When the Ivy League Basketball tournament was canceled in March 2020, senior guard Ryan Schwieger and senior forward Jerome Desrosiers of the Men’s Basketball team were shocked.
“It kind of came out of the blue,” Schwieger remembered.
The Tigers (14-13 overall, 9-5 Ivy) had secured the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Ivy League tournament, the winner of which would earn an automatic March Madness bid. On March 9, the League became the first Division I conference to cancel its postseason basketball tournaments.
“At first, we thought it was kind of unfair,” Schwieger said. “In hindsight, we were kind of silly for that … It was obviously the right decision.”
Some leagues continued play in their tournaments until the morning of March 12, but soon enough, all winter and spring NCAA championships were called off.
“We were really bummed for the seniors, who had their last game come a little early,” Schwieger added.
Little did Schwieger and Desrosiers know that the team’s 85-82 loss against Cornell, just three days before the cancellation of the Ivy League tournament, would be their final time suiting up for the Tigers.
“As the months went by, I figured it was better to expect the worst,” Desrosiers said. “I was working out and getting ready to play, like the season was going to happen.”
The decision to transfer
The Ivy League officially cancelled competition for winter athletics on Nov. 12 — and is the only Division I conference yet to hold an athletic competition this academic year. While athletes have been able to attend socially-distant and masked practices while on campus this semester, there are no plans to hold conference competition.
For both Desrosiers and Schwieger, one thing quickly became clear. If they wanted to compete in another basketball season, it wasn’t going to happen at Princeton.
The NCAA provides a service known as the “transfer portal” for both undergraduate and graduate students who wish to move to another institution to finish playing out their eligibility. The portal is essentially a database which coaches can use to contact and recruit players who have indicated interest in transferring away from their current school.
Additionally, most Division I universities — with the notable exception of Ivy League schools — regularly allow graduate students to compete in athletics, assuming they have not exhausted their athletic eligibility at their undergraduate institution. Desrosiers and Schwieger are both still enrolled at Princeton and set to graduate this spring, but they’ve chosen to use their previously-unforeseen extra year of athletic eligibility elsewhere as graduate students.
Desrosiers said he was not expecting to go into the portal until a few weeks after the Ivy League canceled winter sports.
“Jerome, coach [Mitch ’98] Henderson, and I had a few conversations about … transfers,” Schwieger said, “but not until they cancelled the season did it become kind of real.”
The process for entering the transfer portal is fairly simple. Athletes interested in entering the portal contact their athletic department’s compliance officer, who, for Princeton athletics, is Kelly Widener. Not long after, the recruiting begins.
“As soon as I put my name in … I started hearing from schools,” Schwieger said.
“I didn’t make an announcement that I was entering the portal,” Desrosiers added. “If coaches are interested, they really just reach out.”
Desrosiers ultimately decided to transfer to the University of Hawai’i, a current No. 7-seed in the Big West Conference.
Desrosiers said he was looking for a school where he could play basketball — and possibly jump into the professional basketball world. He was also attracted by the team’s scheme.
“Hawai’i run their offense through their four-man,” he explained, referencing his potential role as a power forward with the Rainbow Warriors.
“They also shoot a lot of threes, and that’s something I was attracted by,” he added.
Schwieger settled on choosing the Loyola Ramblers at Loyola University Chicago, a team that made the Final Four in 2018, and is currently near the top of the Missouri Valley Conference standings.
“They’re a great team,” Desrosiers said. “I thought that was the perfect fit for me.”
Looking back and ahead
While both Schwieger and Desrosiers have been focused on transferring for some time, the Ivy League recently granted relief to some current senior athletes by announcing that they would be granted an extra year of eligibility should they enroll at their institution’s graduate school.
Both Desrosiers and Schweiger doubted that the recent move would have impacted their process. The announcement came after both had entered the transfer portal, and after application deadlines for graduate school had already passed.
“It’s hard to say, because the decision came out kind of late,” Desrosiers remarked. “It could have been a different scenario if they had announced it before the school year.”
“I’m committed to Hawai’i, and I’m really happy about it,” he clarified. “I am so thankful for Princeton, but I’m ready to move on.”
Despite not being able to play as much basketball as they had hoped when they first came to Princeton, both remember their experience fondly.
“I’m going to miss the boys,” Schwieger said. “I hope there’s a way to get Princeton and Hawai’i on the schedule next year.”
“I’m going to miss … every single moment that you feel is just part of a regular day,” Desrosiers explained. “Even the road trips, even if it’s four hours on the bus, you’re going to miss that.”
“I’m so glad I made the decision to come here when I was 18. Princeton has been the best time of my life,” he added.
Aside from the off-the-court comradery with teammates, both athletes also expressed fond memories they have from some of the Tigers’ most competitive games during their career.
Schwieger specifically remembers a game at Dartmouth, where head coach Henderson had to leave the court early in the game due to illness.
“We ended up winning the game by one or two … and it was just a great game,” he noted. “Everyone had to do something new because the head coach wasn’t there. We were all just coaches and players figuring it out.”
Desrosiers remembers the team’s 2018 67-66 road win over No. 17 Arizona State as one of his favorite on-court moments.
“It was so much fun, and there was a big crowd. It was very loud in there,” he remarked. He also fondly recalled beating Penn, especially at The Palestra.
As for what excites them most about their future, both expressed a desire to improve on their skills as they gear up for professional careers.
“It’s going to be a fun experience … but it’s also a time to grow as a player,” Desrosiers said. “I think winning the conference tournament and going into March Madness would be amazing, too.”
“The last time Loyola were in it, they went to the Final Four, so that’s a good goal to have for the season,” Schwieger added.
With the end of their time at Princeton on the horizon, both are now turning their focus towards their basketball futures.
“I think Jerome and [I have] been wanting to be professional basketball players for a long time,” Schwieger said. “So, to make that happen would be a dream.”