing the season with a record of 13-14 and your coach getting fired as a result leaves a bad taste in your mouth and you’d probably want to finish your collegiate career on a better note than that. Getting a chance to add a graduate degree or certificate to your resume isn’t a bad plan, and getting to do that on someone else’s dime isn’t a bad plan either. If Cain or McEwen end up at another school, they will count towards that team’s scholarship total for the season. If they end up at Marquette, which is possible, they would not by way of the NCAA’s pandemic extra year policy. It’s possible that MU is only budgeted for 13 scholarship players, though, so it would be up to the administration to make the call on how deep Smart would be able to go with his first roster in that case.
In terms of a long term basketball future for both men, returning to school is a little more curious for McEwen. Cain just turned 22 last week, making him a standard issue college senior terms of age. I don’t know if other high major programs would see Cain as a featured player for next season, and I don’t know if starring at a mid-major program would be beneficial to helping him land a pro contract in the G-League or overseas. Spending another year in school is another year that he’s not on a contract somewhere, though, but Cain has to make the best choice for him going forward. As a result of spending a redshirt year at Marquette, McEwen is potentially pursuing a sixth year in college and he will turn 24 in late July... which means he would be heading towards 25 by the time he starts chasing after a pro contract somewhere next summer. By no means is that past his prime, but it is an extra year of not taking a paycheck to play hoops if that’s something that interests him. Come summer of 2022, McEwen would be competing for spots against a whole bunch of 22 year olds finishing up their senior seasons, and you can see how maaaaaaaaybe pro scouts might be slightly inclined to point their teams in the direction of the younger guys.
Cain played four seasons at Marquette, appearing in 120 games along the way. Statistically speaking, his best year was this past season, where he started in 26 of 27 games and averaged 9.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, all of which were career bests. McEwen played for two years at MU after transferring from Utah State, and never seemed to get it together to the point that he did with the Aggies. In 56 games with 52 starts, McEwen averaged 9.9 points and 4.3 rebounds, both of which were down from his USU averages, along with 3.1 assists per game, which exactly matched his numbers from his first two seasons of college hoops.
We’ll drop in the scholarship chart here just to show you where Marquette’s roster stands at this exact moment. I don’t expect this exact situation to last much longer than the day this article is actually being published, but you can see where MU stands heading into the 2021-22 season right now at the very least. Is there a spot for either Cain or McEwen on Shaka Smart’s first roster? Time will tell.