WSU Cougars men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith navigates ‘difficult’ offseason heavily impacted by transfer portal


PULLMAN — Kyle Smith has summed up his offseason so far.

“One word: tricky,” the Washington state men’s basketball coach said Friday.

The Cougars wrapped up their best season in a decade on March 29, when they pulled out of the NIT tournament in the semifinals in New York with a loss to Texas A&M. In the five weeks since, the NCAA transfer portal has exhausted much of WSU’s roster, claiming four regulars on the roster.

“It was tricky because obviously with the portal and NIL (name, image and likeness offerings) it kind of changed college basketball as we know it,” Smith said.

“Really, from day one, we’ve been trying to manage our roster and learn how to do that.”

The WSU staff navigates a chaotic offseason, seeking immediate impact signers and new depth while holding out hope that someone in the Portal decides to return to Pullman.

“I agree with the portal and understand it,” Smith said. “We are trying to understand, but you kind of have to re-sign your team. You have to figure out which way to go, and then you have the next class coming up too.

“So it’s been busier than we would have liked, but it will be fine. I don’t think any coach prefers him, but a lot of coaches are in the same boat as us.

The Cougars entered the offseason with optimism around their program, but the positive vibe quickly faded as the portal penetrated the core of the team. WSU “desperately needed a recruiting victory,” Smith said, and scored a major win last week, landing a top 50 (ESPN) prospect in the nation with 7-foot four-star Adrame Diongue.

That certainly relieved a WSU fan base that had rightly been worried about the Cougars’ frontcourt. Standout big men Mouhamed Gueye and Efe Abogidi are testing the NBA draft while exploring potentially lucrative transfer opportunities.

“It’s tricky, because you want to keep as much continuity as possible and we have some really talented guys checking some things out,” Smith said. “We always save room for these guys if we can.”

Asked about the Portal players most likely to return to WSU, Smith named Gueye and Abogidi, but cautioned: ‘I don’t know if I would say (it’s a) strong’ possibility that either of them come back.

“Right now they’re just going the NBA lane and seeing the feedback they’re getting,” Smith added. “They have a circle of people who work through this. We are in constant contact and we will see how it goes.

“They have more options in free agency, if you will. As a coach we have a bit of the same options too, so I understand. We’ll just have to adjust. Adrame helps offset this.

The Cougars are “on the verge” of making several player commitments that Smith says will “keep us on the same path.” They are targeting a few prep prospects and a few experienced transfers and plan to sign a guard or two in the next week. WSU’s groundbreaking 22-win season and NIT run — and the program’s year-over-year progress overall under Smith — should help with rapid talent acquisition.

“You would like to have older, more mature guys,” Smith said. “I tell everyone that there are always the same number of players (available). It’s just that the pecking order changed with NIL.

“But we were a top-50 and rising program. We have the same staff and we can always attract the right parts to keep it going.

Smith’s message to WSU supporters: “Keep the faith. We will have guys who want to be here. It’ll get better.

The Cougars will be built around a base of four key returners, each with significant starting experience.

Guard TJ Bamba became the Cougars’ most effective perimeter defenseman last year and eventually replaced Noah Williams in the starting lineup.

“He has a great attitude. He’s a great worker,” Smith said of third-year student Bamba. “He will probably be our captain next year.”

Williams, a Seattle native, moved to Washington last month in search of a rebound after a year of decline in his third season at WSU.

Veteran DJ Rodman and third-year winger Andrej Jakimovski have been reliable contributors for Smith, who noted that “our best plus/minus last year was often when we had Rodman and Andrej on the floor at the front. “.

“I feel good in our perimeter.”

Center Dishon Jackson, at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, gives the Cougars a strong presence at the position and will be returning for his third year at WSU. Jackson and Diongue both play ‘5s’, so Smith aims to recruit “another guy who could be a ‘4’ or a ‘5.’ ”

Smith also sees high potential in freshman Myles Rice, who donned a redshirt last season after signing with WSU as a top-50 point guard for the Class of 2021, according to multiple scouting outlets. .

“Myles is a good talent and he will be ready to go,” Smith said. “It’s a good core. We have to fill it, but I feel really good with these guys. They adopted him. They are proud to be here and they will do well.

The Cougars’ leading scorer last year, goaltender Michael Flowers, graduated. WSU’s No. 2 scorer last season, guard Tyrell Roberts, made a surprise move last week and entered the portal as a graduate transfer after a season in crimson and gray.

With his only two double-digit scorers from 2021-22 at the gate, Smith believes WSU will share the offensive load next season.

“We’ll probably move the ball a bit better and we’ll have to play some of our roles a bit better,” he said. “There are no elite guys with 20 points per game. Probably not even a 15 ppg guy, but we’ll have guys who can make plays and we should be fine. »

Reserve point guard Ryan Rapp, looking to increase his playing time, was recently transferred to Hawaii. Auxiliary guard Jefferson Koulibaly, who was not with the team for the second half of the season, also left WSU.

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