After some quiet days early in the cycle, Kyle Smith’s first recruiting class is now rapidly taking shape.
First, one of the big mysteries of this 2019 class has finally cleared up: junior college forward Daron Henson, who originally signed with the Washington State Cougars during the early period (when Ernie Kent was still coach) has affirmed his intention to come to WSU, he told Cougfan.com.
And then, just a short time later, another junior college player announced his intention to play at WSU, this time via Twitter: Casper College combo guard Isaac Bonton.
After Kent was fired, Henson went silent on any commentary related to his recruitment, indicating that he was likely considering other options besides WSU. Smith and his staff had to re-recruit the bounceback transfer, who spent his first two years with the Utah State Aggies.
“After building a relationship with Coach Smith and the other coaches, I still thought it would be a great fit with how he likes to play, and that he liked my game -- and I felt like I was wanted there. And I felt like I can play there,” said Henson, who also told Cougfan he heard from Virginia Tech and a slew of midmajors.
A 6-foot-8/200-pound forward, Henson appears to be in much the same mold as Robert Franks, stylistically — he’s a high-volume shooter who averaged 12.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in about 24 minutes a game for Salt Lake Community College. He took a hair less than half of his 291 shot attempts from beyond the arc, where he shot 35%. Certainly not overwhelming production, but solid, and probably a pretty good sign for his development: As a redshirt freshman at Utah State, he was basically a three-point specialist and was quite terrible on his handful of twos.
One noteworthy element of Henson’s recruitment is that Kent actually pitched Henson as the next Franks, which would obviously mean that Kent intended to feature him as a scorer in his no-defense philosophy. Smith, however, is intent on fixing the Cougs’ abysmal ranking in scoring prevention, and he was honest with Henson about the shift in emphasis.
Smith, who has said that honest assessments are one of his core philosophies in recruiting, also didn’t hold back as to what that means for Henson.
“He did say he feels like I need to get better on the defensive side of the ball – he said that was one of the things he’s been working on with the guys in the workouts he’s had with them, that defense was the main thing they’ve been working on,” Henson said.
Bonton, meanwhile, fills an important hole on the roster as another ball handler; presuming Ahmed Ali has left the program (even though he’s still listed on the roster), only Jervae Robinson is left to man the point guard position from last year’s team. Smith also has said he prefers to have two ball handlers on the floor.
At 6-3/185, Bonton averaged 21.4 points, 5.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds in leading his team to the NJCAA tournament in his lone season. At Casper, he shot 36.5% on nearly six three-point attempts per game, and also found his way to the foul line a fair amount. One thing that I’m sure Smith loves is that Bonton also averaged nearly five defensive rebounds a game.
He appears to be a pretty fearless scorer who has excellent body control and balance on his jumper.
For what it’s worth — and I don’t think it’s worth much, honestly — Bonton’s college career started with the Montana State Bobcats, where he played in the first 11 games of his freshman season but transferred out before Christmas in 2017. It wasn’t a spectacular start, as he posted an offensive rating of just 76 against Division I competition. (That’s points produced per 100 possessions; average would have been around 105.) He took a lot of shots and missed too many of them, averaging 7.8 points on 40.7 effective field goal percentage.
Henson and Bonton join Deion James in Smith’s first class. We’re still waiting to hear whether prep big man Nigel John, who also signed in the early period, will be joining the program. You can check out all the movement here.