Cougar men’s basketball looks to be more flexible than ever

WSU welcomes nine newcomers to a roster, built to compete

WSU+players+celebrate+on+the+bench+after+a+layup+during+the+second+half+of+an+NCAA+college+basketball+game+against+Oregon+in+Beasley+Coliseum%2C+March+5.

HAILEE SPEIR

WSU players celebrate on the bench after a layup during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oregon in Beasley Coliseum, March 5.

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen reporter

Basketball is coming fast, and WSU men’s basketball is anticipated to have one of the most talented rosters the Cougs have seen in years. With an improving roster typically comes new players and head coach Kyle Smith certainly has a lot of those to manage. Be it from the transfer portal, international recruiting or out of high school, the lineups are going to be very different in this new season.

Of these new additions, perhaps none are more exciting than Justin Powell from the transfer portal. A junior 6-foot-6 guard, Powell has previously played at both Auburn and Tennessee.

As a likely 40% shooter from the three-point range and a willing passer, Powell will likely be the starting point guard, with the size to play forward if necessary. While he had a rough year at Tennessee, he was not playing in the role he is expected to be in at Wazzu.

In fact, the last time he was asked to do the things the Cougs will need from him he had his fantastic true freshman season at Auburn. Smith will be looking for him to play more like that, providing spacing and ball handling as a centerpiece of the offense.

On the recruiting front, WSU pulled its second-highest-ranked recruit ever this offseason in four-star Adrame Diongue out of Arizona. A second Senegalese big man on the team, Diongue will look to likely be the primary backup center behind Mouhamed Gueye, and as a rare true seven-footer. He will likely act as a much-needed defensive anchor after the offseason loss of Efe Abogidi and the indefinite absence of Dishon Jackson.

While he is unlikely to start unless there is a serious need or he quickly has some unexpected offensive development, Coug fans will certainly be seeing a lot of him this year.

Gueye will look to play a similar role to last season. While he was initially meant to be replacing Abogidi at the four spot, the loss of Jackson, who was set to be at the five will almost certainly mean that Gueye will begin the season in the same starting center role he spent last year in. Gueye was recently named to the All-Pac-12 Preseason First Team, and he will look to be the Cougs star on both ends this year.

Of course, lineups can always change, and if Gueye has developed his promising jump shot to a point of reliability, he could be moved back to a forward spot and Diongue could take up that starting center role.

One of the biggest shared characteristics between the new additions and some returning players is positional versatility. The players that are hoped to be stars such as the guards Powell and TJ Bamba or center/forward Gueye will likely stay within their roles.

On the other hand, just about everyone on the bench and some of the potential starters are larger players that have the skills and physical ability to play positions as widely ranged as one through four for some.

These new swingmen include Kymany Houinsou, who is a 6-foot-6 guard out of France that can guard most non-centers, as well as Snoqualmie product Jabe Mullins, also a 6-foot-6 guard. These types of players will provide a solid core of players that can do what they are asked to do at multiple positions.

Perhaps the most versatile player on the team is Andrej Jakimovski, a 6-foot-8 forward that has legitimate skills as a passer, shooter and rebounder. He might not start, but he will be valuable at any position Smith puts him at.

Smith himself pointed out this versatility and size at Pac-12 Media Day, speaking on his analytical approach to positions and lineups.

“Our team is kinda inverted a little bit, we have bigger guards with Justin Powell and TJ Bamba and Jabe Mullins, and even Andrej is like a guard/forward, he’ll play the four,” Smith said. “We’re more interchangeable now, you know we’re not gonna have Deshon most likely for the whole year so our depth inside is a little bit different, so we’ll be a little more fluid offensively.”

With this overhauled and highly talented roster (made up, it seems, entirely of 6-foot-6 guards), Smith hopes to have an extremely powerful offensive team. Having defensive versatility to have lineups capable of stopping just about any type of offensive system and locking up any variety of star player. 

The Cougs will see their first action against Texas State. Tip-off is at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Beasley Coliseum.