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WSU Men's Basketball

Why the Washington State men are trusting 6-7 sophomore Kymany Houinsou with point guard duties

Eastern Washington forward Dane Erikstrup, left, and forward LeJuan Watts, right, put pressure on Washington State guard Kymany Houinsou in the first half on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023 at the Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, Wash.  (Geoff Crimmins/For The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – All Kymany Houinsou had to do was stick his arm out. He was navigating a screen, trying to get around a UC Riverside forward during Wednesday’s game, and to disrupt the dribble handoff, Washington State’s 6-foot-7 point guard didn’t have to do much more.

With one eye on the ball, Houinsou tipped the ball away and recovered it. He took a few dribbles. He pushed it up the court to teammate Andrej Jakimovski, who shuffled it to forward Oscar Cluff for an easy layup in transition, all part of the Cougars’ blowout win.

On this sequence, the sweet passing was the eye candy. The meat and potatoes, the part that might go understated: WSU’s point guard thwarted a routine handoff by just sticking his arm in the mix.

“His size, his length – he gives you more ability to switch,” Washington State coach Kyle Smith said. “He’s big enough where he can really defend the post. He just gives you a lot of versatility.”

With everyday starting point guard Joseph Yesufu sidelined indefinitely with a hip injury, the Cougars get something else with Houinsou playing in his place: a big guard, a versatile defender and a pass-first athlete . He isn’t WSU’s best ball-handler, but he has vision most do not – and the accuracy to put it all together.

In two games starting at the position, in wins over Portland State and UC Riverside, Housinou has averaged seven points, three assists, 4.5 rebounds, two blocks and 1.5 steals on 6-for-11 shooting from the floor, doing it in 28 minutes per game. He’s also had just one turnover in the past two games. He’s provided a steady hand and reliable passing, connecting lineups with his size .

Houinsou will be playing point guard for the foreseeable future. Yesufu suffered his injury during a practice last week, and after Wednesday’s game, Smith said he had no more clarity on his status than he did after Saturday’s game – which is to say not much clarity at all.

While Yesufu is on the shelf, the Cougars are turning to Houinsou. They’re losing a couple of things in Yesufu’s absence: scoring (Yesufu averages 6.2 points on 35% 3-point shooting) and ball-handling, which Yesufu handled, especially in the minutes without guard Myles Rice. At 6-foot, Yesufu is a bit undersized, but when he’s been out there, he’s had the ball in his hands and he’s shot it well from distance.

Houinsou doesn’t supply that kind of scoring prowess, nor does he have the ball-handling ability of Rice and Yesufu. What he does have is size and length, which tends to pay off in several ways. Housinou can back down smaller defenders around the basket; he can see over defenses, which allows him to make passes only he can see; and on defense, he’s never out of a play, soaring in for blocks and steals.

“We miss Joe. Hoping he can get back,” WSU forward Isaac Jones said. “But it’s also nice playing with Kymani in there, because he’s really tall, handles the ball, so he can see everything. He sees a lot of passes that are harder for smaller guards to see.”

“He’s such a good passer, but also a shot-blocker,” WSU guard Jabe Mullins said. “He does everything. We call him the French Army Knife, even though Swiss is better. He can do everything, and he scores the ball super well, too. Really good finisher.”

What makes Houinsou so comfortable playing point guard is that he’s always played the position – and the Cougars envisioned him playing it for them when they were recruiting him. A native of Mulhouse, an eastern French city of some 110,000, Houinsou came up playing for Saint-Quentin BB in the ASVEL Lyon youth system. In 2022, he started for the French U18 National Team, averaging 10 points and 5.6 assists per game, shooting 64% on shots inside the arc.

Even earlier, from about age 12, Houinsou has been playing point guard, distributing the ball and setting up his teammates. Even when he hasn’t played the spot, he’s usually had the ball in his hands, a playmaking hub through which his teams operate on offense. For that, he said, thank his dad, his coach when he was a youth player.

Houinsou almost stayed in France. Coming out of school at the Tony Parker Academy, Houinsou wanted to play for ASVEL Basket, a pro team owned partially by Parker, the former NBA star who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in August.

“But there just weren’t any minutes for him,” said Smith, whose connection to Houinsou came courtesy of former WSU assistant coach John Andrzejek, who coaches at Florida. “We said, ‘Hey man, I think we have some opportunity here.’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, I think it’s a way for him to develop.’ ”

Last season, Housinou’s first in Pullman, he played a similar style. He usually played small forward or power forward. But even with current pros Mo Gueye and Justin Powell on the court, Smith trusted him with some level of playmaking, putting the ball in his hands on occasion.

That season, Houinsou was just a true freshman, trying to do anything to get minutes and prove he deserved more, all in an effort to just win. Now he’s doing that and more. He’s nursing a lower-leg injury that might affect his minutes this season, Smith said, but he isn’t playing like a guy who is worried about that.

He’s playing like a guy who likes the ball in his hands. Until further notice, he will have those privileges.

“I’ve been doing some different things, like a one that can play different spots,” Houinsou said. “Defense, different spots and just as a versatile player. Just a player that can do a lot of things and that can help the team win in a lot of ways.”