Top 50 recruiting class impresses coach Smith early

Men’s basketball head coach Kyle Smith expressed his excitement for new freshman class in a press conference Wednesday

Head+coach+Kyle+Smith+hopes+WSU+can+land+in+the+top+50+in+the+NCAA+net+rankings+this+season.

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Head coach Kyle Smith hopes WSU can land in the top 50 in the NCAA net rankings this season.

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen sports editor

With the NCAA basketball season creeping around the corner, WSU men’s basketball head coach Kyle Smith held a press conference and discussed the upcoming 2020-21 season.

Smith said the glaring difference of the roster this year compared to last year’s is its size and length. After parting ways with former forward Jeff Pollard this offseason, the Cougars welcome freshman centers Efe Abogidi and Dishon Jackson to the team, both 6 feet, 10 inches tall.

Other freshmen additions include guards TJ Bamba and Jefferson Koulibaly, as well as forwards Andrej Jakimovski and Carlos Rosario. Smith said Jakimovski, Bamba, and Koulibaly have the best chance to start for WSU this season.

The Cougars bring in just one junior college transfer this year: junior guard Myles Fitzgerald-Warren. Smith said Fitzgerald-Warren is currently overcoming a foot injury but should bring ball handling, shooting and maturity to the Cougars backcourt.

Smith said the team’s starting lineup should be set a week before their Nov. 25 debut game. The team will worry about the bench rotation in the days leading up to the game, Smith added.

Last season, Smith emphasized three foundational pillars for this team: defending, rebounding and ball handling. Smith said these pillars need to be maintained and not forgotten about.

“It’s hard because we have to be better offensively and sharing the ball,” Smith said. “If you don’t [maintain], you don’t have a chance.”

WSU lost its star forward CJ Elleby to the NBA draft during the summer; Elleby averaged over 18 points per game last season.

The Cougars’ second-leading scorer last year, senior guard Isaac Bonton, returns this year. Smith said Bonton worked hard this offseason, and his offensive efficiency should increase this year.

As far as finding a primary scorer for the team this year, Smith said it’s still up in the air. Not only does Bonton fall into this category, but Smith said senior forward Tony Miller, Jakimovski, Koulibaly, Bamba, and several sophomores could play a part this year.

“It’ll be hard when we really get to work,” Smith said. “It’ll shake itself out.”

Smith said the team’s schedule is still a work in progress. Some of the contracted games the Cougars had this season may not work out. The university is in talks with schools to include in a two-game, multi-team event Nov. 25 and Nov. 27, Smith said. Those teams have yet to be announced.

“I come in here every day hoping we get some finalized [games],” Smith said. “It’s a mess, a hot mess.”

Smith has even bigger goals for WSU next season.

The Cougars managed to finish at 115th in the NCAA net rankings last season, which is almost 100 spots higher than the season before at 205th. Smith complimented this leap in the rankings, but the team’s next goal is to make it into the top 50.

“That’d be a heck of a jump,” Smith said. “We’re young, but you never know.”