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Before this season, junior forward Matt MacDonald hadn't played a second in a Penn uniform – but that wasn't enough to stop his teammates and coaches from voting him as a team captain in 2016-17.

Credit: Ananya Chandra , Ananya Chandra

Penn basketball juniors Matt MacDonald and Caleb Wood are wearing the Red and Blue for the first time this year — but that’s about all they have in common.

The two upperclassmen are in their debut seasons with the Quakers after they both arrived via transferring from other schools. But despite their common destination, the processes that each of them went through to get there couldn’t have been much more different.

Wood, a 6-foot-4 guard from Reno, Nev., came to Penn this year after spending two seasons at community colleges in California. For him, the community college to Division I school route made a lot of sense.

“I didn’t get very heavily recruited out of high school, and on the West Coast it’s more popular to go to a junior college, whereas on the East Coast a lot of kids choose to go to prep schools,” Wood said. “So I chose to go to junior college for two years to get bigger, better and stronger, and then hopefully transfer to a D-I, and that’s what happened.”

As for his actual transfer, the process was pretty straightforward, for the most part. As a qualified student to go from a two-year junior college to four-year college, Wood was eligible to play on the team immediately. The process for him was much like the process for high school recruits.

“It’s pretty interesting, I don’t know how they found me way out there in the middle of nowhere in California,” Wood said. “But I guess they found me through a recruiting service, and they got in contact with me that way, and we got the official visit set up, and then it went from there. I came on my official visit, and after talking to all of the coaches, I knew that this was the right place for me. ”

MacDonald’s transfer was a little different than that. The guard from Eggertsville, N.Y., played his first two years of college hoops at Fairleigh Dickinson, a D-I school in Teaneck, N.J.

At the end of his sophomore season in 2015, he decided to transfer, but because he was transferring from a school that was already in the NCAA, certain rules applied.

“Once I knew I was going to leave my old school, FDU, basically how it worked out was you get your release to transfer and then schools go about contacting you, which is through your AAU coach, or you yourself personally give your number to other coaches,” MacDonald explained. “My decision basically came down to Penn, New Hampshire, Marist and a few other schools, but I knew ever since Penn called that’s where I wanted to go.”

According to the NCAA eligibility rules on the transfer process, students transferring from one NCAA school to another in the same division must spend a full academic year at the school they wish to transfer to before they can play for their new school. The rule meant that MacDonald was ineligible for the entire 2015-16 season, despite already being at Penn. This left him in a tough position, as he was here, but not yet fully a part of the team, unable to play in any games or even travel to road contests.

“It was definitely tough, but I had to learn to embrace it because it was the reality of what my year was going to consist of, just practice,” he said. “But I think I did an okay job, there’s no way to really prepare for it, you just have to be focused on the process and knowing that it’s going to be a long year, but you’re just going to have to stay in the gym and do whatever it takes to get better.”

From a program perspective, Penn coach Steve Donahue and the rest of his staff treat pursuing transfers just like any other recruit: if they find someone who is not only available, but fits the system, they will go after them. MacDonald and Wood both certainly fit the bill, as both provide a veteran presence on a young team (MacDonald was even named captain this year) in addition to filling the void left by the loss of Antonio Woods.

Despite the large transfer class this year, Donahue does not expect transfers to play a large role organizationally moving forward, but rather sees last year as an outlier due to specific circumstances.

“I think just coming in it was a very unique situation,” he said. I don’t anticipate transfers being a daily occurrence, I think we’re really comfortable recruiting high school kids now and building our program that way.”

Even though the two transfers are rookies on the team this year, their presence is just as important as some of the other older players. They might not have always intended to end up here, but they’re here now, and they’re ready to contribute.