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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

How far can WSU men’s hoops go this season? That might depend on the newcomers

Washington State forward Andrej Jakimovski attempts a 3-pointer Jan. 28 during the Cougars’ win Saturday against Arizona State at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman.  (WSU Athletics)

PULLMAN – Andrej Jakimovski could hardly believe his eyes. Washington State’s rising senior wasn’t guarding the player in question in a 3-on-3 game, but he had to wonder:

Who was this 6-foot-9, athletic bruiser?

“He was unguardable,” Jakimovski said.

That would be Isaac Jones, a long post player who showed flashes of most everything when he visited Pullman for a workout two summers ago. For the 2022 season, he took his talents to Idaho instead.

Now, though, Jones has transferred to WSU. He’s one of the newcomers who figures to feature prominently in the Cougars’ attack this winter.

“He gets it,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said of Jones. “He’s got a really good feel. He was a guard when he was younger, and kind of late bloomer. He was a little overweight guy that kind of sprouted. So you can still see those skills he has. Just a good basketball player.”

Washington State will need several of those to replace the production it lost over the offseason. The Cougars bid farewell to their leading scorer, TJ Bamba (transfer portal); leading rebounder, Mo Gueye (NBA draft); leading passer, Justin Powell (undrafted NBA deal); plus another starter, DJ Rodman, who landed at USC.

That’s where players like Jones come in. The Cougars are hoping Jones can replace some of the production of Gueye. They’re hoping to get the same out of guys like Joseph Yesufu (transfer from Kansas), Oscar Cluff (junior college transfer) and Rueben Chinyelu (freshman).

“I think the chemistry of the team is most important for our team’s success,” Jakimovski said. “We have really nice guys, on and off the court. We liked each other. We like to hang out, on the court and also off the court. We have a couple of experienced guys like Joseph, Isaac, fifth-year seniors. So they’ve been through this journey. And I think, with my help and the help of coaches and other senior guys, we have a chance to have a great year this year.”

Jakimovski returns the most experience. The 6-8 senior started all but two games last season, averaging 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds for the Cougars, whose season ended with a loss to Eastern Washington in the NIT. The Cougars also return Jabe Mullins, a 6-6 senior who made eight starts, averaging 11.6 points.

WSU also gets the return of Myles Rice, a redshirt freshman – “the oldest newcomer there is,” Smith said. Rice redshirted his freshman season in 2021, then spent the next year recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, getting a medical redshirt for that season.

It may only be October – WSU opens its season Nov. 6 at Idaho – but this is a good time for the Cougars to start figuring out how players mesh. Some of that responsibility belongs to Jakimovski, who realizes it’s important for him to lead his teammates in the right direction.

“It’s natural, but it’s also more from experience,” Jakimovski said. “My first year, I’ve been through a lot because it was a new situation, new system, everything. Different style of play. Everything was new to me. Experience from my freshman year to now senior year, I think I got all the things together. Hopefully, I’ll stay healthy and I can show all these things that I’m talking about right now.”

Jakimovski said he wants to run the pick-and-roll with Jones, which would be a 6-8 player setting a screen for a 6-9 player. If it sounds preposterous, the two have already been practicing it.

“We already have a good connection between us,” Jakimovski said.

More practically, the Cougars want to get the most out of Jones. As a Vandal, Jones made his priorities getting to the rim, backing down defenders and curling around them for layups and dunks.

At Thursday’s practice, Jones took scores of 3-pointers and hit plenty. His smooth shooting stroke didn’t look unnatural.

“We’re lucky (to have Jones) because we lost Mo (Gueye),” Smith said. “We thought that (Jones) would be able to replace him in certain ways. So he’s older and (has a) similar skill set – maybe even more skilled, not quite as big.”