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Leveling up: How two players transitioned from DII to Miami Basketball

Bultman has made 38 free throws in his first season at Miami
Bultman has made 38 free throws in his first season at Miami

As the men’s basketball team enters its homestretch, all eyes are focused on the conference standings to see who will make the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament. Hope fills the air for a potential Cinderella run for the Miami University RedHawks. 

Fortunately for Miami, two transfers from the Division II ranks, Bryce Bultman and Bradley Dean, have made that run before. 

Bultman, a transfer from McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois, led the Bearcats to their first Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) Championship and a Regional Final appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II tournament. 

Dean, the 2022-23 South Atlantic Conference (SAC) Player of the Year, led the University of Virginia’s College at Wise to a SAC Championship appearance. He averaged an impressive 21.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. 

Their stats and previous accomplishments made the decision for Miami to recruit them easy. For associate head coach Jonathan Holmes, Bultman and Dean were the perfect match for the RedHawks.

“You just look up their numbers, and analytically, they were both off the charts,” Holmes said. “We quickly found out that both of those guys really fit the university academically, and they fit basketball wise what we were looking for.”

After impressive showings in their careers at the Division II level, it was time to take the next step. 

“I feel like I did everything I could at McKendree,” Bultman said. “I wanted to see what it’s like at the Division I level and test myself and see if I could play here.” 

Then came the stressful part: entering the transfer portal. 

Unlike high school recruitment, the portal is a much quicker process. With coaches from all over the country texting and calling nonstop, it became a stressful process for both Bultman and Dean. 

Dean estimates that he received 25-30 phone calls from various schools and coaches in just a few days. 

Then came the call from Head Coach Travis Steele. 

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“Coach Steele called me, and everything just kind of changed,” Dean said. “He called me after I just got done golfing with one of my buddies. He was like, ‘Well, I’ll be down to come have lunch with you.’” 

Steele and Holmes drove down to Gate City, Virginia, to have lunch at a local pizza place. They talked about how Dean will fit on the team over pizza and salad, with one coach being especially hungry. 

“Coach Holmes ate like, three or four salads and a whole medium pizza,” Dean said. “He’s a foodie.” 

After that came a visit to campus, and after seeing Oxford in-person, Dean officially became a Redhawk on April 6, 2023. 

Bultman’s process came a bit later, since he was still playing. 

“I went in the portal right after our season,” Bultman said. “People’s rosters were already filled out because we made a deep tournament run. I was looking for a team that would be able to compete.”  

Like Dean, the coaching staff was able to sell the program and university to Bultman. 

Holmes was the first to reach out to him, and Steele reached out soon after that. Despite it being late in the process, the staff was insistent that Bultman visit. 

“Bryce has looked at some other places and things hadn’t worked out,” Holmes said. “It just so happened that he was in decision-making mode at the same time we really needed a guy in that spot.” 

The transition from Division II to Division I basketball hasn’t been easy for Bultman or Dean. Division I brings challenges for new players both on and off the court. Bultman and Dean mentioned that the size of the players was a challenge. Bultman was one of the biggest players on the court at McKendree, but he doesn’t have that advantage at Miami. 

Miami has also brought an increased workload. In addition to practice time and academics, there’s been an increase in conditioning, weightlifting and film watching throughout the season. 

“I didn’t think I could practice this much last year,” Dean said. “Like my body couldn’t take that.” 

Despite some struggles and inconsistencies in the non-conference slate, the coaching staff thinks the best is yet to come. 

“When you look at the non-conference, it was kind of a little bit up and down, like we were as a team, and obviously Brad was dealing with an injury there at the beginning of conference play,” Holmes said. “But I think both those guys have hit their stride in MAC play and have been really good.”  

The RedHawks will need the duo to keep hitting their stride, as they currently sit seventh in MAC standings and will need to finish strong to make the MAC tournament. 

If they make it to Cleveland, the team is confident that they will be able to make a run and potentially win it all, putting the RedHawks in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.