Star point guard Lamonte Bearden has been granted his release to transfer from the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team.
Bearden, a junior who helped the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament each of the past two years, was a third-team All-Mid-American Conference pick last season. He was the leading scorer on a balanced UB roster with a 13.7 ppg average.
His departure is a blow to UB, particularly on offense. However, UB still returns four of its top six players from last season’s team and adds what arguably is its highest-rated recruiting class ever. With Bearden, UB would be the clear favorite for the MAC title. Without him, the Bulls are among the favorites but whether they enter the season ranked No. 1 is debatable.
“We thank him for his contributions and wish him the best,” said UB coach Nate Oats.
“We have had a couple workouts and we feel very confident about the guards we have here, and we’re very excited about the roster as it stands. Lindsay Hunter is excited about working with the talent we have at guard.”
Hunter, a 17-year NBA veteran guard, joined the UB staff as an assistant coach last month.
News of Bearden’s plans first were reported by the UB fan site UBBullRun.com.
Bearden was the highest-rated UB recruit ever when he was lured from Wisconsin to the Bulls by former coach Bobby Hurley and Oats. He was rated the No. 28 point guard in the country by ESPN in the 2014 recruiting class.
His departure leaves the point guard position to CJ Massinburg, who starred as a freshman last year, and incoming junior college recruit Dontay Carruthers, a high-scoring Rochester native who Oats added this spring to offer more insurance at point guard.
Massinburg averaged 11.3 ppg, fourth best on the team and scored 18 in the MAC title game victory over Akron. He can play point guard but he’s more of an off-guard than a point man. He’s also one of UB’s best defenders. Carruthers also is a combination guard but he’s more of a point man than an off-guard. He will be counted on to provide quality ball-handling. He has three years of eligibility remaining.
UB also at key times last season relied on versatile, 6-6 Blake Hamilton to bring the ball up in a “point-forward” role. That figures to be even more of a viable option without Bearden. Hamilton averaged 13.1 ppg and also was a third-team all-MAC selection.
The decision by Bearden to leave comes late in the offseason calendar. Most players who transfer do it in April or May. It raises the prospect that Bearden is angling to land with a team in a bigger conference that has decided late in the recruiting process it has a gap in its point-guard roster. Bearden would have to sit out a year upon transferring, as did his back-court mate of two years ago, Shannon Evans. Evans followed Hurley to Arizona State.
Bearden ranked 15th in the MAC in scoring, fifth in assists and seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio.
His best strengths are his superb ball-handling and his ability to penetrate the lane and create shots for himself or others. That’s where he’ll be missed most. Late in the game against top competition, Bearden could get into the lane.
The weakness in Bearden’s game is outside shooting. As a freshman, he made just 12 three-pointers and shot 26 percent behind the arc. As a sophomore he made just 16 and shot 25 percent behind the arc.
Bearden was suspended for three games in February for violating team rules. A failure of a university drug test was the reason, according to sources. According to university policy, another failure of a drug test would result in a season-long suspension.
UB will get extra time on the court to define its players’ roles this summer. The Bulls will visit the Bahamas from Aug. 20-26 on a basketball excursion. Every Division I school is allowed to take a summer trip abroad once every four years.