When Damari Milstead put his name into the NCAA transfer portal three weeks ago, the Grand Canyon University guard was merely hoping for a change of scenery after two years with the Antelopes.
What he got was a chance to come home.
The former Hayward-Moreau Catholic star heard from over 20 schools interested in his services. The first school that called him was San Francisco. With Frankie Ferrari having completed his eligibility, the Dons find themselves in need of a point guard. Following an official visit this weekend, Milstead committed on Sunday.
“I’m back home, back in my area, and I just want to put on and help this program take it to the next level,” Milstead told The Examiner by phone on Sunday.
While Milstead will have to redshirt next season, his addition gives San Francisco a semi-long-term solution while first-year head coach Todd Golden works to recruit one out of high school. He’ll be surrounded by playmakers, too, and over the weekend he met two of them: Jamaree Bouyea and Charles Minlend.
“That was a huge factor,” Milstead said. “Frank was a great player for them, and they have a huge hole. They need another guy, and I want to be that guy for them … They’re good players. Charles is a really, really good player. Jamaree is a really good defender. He’s going to have a breakout year this year, in my opinion. They have a really good team, and that’s another reason why I went there.”
Milstead, though, is far from simply a stop-gap. A three-star prospect, he had interest from Pac-12 schools, and indeed also received attention from former Dons head coach Kyle Smith, now at Washington State, when he put his name into the transfer portal.
A four-year starter at Moreau Catholic, Milstead was a three-time North Coast Section champion and left the Mariners as the winningest player in program history, having gone 100-29 during his time there, including 21 straight to end his senior season. He led the team in scoring both his junior (19.1) and senior (25.8) seasons, and piled up 2,353 points over his four seasons with Moreau Catholic.
The son of a coach, Milstead has exceptional court vision and instincts, and is just as much a scorer as he is a passer.
Milstead followed teammate Oscar Frayer to Grand Canyon, where he scored 4.5 points per game off the bench as a freshman. He become a starter last season, leading the team in assists (3.6) and steals (1.4) and averaging 10.3 points. All signs pointed to him becoming a major factor as a junior, but he wanted something different.
When he entered the portal, he got attention from Travis DeCuire at Montana — who had seen Milstead during summer camps while an assistant at Cal — along Hawaii (assistant John Montgomery was on staff at Cal when Milstead camped with the Bears for multiple summers), UC Santa Barbara, Washington State, Missouri State and several East Coast schools.
When he visited San Francisco, he “fell in love,” and didn’t want to continue the process any further with any other school.
“Coach Golden is building something special [at San Francisco],” Milstead said. “I just wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be a part of the something special they’ve got going on.
“I think [Golden] can be amazing. He’s a young coach, but they wouldn’t have given him the job if he wasn’t one of the up-and-coming coaches in the country. He’s got a great mind, he’s very energetic, he’s going to be a player’s coach, but he knows you’ve got to be stern. I think he’s ready for the moment. He’s been at Auburn under Bruce [Pearl], he’s been at Columbia and San Francisco under Kyle; he has two great coaches to work under, and he wants to be something special, and I want to be a part of it.”