‘It’s a different level’: After returning to the MAAC as a graduate transfer, Kevin Marfo’s year in the SEC has made him a more complete player

Cameron Levasseur, Associate Sports Editor

It was March 4, 2020. The Quinnipiac men’s basketball team had just wrapped up its regular season with a one-point victory over Iona. Most didn’t know it at the time, but that night would mark the last time forward Kevin Marfo donned a Bobcats jersey for nearly two years.

“It’s great having him back,” Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy said. “He knows what it takes to win in college basketball, but he also knows how our program works.”

Marfo, who transferred to Texas A&M for 2020-21, is in his sixth year of college basketball after playing his freshman year at George Washington and then three years at Quinnipiac, including a redshirt sophomore campaign. Last year, the NCAA granted student-athletes an extra year of eligibility if their team was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Marfo took advantage of the opportunity.

“I was grateful to be granted another year of eligibility,” Marfo said. “I wanted to put myself in a good situation for the following year, so I realized this has every important component for me to be successful on and off the court, so I decided to come back here.”

His transfer represents a growing trend across all NCAA sports, but especially men’s basketball, which saw over 1,700 Division I players enter the transfer portal for the 2021-22 season, up from just over 1,000 the year prior.

In recent years, others have also come to Quinnipiac on a graduate transfer basis, including forward Aaron Falzon, who came to Hamden after playing his undergraduate career at Northwestern.

“We’ve had guys come in, especially for fifth-years like … Falzon, there’s a huge learning curve that resembles that of a freshman,” Dunleavy said.

Unlike Falzon, however, Marfo is in his fourth season with the Bobcats and is no stranger to the system.

“The benefit of having Kevin is that he’s got a wealth of experience. I think that’s been a really, really nice part of having him as our quote-unquote transfer,” Dunleavy said. “He’s really more our guy.”

Playing under the guidance of the defensive-minded head coach Buzz Williams at Texas A&M last season, Marfo said that he experienced a different approach to the game last season in College Station.

“It’s just a different culture,” Marfo said. “It’s two different styles of coaching … polar opposites in my opinion. But they’re both successful in what they do so it’s just kind of adjusting to each situation.”

In an 18-game, COVID-shortened campaign with the Aggies, Marfo put up 2.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game in just under 13 minutes of game action a night. This was down significantly from the season prior, where he averaged a double-double over 30 games, including a nation-leading 13.3 boards per game, while playing over 28 minutes per game. With one final year at the collegiate level, Marfo knows he has to elevate his game.

“I’ve got to work much harder,” Marfo said. “It’s a different level, it’s another league outside the MAAC that’s competitive … there’s players bigger and stronger than me and I have to just keep getting better.”

For the 6-foot-9-inch forward, getting better means becoming a more complete basketball player.

“Hopefully, this season I’ll have more of a well-rounded game,” Marfo said. “That would be the goal. And just to obviously continue to be that elite rebounder that I was and add more to that so I can be more of a dominant player.”

That sentiment was shared by Dunleavy, who detailed how he thinks Marfo’s game will evolve as the season goes on.

“I think he’s going to take the next step in that evolution as a playmaker, as a perimeter floor spacer, as a driver in addition to what he can do inside,” Dunleavy said. “He’s worked really hard on his own to continue to get better, and I think that’ll be certainly evident when you guys watch him play.”

Through two games this season, that playmaking ability has been at the forefront of his game. Marfo is averaging 4.5 assists through six games this season, up from his previous season high of 2019-20. Getting swarmed with the ball in hands in the team’s home opener against Western New England, Marfo dished out seven assists, one short of his career high, a total he repeated just three days later against Holy Cross.

Kevin Marfo has already been productive in his first several games back with the Bobcats, averaging 10.5 rebounds per game so far this season. Photo from Connor Lawless

Aside from basketball, Marfo’s teammates are just happy to have him back in the fold.

“It’s nice to have someone who genuinely cares about basketball, but at the same time he’s an even greater person and someone that always has your back off the floor,” graduate student forward Jacob Rigoni said.

Rigoni, who is in his fifth year at Quinnipiac and his fourth alongside Marfo, has developed a close bond with the New Jersey native during their time together.

“He’s obviously been one of my closest friends in my time here and in life in general,” Rigoni said. “It’s been nice to have someone who’s been through the ups and downs of college basketball, and it’s both of our last years and we’re going to do whatever it takes to help this team win.”

As the elder statesman of the Bobcats’ roster, Rigoni explained that the two have a responsibility to be the team’s leaders on and off the court.

“I think we both understand the roles that we have to be on this team,” Rigoni said. “We have to be a big presence leadership wise and to bring it every single day and have great practices and set that example for the guys to follow.”

Being in their final year, however, certainly doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room to grow.

“I’m coming back into a new league,” Marfo said. “So I’m learning and trying to understand and trying to grow in certain areas … It’s not just them learning from me, I’m learning from them … this is still a new situation for me.”

While readjusting to the program may take time for Marfo, his stint in the SEC gave him a bigger perspective on the game.

“You want every player to want to be here and stay and it’s a fairy tale and whatever. This day in time it doesn’t work like that,” Dunleavy said. “Kevin thought the best thing for him at the time was to test the higher level and the benefit that comes with that is perspective … he’s got great insight to multiple experiences that he can relate to our guys.”

That experience will be crucial to a Quinnipiac team looking to win its first MAAC championship in program history.

“(We’re) just trying to win games this year,” Marfo said. “Put ourselves in a good situation for the MAAC tournament and hopefully win the MAAC tournament and proceed to the NCAA tournament. That’s the goal.”