PULLMAN – Washington State’s basketball staff has built a reputation for recruiting high-caliber international talents. On Monday, a blue-chip prospect from overseas signed with the Cougars.
Center Rueben Chinyelu, widely considered one of the top international recruits in the class of 2023, inked his letter of intent to join WSU’s program next season, the school announced.
The 6-foot-11, 245-pound Nigeria native comes to WSU from the NBA Academy Africa in Senegal. He chose the Cougars over a host of high-major suitors, including Tennessee, Florida and Kansas.
“I was fortunate to be recruited by so many wonderful schools,” Chinyelu told ESPN college basketball expert Jonathan Givony, who first reported the commitment Monday morning. “Washington State stood out with their style of play and the experience the coaching staff has with African and international players. Playing college basketball with and against other dedicated players who want to win, are hungry and have a big vision for their future and aspire to be the best is something that I’m looking forward to.”
Chinyelu’s signing marks another major recruiting victory for WSU, which has landed several top-flight international players over the past four years under coach Kyle Smith – such as big man Mouhamed Gueye, a sophomore star and NBA draft prospect from Senegal; forward Efe Abogidi, a two-year WSU standout from Nigeria who is now playing with G League Ignite; and Adrame Diongue, a 7-foot freshman from Senegal who came to WSU as one of the program’s top-rated recruits of all time. Abogidi also graduated from the NBA Academy Africa system.
“Like recent players in our program, Efe Abogidi and Mouhamed Gueye, Rueben is relatively new to the game and is rapidly improving in all aspects,” Smith said, quoted in a release from the school. “Although the (NBA Academy Africa) has only been active for five years, it is producing some of the best young talents in the world. Rueben’s signing is the culmination of our staff’s commitment to recruiting overseas, especially West Africa. Rueben would not be here without (assistant) John Andrzejek’s relentless hard work.”
Chinyelu will presumably adopt a key role for the Cougars upon arrival and is expected to play both power forward and center.
“Rueben has the potential to be not only a force in the paint, but also a player who can play inside and out,” Smith said.
An intimidating post presence, he boasts a 7-8 wingspan and “is mobile defensively, capable of stepping out to the perimeter and switching onto smaller players while using his length and quickness getting off his feet to offer a significant deterrent as a rim protector,” per Givony’s scouting report.
Hailing from Enugu-Agidi, a village in southern Nigeria, Chinyelu started playing basketball in 2018, according to ESPN. He joined the NBA Academy system in spring 2021 and quickly developed into a high-major prospect. Chinyelu’s recruitment took off this summer, after he guided his team to an NBA Academy Games title. He averaged 10.3 points and led all players at the Atlanta-based event in rebounding, averaging 10.7 boards across six games against elite-level NBA Academy products.
Chinyelu made his debut with the Nigerian senior national team in August during the FIBA World Cup qualifiers. He squared off against professional African competition earlier this year while playing with CFV Beira of Mozambique in the NBA’s Basketball Africa League.
“The NBA Academy prepared me with the foundation they set up for me, not just as a basketball player, but also mentally, physically, emotionally and intellectually,” Chinyelu told ESPN. “Coaches here take their time to elaborate and enlighten players about the game. There is a lot of talent in Africa, but due to a lack of infrastructure and visualization, we didn’t always get the opportunities to showcase ourselves in the past. It’s a wonderful place to develop.”
Chinyelu took an official visit to WSU on Oct. 20, according to his 247Sports profile. He has not received a rating from the site yet, but will probably wind up as a four-star prospect and one of the Cougars’ highest-rated recruits of all time.
“Rueben’s athletic potential and accomplishments are only overshadowed by who he is as a person,” Smith said. “He has an incredible attitude and work ethic in everything he does as evidenced by his 4.0 GPA. He is a true student-athlete. We can’t wait for Rueben to wear the Crimson and Gray.”
The Cougars officially added two other players Monday, signing juco forward Oscar Cluff and in-state guard Parker Gerrits.
Cluff, a 6-10 native of Sunshine Coast, Australia, starred last season at Cochise College in Sierra Vista, Arizona – “one of the best basketball programs at any level,” Smith said. “Cochise understands ‘team’ and winning.”
He led all junior-college players nationally in field-goal percentage (75%). Cluff averaged 12.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game for the Apaches, who compiled a 29-4 record. Through two games this season, the sophomore has 36 points on 18 of 24 shooting to go with 25 rebounds.
“He is a big body with great length and excellent feel for the game,” Smith said. “He has a soft touch around the basket and is a willing passer. In addition, with his length and width, he will provide us with great rim protection.”
Gerrits, a 6-2 point guard from Olympia High, poured in 19 points per game last season, leading his team to a league title and a third-place finish at the Class 4A state tournament. The Bears set a school record with 26 wins. An unraked recruit, per 247Sports, Gerrits chose WSU over seven mid-major offers. His parents both attended the Pullman school.
“He is a hard-nosed point guard who can play on and off the ball,” Smith said. “He is an excellent shooter with range and a willing passer.”