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

Commentary: Here’s the Great mystery with Danny Sprinkle’s UW men’s basketball roster

New Washington men’s basketball coach Danny Sprinkle meets the news media on March 27 in Seattle.  (Ken Lambert/Seattle Times)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – It’s a big mystery. Scratch that – it’s a Great mystery.

New Huskies men’s basketball coach Danny Sprinkle has already made a Lake Union-sized splash with the names he has brought to Washington since getting the job in March.

Perhaps the biggest was bringing forward Great Osobor over from Utah State, where Sprinkle last coached.

Osobor averaged 17.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game last season while winning Mountain West Player of the Year. How coveted was he? Enough to reportedly amass $2 million in name, image and likeness (NIL) deals, the largest known sum in college basketball now.

This speaks to the connection Sprinkle had with his former player, who could have gone just about anywhere he wanted. It’s enough to spur some optimism among Husky honks, who have seen their team reach the NCAA Tournament just once (2019) in the past 12 seasons.

But optimism and enthusiasm are two different things. What about the rest of Sprinkle’s offseason work?

The big gets out of high school were Tacoma’s Zoom Diallo, a national top-50 recruit who spent his senior year at Prolific Prep in California, and Jase Butler, a top-100 recruit from San Francisco. The big keep, if he can stay healthy (a giant if), is center Franck Kepnang.

Then there are the transfers: guard Mekhi Mason out of Rice, guard DJ Davis from Butler, center KC Ibekwe from Oregon State, Chris Conway from Oakland and Luis Kortright from Rhode Island.

How do you feel about this?

On one hand, you have a potential All-American with Osobor, who was named as an honorable-mention selection to that team at the end of last season. The England native hasn’t sizzled his entire college career (he came off the bench in his two years at Montana State) but made a seismic leap last season. You also have Diallo, a McDonald’s All-American, who starred at Curtis High School but put up middling numbers at Prolific Prep. And then there’s Kepnang, who was a defensive menace in the 18 games he played over the past two seasons, but whose injuries sidelined him in a hurry.

The days of the transfer portal mean rosters are in constant flux. It’s the reality of the modern game, and perhaps part of the reason some of the most revered coaches have walked away.

So you can’t get too upset with Sprinkle for not keeping most of last season’s roster intact, but …

What if he had been able to keep guard Koren Johnson, who averaged 11.1 points as a sophomore last season? What if he had been able to keep fellow guard Wesley Yates, a top-40 recruit who missed last season due to a broken foot? Would a backcourt trio of Yates, Johnson and Diallo have spiked the anticipatory ardor among the fan base?

Maybe. Or maybe Mason, who averaged 14.0 points for Rice last season, helps fill that void. Or maybe it’s Davis, who put up 13.5 points per game for Butler last season.

These aren’t scrubs that Sprinkle persuaded to come to Montlake. He has built winning programs at every stop, taking Montana State to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 26 years (then doing it again the next two seasons), then leading Utah State to the outright Mountain West title with a 28-7 record.

Granted, a coach moving from a midmajor to a major conference is like a college hooper jumping to the NBA. He might be great, or he might be completely overwhelmed. We’re still waiting to see on Sprinkle, but the forecast appears rosy for his first year.

Perhaps some will equate this team to that of the 2019-2020 squad, which featured top-10 recruits Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels but ultimately finished last in the Pac-12 with a conference record of 5-13. That team had stars just like this one is projected to, right? A couple of quibbles, though. For one, that 2019-20 team was formidable before losing point guard Quade Green to academic ineligibility. Second, Osobor has shown the potential to be more impactful than any of the previously mentioned names – at least at the college level.

A new coach was necessary at UW after five consecutive years of missing the NCAA Tournament. There has been a standard set here with previous coaches, and a standard set by Sprinkle himself.

As a recruiter, it looks like the man has the ingredients to compete. Only question is if, as a coach, he can cook the recipe.