The first bit of transfer portal news hit James Madison Thursday afternoon when third-year point guard Terell Strickland announced he was leaving JMU.

There’s likely more transfers to come, both incoming and outgoing for the Dukes in the coming days and weeks, but this offseason might not follow the same pattern as last year. For one thing, JMU head coach Mark Byington expects his trio of freshmen to stick around despite limited playing time in their debut seasons.

Freshman point guard Xavier Brown played in 27 games, averaging 9.7 minutes, but was used less frequently in key moments as the Dukes’ got deeper into conference play. Off guard Brycen Blaine played in nine games, missing time in the middle of the season with injuries and a concussion. Jerrell Roberson, a 6-9 post player, checked into 11 games.

But this season differs from the previous, when all three freshmen transferred out after getting little playing time.

“You think about our team two years ago, we lost a starter in Chuck Falden and Jalen Hodge was like our ninth guy,” Byington said. “But with the way those guys played and what they did, it was going to be hard to find playing time.”

Devon Savage and Jaylen Stinson transferred to Merrimack after one year at JMU while Andrew McConnell left for USC Upstate. All three showed promise in one year with the Dukes, but when Takal Molson and Vado Morse each decided to return to JMU instead of going pro, the prospects of playing time before their junior season at the earliest dimmed.

“Tak, it was kind of agreed upon it would be a one-year thing, but then he tore his ACL and ended up coming back and it was a two-year thing,” Byington said. “So they didn’t have an opportunity. It wasn’t planned that way, but it was kind of the way it worked out.”

Brown, Blaine and Roberson showed similar promise and could get a greater opportunity next year, depending what other moves the Dukes make. Morse and Molson are now out of eligibility along with forwards Alonzo Sule and Mezie Offurum.

The exit of Strickland also opens up more time in the backcourt, especially for Brown at the point guard spot.

“These guys, they’ve got a tremendous opportunity,” Byington said. “We’re losing four good players and those guys know it. Four of our top eight guys are expiring eligibility and those (freshmen) played against them in practice. We know what they can do and their opportunity is going to be a lot more.”

Assuming there are no big surprise exits in the coming days, the Dukes could bring in a few more transfers with experience to help fill gaps left by the departures.

Senior forward Julien Wooden will return for his fifth season afforded by COVID-19 and the Dukes also add two high school signees, guard Tyshawn Archie and power forward Jaylen Carey.

“I anticipate one or two guys leaving but it won’t be major turnover,” Byington said a few hours before Strickland announced he was entering the portal. “But it won’t be a lot and the guys that are leaving will have specific things for why they need to leave, I really support both of them. We’ll have three scholarships, maybe four.”

Though he’s losing two productive post players in Sule and Offurum, Byington anticipates Roberson stepping up next season. In the meantime, JMU is looking for players at a variety of positions.

“The one thing that we’re more confident in is the capability of our freshmen and how they are going to look coming back. I don’t know if there’s specific needs we need. We know we need another guard, it could be a combo guard. We’d like to have a wing with size that’s a really good defender and can move. After that we’re kind of just going to make sure things fit. We needed a rim protector, but I think Jerrell is going to be able to help us in that area.”

Contact Shane Mettlen at 540-574-6244 or | Follow Shane on Twitter: @Shane_DNRSports

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