Cole Bajema — a freshman guard/forward who just finished his first season — is transferring from the Michigan Wolverines, it was announced on Tuesday evening. He will have to sit out next season, but will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Bajema was a four-star prospect and the No. 112 player in the country coming out of high school and committed to John Beilein’s program on Aug. 4, 2018. He re-affirmed his commitment to the program during the transition to Juwan Howard last offseason, but would play in only 10 games and 37 total minutes in his lone season in Ann Arbor.
Entering this current offseason, Michigan fans were worried that there may not be enough scholarships to go around. Since the abrupt cancelation of the rest of the season due to the coronavirus, the program has lost three players to the transfer portal in Bajema and sophomores David DeJulius and Colin Castleton on top of losing a pair of five-star recruits that were once destined to sign it seemed in Josh Christopher (Arizona State) and Isaiah Todd (G-League). The lone player added that was not already committed to the program in the last month or so was Columbia guard transfer Mike Smith.
(There’s a “No Hope. No Jobs. No Cash”-type meme here somewhere.)
Bajema seemed primed for a bigger role next season, especially after the losses of DeJulius and Christopher for next year’s roster. He is probably more of a three, but was someone else that at least had the ability to play the two. Michigan needs more shot-makers on the roster and Bajema was 10-of-13 in limited action this past season. That is not to say he was going to make a big leap, but on a team that lacks scoring punch, it would have been interesting to see what type of sophomore leap he may be able to make.
Now, Michigan is looking at a guard rotation of Eli Brooks, Smith, soon-to-be junior Adrien Nunez and true freshman Zeb Jackson. All four of those guys are going to play and Jackson in particular may be in for a bit more of a baptism by fire than we originally thought he would be. Nunez reaffirmed his commitment to stick with the program in lieu of transferring and he will be look on to improve, as well.
I’ll say the same thing that was said when the other transfers occurred this offseason: Bajema — like DeJulius and Castleton — committed to Michigan under an old regime and an idea of what things would look like. The program did not deal with much attrition when the coaching change took place, but it kind of feels like water is finding its level here, and that’s fine. It happens. With Howard recruiting wings as hard as he did in the 2020 cycle and the even bigger need for the 2021 class, one can see why the Bajema camp may have wanted to make a long-term play that may result in more consistent minutes. Plus, he’s a west coast kid and people are scared to be away from family and travel right now. It would make sense if any combination of these things are what contributed to the decision.
What once seemed like a scholarship crunch now has the program at 11 players for next season with two spots remaining. It stands to reason that Michigan will continue to seek help via the transfer portal. If they do not, all of the sudden you are looking at a roster with five new scholarship players and having to fill the shoes of the graduated Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske. That is without Isaiah Livers’ pending NBA Draft decision, but current projections still have him well outside the top 60 prospects for the event with no clarity on when a pre-draft process may take place.
There’s no need to freak out. If you want to be concerned, that is understandable. But we are continuing to see a program go through some growing pains in a transitional period mixed with unsure times across the world. It is what it is.