Loyalty Isn’t Dead: Small-School Stars Stay Put

Loudon Love was the Player of the Year in the Horizon League. Javion Hamlet earned POY honors in Conference USA. Loren Cristian Jackson claimed the award in the MAC.

All three could have been grad transfers, being wooed by no shortage of high-major programs, some of which have been compiling a list of mid-major standouts eligible to grad transfer since before the season even began.

Instead, all three players stayed loyal.

They didn’t even peek around to see who was waiting in the wings, who was ready to pounce if they decided to go the route of what is certain to be at least 200 grad transfers from around the country.

In a day and age in which it’s common to bolt for what so many believe might be greener pastures, Love, Hamlet and Jackson turned down the glitz and glamour of high-major hoops to become the exception in today’s college basketball.

“There are no guarantees if I leave and go somewhere else,” Love said. “But I know what I have here, and I don’t see any reason to change.”

When the now 6-foot-8, 255-pound Love arrived on campus, he was overweight at 325 pounds and many figured he’d be better-served to go the football route. He got serious college football looks back in high school, but his passion was on the hardwood, and Love wound up following Scott Nagy to Wright State after initially committing to Nagy’s former school, South Dakota State.

Love was still recovering from a torn ACL his senior year of high school and agreed with Nagy that it was best for him to sit out his freshman season to get into shape. After dropping some weight, Love has been one of the best players over the past three seasons for Nagy in the Horizon and was considered the best player in the league this season after averaging 15.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.

But he never really gave heading somewhere else for his final college season any thought until an elderly woman implored him not to leave Wright State at an autograph session prior to the season.

“Loyalty is a big thing and has always been a big character trait for me,” Love said. “A lot of schools told me to play football, but Coach Nagy saw my potential. I trust him and the bond I have with the staff and the players. I’m happy at Wright State and am not going anywhere.”

“He’s one of the best I’ve ever coached,” said Nagy, whose coaching career began nearly 30 years ago as an assistant at Illinois. “Super loyal. I can’t even explain the connection we’ve had, but I honestly wish he was more selfish. He’s just a great teammate, and we were never worried about him leaving as a grad transfer.”

Hamlet’s path was different.

The Memphis native has bounced around, attending a couple different high schools, a pair of junior colleges and even two different D-1 programs.

Hamlet began his college career at Motlow State Community College then gave it a shot at Buffalo for the second semester, but he left Nate Oats and the Bulls program after a couple months. He then headed to Northwest Florida State, where he was even more successful than he was at his first junior college stop.

Hamlet went to North Texas this past season and was the key for the Mean Green’s success, averaging 14.6 points and 4.7 assists while earning C-USA Player of the Year honors for a team that won the regular-season title.

Plenty of high-majors have expressed interest through his cousin and former D-1 assistant Jamie Ross, but Hamlet has made it clear that he isn’t going that route.

“I called him to tell him that big-time programs wanted him,” Ross told Stadium. “But right away he told me, ‘I’m not going anywhere. They love me here, they let me be me. We won a lot of games and those other schools didn’t want me before.’”

Hamlet and Ross wouldn’t divulge the schools that have made contact, saying only that the SEC, Big 12 and ACC have all been well-represented.

“It’s too late,” Hamlet said. “So many people get caught up going to the highest level, and that was me at one time. But I’m helping to do things here that haven’t been done in a long, long time.”

“Why leave UNT when Coach Mac (Grant McCasland) trusted me?” he asked. “Who says I can’t be drafted out of North Texas and make the NBA?”

Hamlet pointed to some of the NBA’s best as those who have made it from the mid-major route, including three of the best guards in the league: Stephen Curry (Davidson), Damian Lillard (Weber State) and CJ McCollum (Lehigh).

“Look at Ja Morant,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m Ja Morant, but they found him.”

Loren Cristian Jackson started his college career at Long Beach State and put up decent numbers as a freshman, but he opted to transfer closer to home and sat out, per NCAA rules, in 2017-18. He made a significant impact as a redshirt sophomore, averaging 13.9 points per game, but became the best player on the best team in the MAC this past year after putting up 19.8 points, 4.5 assists and also shooting 43 percent from 3.

Sure, he’s only 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, but trust me: Schools from bigger programs would have been intrigued with an experienced, cerebral guard who was 92-of-215 from long distance this past season.

But Jackson and his dad, a long-time prep school coach, never seriously discussed the possibility of him leaving for a bigger school.

“I love playing for Coach Groce,” Jackson said. “He took a chance on me, so why would I leave him for someone that didn’t look my way?”

“I love the atmosphere at Akron,” he added. “It’s blue-collar people who work hard. We’re building a culture here, and I want to leave with a legacy.”

Is Jackson interested to know what schools have reached out?

“I’m curious, I guess,” he said. “I’ll probably ask my dad, but it won’t change what I’m doing.”

Not only does the transfer list continue to grow at a record pace, but it’s only a matter of time before the one-time transfer waiver goes into effect.

That being said, don’t bury the mid-majors just yet.

Sure, it’s going to be difficult to hang onto the elite players from the one-bid leagues, but guys like Loudon Love, Javion Hamlet and Loren Cristian Jackson are proof that not everyone will bolt for the bright lights on the bigger stage.

MORE: No Decision Made Yet on NCAA’s One-Time Transfer Waiver