Nearly 40 percent of Division I men’s basketball players who arrive from high school will transfer by the end of their sophomore year, according to N.C.A.A. data from 2011 to 2017. Owens and Mooney, now in the Final Four, were in that group.
Owens left Tennessee after his freshman year when its coach was fired. He transferred to St. John’s, where he earned a degree in sports management. Mooney left Air Force, unhappy with the military lifestyle, for South Dakota, where he got a degree in innovation and entrepreneurship. He was content to remain there for his final year until his coach, Craig Smith, left for Utah State last April.
With eligibility left because of their transfers, Owens and Mooney hit the graduate transfer market seeking the same thing — a place where they could win (neither had been to the N.C.A.A. tournament) and burnish their skills for a possible pro career. Texas Tech turned out to be a perfect match: a program on the rise with a respected coach, Chris Beard, and a roster that was a perfect fit for Owens, a 6-foot-10 shot-blocker and finisher, and Mooney, a ball-hawking point guard who could find his shot.
“This is an environment where I knew I’d be able to work and I’d be coached hard,” Owens said. “I like being in environments where you’ve got something to prove.”
At Texas Tech, Owens, 23, and Mooney, 24, are enrolled in a master’s program for interdisciplinary studies, taking three classes in the fall and spring that are tailored to their interests. Mooney is taking two of his classes online.
“My primary focus is basketball, to try to set myself up for the pros,” said Mooney, who is studying educational leadership. “Academics aren’t a huge priority right now, but you’ve still got to take care of it. I’ve got my degree — that’s what’s most important.”
He added: “I didn’t leave places because I wasn’t satisfied with playing time or things like that. I definitely didn’t want it to go this way. I didn’t want to go to three different schools. I wanted to go to one school, play there four years, have a great career and have a home to go back to and graduate. But sometimes life doesn’t work out that way.”