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Deion James will grad transfer to WSU, becoming Kyle Smith’s first recruit

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The Colorado State forward missed last season with a knee injury.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado State at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

New Washington State Cougars basketball coach Kyle Smith landed the first recruit of his tenure when former Colorado State Rams forward Deion James announced last night in an understated tweet that he had committed to WSU.

James — who was last listed at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds (more on that in a minute) — is well traveled, having started his career at North Carolina A&T before transferring to a junior college. He then returned to Division I with CSU, averaging 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds as a junior before sitting out last season while recovering from an injury.

UPDATE, 5/6: It’s now official; here’s what Smith said in a news release.

“We are thrilled to have Deion in the program,” Smith said. ”He was the first recruit to embrace our program. He is someone who visited Washington State and missed out the first time. He is getting a second chance and we could not be more happy to have him setting the course for our program. He is someone who we tried to get at USF because of he is a six-tool forward. His junior college coach, Brian Peabody, is a long-time friend and respected peer whom I have known for over 25 years. His experience, maturity, and versatility will be valued.”

So, how does James fit in with what we know about what Smith is looking for?

Since most people focus on offense, let’s start there. It’s unlikely James will be an impact offensive player; in a lower league, his offensive rating (points produced per 100 possessions) was just 100 — about five points below average. Worse yet, that dropped to 96 in 15 games against top 100 competition.

The main barrier to efficient scoring for James was that he just wasn’t a very effective shooter. His shot selection broke down like this (via hoop-math.com):

  • At the rim: 42% of shots, 59.5% makes
  • 2-point jumpers: 39.9% of shots, 39.1% makes
  • 3-pointers: 18.1% of shots, 26% makes

Two things stick out. First, that’s a lot of 2-point jumpers. Second, all of those shooting percentages are lower than what you’d like to see.

That said, he does check a couple of boxes for Smith on offense: Based on his assist and turnover rates, he appears to be a competent passer and ball handler. Additionally, he’s a pretty good offensive rebounder — he ranked ninth in MWC games in offensive rebounding percentage. While he’s probably not a great offensive player, he does seem to do enough things to fit Smith’s “interchangeable” mantra.

Another caveat: It appears he spent a fair amount of time playing center in an exceptionally small lineup for Larry Eustachy while the starting center was on the bench. That might partially explain the low 2-point percentages, given he was likely being matched up against larger players.

Of course, none of this tells us anything about what he might bring on the defensive end, which is where Smith is likely to focus most of his coaching energy this season. Given his offensive limitations, it’s reasonable to assume that Smith likes what James brings on defense. The stats don’t say he’s a great defensive rebounder (just 13% of opponents’ misses), however, he was paired with a dominant defensive rebounder most of his time on the floor, and since rebounding is a zero sum endeavor, that likely suppressed his numbers a bit.

I’ll say this: His offensive rebounding stats, at his size, suggest he doesn’t mind hustling, and if Smith can get him to translate that to getting two feet in the paint on shots, he’ll probably do well enough in that regard. Additionally, if he signed up to play for Eustachy, he probably doesn’t have a problem being coached hard.

One other weird note. I mentioned he was listed at 6-6 last season. Every year before that — whether at CSU, Pima Community College or North Carolina A&T — he was listed as 6-8. I cannot ever recall a player getting shorter in his career, especially at the same school. Usually, they magically grow an inch or two, like Robert Franks did this year. How tall is he really? Who knows! Maybe CSU had a reason for wanting him to seem smaller than he is. Or maybe he was never 6-8 and conscience got the best of everyone.

There’s one other box that James checks off for Smith: Experience. This is a hard thing to quantify, obviously, but Smith was clear that he didn’t want the program to bottom out any further this year and that it was a priority to field a competitive team. James does that while also only holding a scholarship for one season as part of the Year Zero class while Smith’s staff assembles the Year One class that will serve as the foundation of the program.