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From Beyond The Arc: Wazzu MBB 2023 Preview

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 23 Washington State at Stanford Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Washington State head coach Kylie Smith is going into the fifth year of a six-year contract that he signed with WSU following the departure of Ernie Kent. The Cougars have done well and improved under Smith’s leadership, after enduring five seasons of abject badness under Kent.

While Smith also appeared to be in the same boat as Kent in his first two seasons, with the Cougars occupying the bottom part of the Pac-12 standings (11th place and 10th place), the past two seasons have seen Wazzu pick up their game and they tied for 5th place in the 21-22 and 22-23 seasons.

Last season, WSU finished with a 17-17 (11-7 Pac-12) record, which kept them firmly planted in the middle 13 of the Pac-12 both last season and the season before. The Cougars played well enough to enter the NIT the past two seasons, and the 21-22 season saw Wazzu earn their first winning season in Pac-12 play in 14 seasons.

Kylie Smith has done very well with what he has and has elevated the Cougars from their previous doldrums.

In the 2023 Pac-12 tournament, WSU placed as a #5 seed. They defeated #12 California before falling to #4 Oregon. Wazzu was a #4 seed in the NIT, but was eliminated by unseeded Eastern Washington in the first round to end their season.

As a team, the Cougars shot 42.4%, 37.3% on threes, and 71.6% at the line. (Last season Oregon shot 44.8%, 32% on threes, and 69.5% from the line). TJ Bamba was their scoring leader with 15.8 PPG. Mouhamed Gueye brought in 14.3 PPG and was the rebounding leader with 8.4 rebounds per game. Justin Powell added 10.4 PPG and DJ Rodman averaged 9.6 PPG.

Wazzu loses eight players going into 23-24, including most of their starters. Returning this season is 6-6 Sr. G Jabe Mullins, who started in 8 of the 30 games he played last year, and 6-8 Sr. F Andrej Jakimovski, who started in 21 of 23 games last season.

For the upcoming season, WSU brings in five freshmen. Parker Gerrits is a 6-1 G from Olkympia, WA. Isaiah Watts is a 6-3 G from West Seattle. 6-11 C Rueben Chinyelu hails from Nigeria. 6-9 F Spencer Maloney comes from New York, NY. Rounding out the freshman class is 6-10 F AJ LaBeau, from Boise, ID.

WSU made use of the transfer portal to supplant a very young basketball team. On the 23-24 Cougars. 11 of the 18-man roster are freshmen or sophomores.

Isaac Jones is a 6-9 5th year F from Idaho. He started in the 17 games that he played with the Vandals last season, averaging 20.1 PPG. Jones shot 58.2%, 33.3% on threes, and 69.7% from the line.

Joseph Yesufu is a 5th year 6-0 G that transferred from Kansas. Last season Yesufu started three of the 35 games he played, averaging 12.7 minutes per game. He shot 37%, 29% on threes, and 67% from the line, averaging 4.1 PPG.

Also joining the Cougars is 6-8 Jr. F Jaylen Wells, who tranfers from Sonoma State.

Rounding out the transfers is 6-11 Jr. F Oscar Cluff, an Australian from Cochise College in Arizona.

Wazzu has a lot of new faces this coming season, and it will be interesting to see if coach Smith can maintain the momentum he has built over the past two seasons.