Todd Lee and his University of South Dakota men’s basketball program just got some great news.
Stanley Umude, the First Team All-Summit League selection who had announced intentions to transfer on April 18, tweeted Wednesday he would be returning to the Coyotes for his junior season.
Given the current climate of college basketball, particularly as it pertains to transfers, I think it is fair to call this an uncommon move. Players who enter the NCAA Transfer Portal seldom, if ever, end up staying at their original school.
That part didn’t seem to phase Umude at all when I spoke with him late Tuesday. This, as he very candidly expressed, was all what he felt was best for him.
Q: How did we get here?
A: I wasn’t fully all-in on the decision. I was still talking to some assistants after I got my release. I was just exploring my options. This whole process has been pretty stressful. I had a lot of good schools hit me up. The recruiting process went well, but the whole time I felt like it wasn’t really, completely what I wanted to do. I just felt, in my gut, that going back to USD would be what was best for me.
Q: Why do you think you felt that this was ultimately the right thing for you?
A: The main reason is, obviously, you would have a legit chance at doing something special next year. With my guys, they’re like my brothers, and to do something special with them would mean more than anything.
Q: What has the dialogue been like between you and your teammates since this all started?
A: It’s been all good. They’ve been keeping in touch, letting me know that either way they were behind me. They said they would love to have me back, but they would be behind me and to do what’s best for me. At this point, I’ve thought about everything, and I feel like it’s best for me to be at USD.
Q: You mentioned some of the other schools. Can you give me a rundown of who you’ve talked to and who you’ve considered?
A: I’ve talked with Arizona, Texas, Kansas, Washington State, Buffalo, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Arkansas. With Texas, Kansas, and Arizona, with those schools I didn’t really feel prioritized. I felt like it wouldn’t be a good situation for me because they didn’t really want me. I want to be somewhere where I’m wanted and I know at USD I would be wanted. Then it really narrowed down to Buffalo, Seton Hall, Cincinnati were still in the picture trying to set up visits. My ultimate decision was, ‘am I going to go on the visits and leave USD as an option or am I just going to shut it down.’ I was thinking if I go on the visits I would probably be influenced by things that don’t really matter, as in basketball-wise, and it would make the decision that much harder. So I basically just tried to do it off of fit and relationships. I built some good relationships with the coaches that were recruiting me, but I feel like my family is at USD.
Q: Who actually offered?
A: Cal offered. Seton Hall had offered, but then they pulled out before the visit. Buffalo had also offered. There were some other mid-majors that offered, but I just wasn’t interested.
Q: What have the conversations been like with Coach Lee?
A: They’ve been good. I expressed a lot of my concerns. He expressed his concerns. There were good conversations with him and I felt like that was a big reason why I’m coming back because I feel like me and him are going to have a really good relationship in the future.
Q: Did you feel like there was something missing there?
A: I wouldn’t say there was something missing. Obviously with me, with my role on the team, I definitely feel like we should have been a lot closer. It was just like coach-player. He coached me hard and it was good. But I feel like in order for him to push me the way that I need to be pushed to be the player that I need to be, and that I’m going to be, I feel like we would have to have a better relationship than that and I feel like we are working toward that.
Q: Do you feel like he recognizes where you’re coming from?
A: Yeah, for sure. Coach Lee, he’s a completely different coach than Coach [Craig] Smith just like personality-wise. With some people it’s hard to understand the personality side of it. I feel like he understands and I feel like this is good for both of us. It’s an eye-opener as to how we could be better in the future. I feel like it does help him just as much as it helps me.
Q: So you think going through this process was beneficial for your relationship?
A: I probably wouldn’t say it was beneficial for mental health because it was stressful, but it was for sure beneficial for our relationship.
Q: It was my understanding when this first started that there was virtually zero chance you were coming back. Is that accurate?
A: I feel like I didn’t really leave the door open, publicly, but behind closed doors I was still talking with the staff, so I was still open to it. But at first I made it seem like I was not coming back.
Q: So was it just a language thing there more than anything?
A: Yeah, the possibility was always there.
Q: How about this week specifically, how did you go from being a guy that’s in the portal, that’s still going through the process, to now "I’m all in, I’m back"?
A: This week was probably the most stressful because it started coming down to visits and stuff, am I going to go on them or not? I actually had a Buffalo visit scheduled for May 6 and I got back to San Antonio on May 4. I talked to my Mom about it as soon as I got back and I ended up canceling the visit with Buffalo. That was actually really hard because it was a class act the way they recruited me. They came down here to talk to my Mom while I was still in South Dakota, the head coach came up there to see me, too. A lot of credit to them for the way they recruited me, it was hard to turn them down, but I just felt like I would have a better chance at USD to do something really special.
Q: When would you say you had actually made your decision?
A: I feel like I made it the day before I came back home, so like May 3, I was thinking I know what I want to do. I don’t think the transfer, the sit one play two is for me. I just knew I wanted to go back and play with my team. So that was probably like 4-5 days ago. Then when I got back to San Antonio I was talking with the people close to me, not really asking them ‘what should I do’ but just talking to them about the situation and seeing how they felt about it.
Q: Let’s talk about this team. How big of a role did returning personnel play in your decision to come back?
A: It played a really, really big role. It’s a great team coming back. I’m excited for everyone coming back, but I’m also excited about the freshmen that are coming in, the recruits that we’ve got coming in. I know Richard [Polanco] is a real good player. I know Ty (Chisom) is going to bring some toughness to the team and he’s a real good player as well. And then Simeon [Jovic] and Matt [Johns] are getting a lot better, so we’re going to have a lot more pieces and a lot more people that are more confident and can really make plays for us. We’re going to be really good.
Q: Given what you know now, do you have any regrets with your decision to enter the portal and go through this process? Do you wish you’d done anything different, or are you completely comfortable with how we got back to where we’re at right now?
A: I’m completely comfortable. I don’t think I have any regrets with the decision because, at the end of the day, I’m making it still. Going into the portal, it was just how I felt at the time and I feel like it was good to build this relationship with Coach Lee. I got recruited by some big schools and stuff like that, but it was really just a time for me to look in the mirror. It doesn’t matter where you’re at, it’s just making the most of it. It’s on [me] to put the work in to get to where [I] want to be.
Umude and his teammates are set to return to Vermillion in early June to begin summer workouts.