COLLEGE PARK — The day Jakia Brown-Turner entered the NCAA’s transfer portal, her iPhone started blowing up. Not literally, but close enough.

Buzz. Hi, Jakia! Another buzz. We’d love you to visit! Another buzz. You’d fit great in our program!

If the best measure of a transfer’s popularity is their volume of incoming texts and calls, Brown-Turner was somewhere off the charts. Hours after the senior guard announced she would be leaving the N.C. State women’s basketball team, she arranged for a visit at a nearby Apple Store. Brown-Turner’s phone wasn’t working. She thinks it had buzzed too much for too long.

“It was crazy,” she recalled Wednesday. “My phone actually broke.”

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Welcome to March, when the college basketball has never been madder. As the NCAA tournament tips off this week, the only thing messier than your co-workers’ brackets might be the sport’s wild scramble for newly available talent.

It has afflicted everyone, the haves and the have-nots. On Sunday night, Brown-Turner and her 10th-seeded Maryland team were matched up with seventh-seeded Iowa State for their first-round tournament game Friday night. On Monday morning, Terps coach Brenda Frese watched as the first wave of players who might help replace Brown-Turner entered the portal. Frese estimated that, over the next 16 hours or so, she spent as much time recruiting and researching potential transfers as she did preparing for the Cyclones and the team’s biggest game of the year.

“It’s the hardest it’s ever been,” she said Wednesday. “I mean, the portal opened up Monday. You find out where you’re going on Sunday. In the past, you were always focused on your scouts and the opponents out ahead. Now you’re trying to figure out that balance. … There’s only so many hours in the day. So if you don’t get these kids on the phone, you got no shot. It’s kind of like speed dating. So if you miss a day or two days when these kids have popped in the portal, you’re behind.”

The portal giveth and the portal taketh away. Few coaches know that better than Frese. Over the years, she has lost (LSU forward Angel Reese, the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the Year, started her career at Maryland) and she has found (guard Abby Meyers, the No. 11 overall pick in last year’s WNBA draft, finished her career at Maryland after four seasons at Princeton).

With the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to players whose career began during the coronavirus-warped 2021-22 season, and with name, image and likeness deals accelerating player movement at the sport’s highest levels, the portal has become as much a moneymaker as it is a matchmaker. Four years ago, according to the NCAA, fewer than 500 women’s basketball players entered the portal. Last year, over 1,200 did.

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Reese, a Baltimore native, was one of five new transfers on the Tigers team that won the 2023 national championship. Five months later, LSU coach Kim Mulkey was rewarded with a 10-year contract worth $32 million, the richest in the sport’s history.

At Maryland, where Frese has led the Terps to 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances, the portal’s importance is underscored by its resource allocation. Two staffers are “dedicated to the portal,” Frese said, which reportedly had over 500 players as of Thursday afternoon, including Arkansas guard Saylor Poffenbarger, a former five-star recruit who starred at Middletown High School, and Kentucky forward Ajae Petty, a Poly graduate who averaged a double-double this season.

Their March Madness dreams ended weeks ago, in their teams’ conference tournaments. Among their likely suitors are teams still playing, some for perhaps at least a few more weeks. The timing can make for awkward but necessary roster management. West Virginia coach Mark Kellogg said Tuesday that the portal opening in the middle of postseason play “does not make any sense to me whatsoever,” and advocated for it to be pushed back “a couple of weeks, at least.”

Frese’s ideal start time was likewise sometime after the Final Four. After a long season, she said, the stress of recruiting transfers while preparing for the NCAA tournament was more intense “than anything you face.”

“Let people come down off of the emotions of a season, and then evaluate in a month if this [transferring] is really what you want to do,” Frese said. “Because I think some — not all — are knee-jerk reactions to a finish and to an ending.”

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Four of Maryland’s top six scorers this season are transfers, and star junior guard Shyanne Sellers, who’s spent her entire career at Maryland, praised the staff for its due diligence in finding players who fit the Terps’ system and culture.

With Brown-Turner, an Oxon Hill native, there wasn’t much homework required. Frese had recruited the former Bishop McNamara star in high school and coached against her in college. Brown-Turner, a second-team All-Big Ten Conference selection this season, said Frese was the first coach to text her when she entered the portal March 30, two weeks after N.C. State’s season ended.

A few days later, Brown-Turner was back in College Park for a visit. On April 6, she announced her commitment to Maryland. “HOME SWEET HOME,” she wrote on social media.

“I really didn’t want the process to carry on,” she said Wednesday. “I just wanted to get to where I was going and just start over.”

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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