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Basketball transfers find some success moving to Division I

| Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, 7:33 p.m.
DePaul guard Max Strus goes up for a dunk against Youngstown during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Chicago. DePaul won 89-73. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
DePaul guard Max Strus goes up for a dunk against Youngstown during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Chicago. DePaul won 89-73. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

OMAHA, Neb. — Manny Suarez always believed he was capable of playing Division I basketball, and he did for one season before unforeseen circumstances led him to the Division II ranks for a couple of years.

Once he graduated from Adelphi University in New York, he knew he would regret it if he didn't try to return to Division I for his final year of eligibility.

Creighton, it turned out, was looking for someone just like him — a big man with a nice shot who could help cushion the blow of losing underclassman Justin Patton to the NBA.

At fellow Big East program DePaul, the Blue Demons might be getting more than they bargained for from their Division II transfer from Lewis University near Chicago. Guard Max Strus is averaging a team-best 15.6 points and shooting 92 percent on free throws while playing 34 minutes a game.

“The fact they are jumping to power conference programs and a guy like Max Strus is the go-to guy for DePaul, that is a giant leap and it kind of speaks volumes about that kid as a ballplayer in general. It has to be a special, unique case for it to happen,” Rivals national recruiting analyst Corey Evans said.

According to the NCAA, only 11 of the 768 players who transferred this year moved from Division II to D-I; 189 went from D-I to D-II. A player going from D-II to D-I must sit out one season before becoming eligible unless he's a graduate transfer; a D-I transfer is immediately eligible in D-II.

One of the biggest D-II-to-D-I success stories is Derrick White. He transferred from Colorado-Colorado Springs to Colorado, where he was the Buffaloes' leading scorer last season and was a first-round draft pick by the San Antonio Spurs.

This season, fewer than 10 active players in Division I came from a lower NCAA division. That includes Michigan's Duncan Robinson, who transferred from Division III Williams College three years ago.

Suarez began his career at Fordham of the mid-major Atlantic 10. The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder from Cliffside Park, N.J., redshirted his first season, got limited minutes his second and saw no future for himself after the Rams made a coaching change. Adelphi was a natural landing spot for Suarez because the coach, Dave Duke, previously was an assistant at Fordham and had recruited Suarez.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott said he didn't remember how Suarez's name came across his desk, but he watched video and liked what he saw: big body, scrappy under the basket, ability to shoot the 3-pointer. Suarez played a season-high 18 minutes off the bench in a win over UCLA and is averaging 4.6 points and 2.9 rebounds.

“He's certainly impacted us winning some games already,” McDermott said, “and hopefully he continues to improve and helps us in the future.”

DePaul's Strus already has established himself as a rising star in the Big East. Coming out of high school he was undersized and had one Division I offer, from Chicago State. His brother had played at Lewis, near the Strus' home in Hickory Hills, Illinois, and he figured he would be happy there. He scored 1,000 points in two seasons, earned All-America honors and began looking for a new challenge in spring 2016. He told Lewis coach Scott Trost that he would leave only if he could transfer to a program in the Big East, Big Ten or ACC.

“He thought he needed a little more exposure,” Trost said. “I think he may have thought he accomplished whatever he could here. He decided to do what was best for him. No hard feelings.”

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