PULLMAN — A dramatic offseason is winding down and the dust is settling for Washington State. With only one scholarship spot left to fill, the Cougar men’s basketball roster has taken shape.
It may have been difficult to keep track of all the comings and goings at WSU over the past two months — a slew of players left, then the Cougars welcomed an influx of talent — so we’ll catch you up.
The Cougars retained five key pieces from their 2021-22 team, which rang up 22 wins and made a run to the NIT semifinals to cap off the program’s best season in a decade.
Of course, the most newsworthy of the returners is Mouhamed Gueye, the 6-foot-11 sophomore from Senegal who tested the NBA draft waters and the NCAA transfer portal this offseason but decided earlier this month to run it back at WSU for his sophomore season.
A formidable rim-protector who boasts mobility and an improved jump shot, Gueye has solidified himself as a surefire pro prospect and will take on expanded responsibilities this year after a debut season that saw him start 33 games and emerge as one of the conference’s outstanding young players.
Efe Abogidi, a two-year starter at forward for WSU, is reportedly heading to the G League Ignite to kick off his professional career. Still, the Cougs’ first-team frontcourt won’t be short-handed or inexperienced next season.
Gueye will pair with 6-10 junior Dishon Jackson, a 250-pound bruiser at center with 19 starts under his belt. Jackson is a sturdy defender when matched up against some of the Pac-12’s brawnier big men, and he makes good use of conventional post moves to provide the occasional scoring spark.
“Dishon should make a good step forward,” coach Kyle Smith said in May. “He should be a double-figure scorer.”
WSU’s first-team frontcourt is perhaps the team’s most reliable facet. The Cougs’ starting duo underneath shouldn’t be overmatched by any post combinations Pac-12 opponents trot out.
In the backcourt, TJ Bamba will reprise his role as WSU’s defensive ace — he has become a fairly efficient scorer on 3s and penetration plays, too.
The 6-5 junior, a 20-game Cougar starter, cracked the rotation as a true freshman in 2020-21 and broke into the starting five as a sophomore last year, replacing Noah Williams in the lineup late in the campaign. Williams, after a down year in his third season at WSU, transferred to rival Washington.
Expect Bamba to shoulder more of the scoring duties and adopt a leadership position.
“He will probably be our captain next year,” Smith said recently of Bamba, the team’s top returning scorer (7.7 points per game).
Between veterans Andrej Jakimovski and DJ Rodman, the Cougars are settled at wing, and both players can shift inside if need be.
Jakimovski, a junior, has started 24 games over the past two seasons, proving himself to be a reliable 3-point shooter, ballhandler and a flexible defender who added another layer to his offense last year — he began driving toward the basket and finishing through contact more frequently.
Rodman, the only senior on WSU’s roster, has appeared in 80 games and started 12 in his career. He supplies a gritty spark plug off the bench, a solid defender who scraps for rebounds and loose balls.
“DJ, he’s been an essential part,” Smith said.
“I feel good about our perimeter, because we’ve got Bamba, Rodman and Andrej back,” the fourth-year coach added. “Our best plus/minus actually last year was oftentimes when we had Rodman and Andrej on the floor at the forward spots. And Bamba’s getting better. I feel good about all those guys.
“That’s a good nucleus to work with.”
Point guard Myles Rice and 6-7 forward Carlos Rosario are the wildcards of the group. WSU’s coaching staff sees great potential in Rice, a 6-2 Georgia product who took a redshirt as a true freshman last year.
“He’s a good talent and he’ll be ready to go,” Smith said.
Rosario signed with WSU in 2020 as a highly regarded prep recruit, but played sparingly during his rookie season and used a medical redshirt last year.
For now, let’s make an educated guess and lock four returners into the starting lineup — Bamba, Jakimovski, Gueye and Jackson.
That would leave the point guard position up for grabs. WSU may have found its new floor general, courtesy of the transfer portal.
Justin Powell, a 6-6 junior from Kentucky, signed with the Cougs on June 7 after spending two seasons in the SEC — first as a starting point guard at Auburn, then as a reserve combo guard at Tennessee.
He made a blip on NBA radars before sustaining a season-ending head injury early in his frosh year, but couldn’t find his fit as a sophomore and played a minor role with the Volunteers.
The Cougs are hoping Powell rediscovers his mojo in Pullman. If so, he would bolster WSU’s perimeter shooting and ball movement. Powell won’t shy away from driving into the lane, and he adds length to a backcourt that was lacking in size last season and faced matchup problems against the Pac-12’s taller guard units.
Not long before Powell joined the fold, WSU secured a signature from another long combo guard out of the transfer portal in Jabe Mullins, a 6-6 junior from Snoqualmie. Mullins, the Class 4A MVP at Mount Si High in 2020, appeared in 53 games over the past two years at Saint Mary’s, starting 11 in his true freshman season and coming off the bench in every contest as a sophomore for the senior-laden Gaels, who advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Mullins might not be a high-volume scorer, but he will space the floor and shoot the 3-ball at an efficient clip.
WSU lost five guards — the team’s top three scorers and two backups — after the season. Standout point guard Michael Flowers graduated and starting shooting guard Tyrell Roberts transferred to San Francisco. But the Cougs restored optimism in their backcourt after a rocky start to the offseason, stocking up on size and Division I experience with two immediate-impact transfers.
WSU also inked a high-potential local product in Dylan Darling, a do-it-all guard from Central Valley High who claimed 4A Player of the Year honors last year. As of now, however, the favorites to see playing time at guard are Bamba, Powell, Mullins and Rice.
WSU’s two newcomers in the post have bright futures, though they’ll presumably begin their crimson and gray careers as heavily employed reserves behind Jackson and Gueye as they adjust to power-conference physicality.
The Cougars made headlines on May 3, when they signed 7-foot center Adrame Diongue, a four-star recruit and a top-50 prospect in the 2023 class (ESPN) from Senegal who prepped at top-flight hoops academy Arizona Compass.
“He’s a runner, a lob guy, a shot-blocker and rebounder,” Smith said of Diongue. “He’s kinda like if you cross (Gueye) and Efe.
“We’re going to try to handle him accordingly. Right now, he’s 198 pounds, and that’s going to be hard to play a lot of minutes in this league at that weight.”
Rounding out the WSU frontcourt is true freshman Mael Hamon-Crespin, a “skillful big man with size,” Smith said, quoted in a school release.
Hamon-Crespin, at 6-9 and 235 pounds, is nimble on his feet in the paint and smooth in transition. He’s an adept passer with a soft jump shot, too.
A native of France, Hamon-Crespin spent the past three years playing against stiff international competition. He trained at INSEP, an elite junior program based in Paris that has a knack for producing future pros.