Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Commentary: UW men navigated ‘wild west’ to land Great Osobor, raising plenty of questions

Great Osobor reacts after a shot against TCU during Utah State's first-round NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on March 22 in Indianapolis.   (Tribune News Service)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

While being introduced as Washington’s men’s basketball coach on March 27, Danny Sprinkle donned a purple tie and sat at a table inside Alaska Airlines Arena. Facing rows of family members, media, athletic department employees and increasingly important donors, he laughed and told the truth.

“It’s the wild, wild west now in college athletics from a recruiting standpoint.”

Wild, wild northwest as well.

On Monday, the 47-year-old coach made his most sizable splash in the 47 days since, earning a commitment from Utah State transfer and Mountain West player of the year Great Osobor. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward’s commitment should not surprise, considering Osobor previously played for Sprinkle at Utah State (2023) and Montana State (2021-22).

This was a logical landing place.

But a nearly unprecedented price.

Multiple name, image and likeness deals are set to net Osobor $2 million in his final year of eligibility, according to a report by ESPN, the highest publicly known valuation in college basketball next season. It’s unclear how much is tied to UW collective Montlake Futures, with Osobor’s agent — GSL Sports’ George Langberg — potentially negotiating unrelated marketing deals as well.

Which raises questions on and off the court.

Most immediately: Is Osobor worth the seismic sum? After making modest contributions off the bench at Montana State, the power forward excelled in his third collegiate season — averaging 17.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 blocks per game (on 57.7% shooting) in 2023-24. The Bradford, England, product proved an efficient finisher around the rim — with the ability to rebound, block shots, run the floor and pass out of the post as well. He was ranked by as the No. 7 overall prospect in the transfer portal and chose Washington over fellow finalists Louisville and Texas Tech.

While the 6-8 forward manhandled Mountain West bigs, time will tell whether that production translates to a far more physical Big Ten.

But in a conference constructed around ferocious frontcourts, Sprinkle just made a statement.

“We have to be a tough, physical and disciplined team,” he said March 27. “The Big Ten is different than the Pac-12. The style of play and the kids, it’s different. It’s slower. It’s more grind-it-out.

“Now, we’ve still got to play fast, because that’s what we’ve got to do here. But I want fans to know, we’re playing the right way. We’ve got to take care of the basketball. We’ve got to defend. We’ve got to rebound. If there’s a loose ball, there’s got to be five white jerseys jumping on the floor. We have to play with edge and that chip on our shoulder, because that’s what winning entails.”

Speaking of five white jerseys: How will the pieces fit? When one player makes significantly more money than everyone else, will chemistry be affected? Will future UW recruits request/demand a similar sum? And when one or multiple players make more than the staff’s assistants, does it become more difficult to coach?

Oh, and how will Osobor handle the title of “$2 million man?” Will he withstand the avalanche of taunts and signs from opponent student sections, as well as the expectations attached to skyrocketing dollar signs? Will he excel or shrink in a burning spotlight? Will he make his teammates better?

These questions, of course, are bubbling across college basketball, as roster construction (and retention) manically evolves in the NIL era. A year ago, Sprinkle was tasked with replacing every point, rebound and assist on Utah State’s abandoned roster. He led the new-look Aggies to a Mountain West title and an NCAA tournament win in his lone season in Logan, Utah.

Sprinkle arrived in Seattle with a similar mission, as UW’s top seven scorers exited. In the 47 days since, he’s added seven transfers (Osobor, Rice guard Mekhi Mason, Butler guard DJ Davis, Oregon State center KC Ibekwe, Oakland forward Chris Conway, Rhode Island guard Luis Kortright, Portland forward Tyler Harris) and two top-100 high-school recruits (guards Zoom Diallo and Jase Butler).

In the NIL era, this is not an anomaly. It’s the norm. Any given offseason might require you to recruit an entire roster. It’s unclear, moving forward, if UW’s donor base will repeatedly pay a premium for coveted portal players, a la Osobor. And are fans willing to potentially support a rotating Rolodex of new names and numbers each fall? Is that lack of familiarity and personal investment irrelevant, as long as Washington wins?

At the aforementioned introductory press conference, Sprinkle was asked what must be done to reengage UW’s disillusioned fan base.

“Recruiting top talent and playing the right way,” he said.

Sprinkle deserves credit for recruiting top talent to Washington.

Of course, Mike Hopkins — who went 70-84 in his final five seasons, after last making the NCAA tournament in 2019 — occasionally did that, too.

It’s one thing to navigate the wild west.

The more critical test comes next.