The recent additions to Washington State’s men’s basketball roster suggest a trend: The Cougars are keen on getting much bigger, longer and more athletic under Kyle Smith, and recruiting players with versatile skill sets will be a big priority moving forward.
Smith’s backcourt should have more length and size in the coming years, and his frontcourt will be better suited to deal with the Pac-12’s formidable big men – a group that in 2019-20 included projected first-round NBA draft picks Onyeka Okongwu (USC), Isaiah Stewart (Washington) and Zeke Nnaji (Arizona).
“I know the deal, you just can’t go through, it’ll be 20 high-major games – that’s a long stretch playing against big bodies,” Smith told The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday night, on the heels of his second signing class at WSU. “The undersized I don’t think is the answer.”
The Cougars signed two more prospects, completing a four-man 2020 recruiting class comprised of players who hail from three countries and can each fill two or three spots on the floor.
The recruits are 6-foot-4 Canadian combo guard Jefferson Koulibaly, a near 30-points-per-game scorer for Lincoln Prep in Ontario, and 6-11 California center Dishon Jackson, who committed to the Cougars last week and becomes the a first four-star center prospect to sign at WSU since 247Sports.com began ranking recruits.
They join 6-10 Efe Abogidi, a Nigerian-born center playing at the NBA Global Academy in Australia, and 6-5 combo guard T.J. Bamba, a Bronx, New York, native who played high school basketball in Denver. Abogidi and Bamba both signed with the Cougars in November.
Koulibaly was considered one of the top recruits in Canada and flourished in his last season at Lincoln Prep, averaging 27.8 points per game while grabbing 10.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists. The dynamic Canadian, who Smith hopes will transform into a “lead guard” – similar to the role Isaac Bonton holds for the Cougars – led his team in each of those categories, along with steals (2.5).
“We need some scoring in the backcourt, and he’s aggressive,” Smith said of Koulibaly. “Might take him a little longer on that, just to make that adjustment. But obviously, I’m not afraid to play one of those. He’s just aggressive. We need guys to get in the paint and he’s going to try.”
Recruiting size in the low post was essential for a team that often employed 6-9 senior forward Jeff Pollard as WSU’s center. Pollard had some degree of success in that role, but Smith said it was important to sign players with “high-major” body frames and was fortunate to land Jackson, whom the coach has known since he began recruiting the St. Patrick-St. Vincent (Vallejo) standout as a freshman.
“I didn’t think we were ever going to get him at San Francisco out of high school,” Smith said. “… I just know how that size and length gets gobbled up by the high majors usually.”
Once Smith found himself at a high-major school, the coach kept a close eye on Jackson, whose recruiting process was interrupted by a meniscus tear midway through his junior season in high school. Now he’ll help form one of the biggest frontcourt units the Cougars have had in some time, joining Abogidi and 7-foot sophomore Volodymyr Markovetskyy.
“I’ve just got to educate him what the NBA centers look like. They’re 2 inches shorter than him now,” Smith said. “… He could turn into a moose, he should, he’s only 17 … he’s 240 (pounds). He’s one that’ll be hard to keep the weight off of. We can hold our own now (in the post) and he can help.”
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