Very few things get WSU fans excited like landing four-star recruits, mostly because it happens so infrequently for the school’s highest-profile programs. The football program has landed 16 of them — total — since 247sports/Scout.com started tracking composite ratings about 20 years ago; basketball has signed just five. Five!
So, when Kyle Smith, on the heels of a much improved season, signed a trio of players who were rated as four stars by at least one recruiting service as part of a class that ranks as the best in school history, fans sat up and took notice.
Which begged the natural follow-up question: How in the world did Smith’s staff succeed in acquiring high-end talent where so many other staffs at WSU have failed?
The Spokesman-Review’s Theo Lawson pulled back the curtain on that this morning with a deep dive that tries to answer that — go ahead and go read it and then come back when you’re done.
From Facebook messages to FIBA tournaments, a look behind the curtain at how #WSU signed Efe Abogidi, TJ Bamba, Andrej Jakimovski, Jefferson Koulibaly, Dishon Jackson and Carlos Rosario to assemble the highest-rated recruiting class in school history. https://t.co/JLf988zdUE pic.twitter.com/NsWNuDHsvw— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) December 31, 2020
Welcome back! As you can see, there’s no simple answer to the question, but there are a couple of themes that stand out.
The staff has a keen eye for talent. There are many stories in there of how the staff pursued guys who were flying under the radar (stud center Efe Abogidi among them), but underpinning that is a keen understanding of who is actually good enough to help the Cougs be more than a Pac-12 also-ran:
WSU’s staff didn’t realize [Dishon] Jackson was pegged as a four-star prospect by the major recruiting services until after he signed. From an evaluation standpoint, those ratings have little to no value, but Smith is hopeful bringing four-star caliber players to Pullman may prompt others to consider the Cougars down the road.
“Having DJ come in and saying he’s a four-star, it’s OK to come here,” Smith said. “That’s what I said, like shouldn’t we be getting four stars?”
On that note, Smith still draws from a lesson Bennett taught him at Saint Mary’s while the two worked to rebuild a program that had fallen to the depths of the WCC. Occasionally, Smith would identify a prospect who seemed obtainable for a rebuilding program like SMC, only to have it vetoed by the head coach.
“We walked into a 2-27 program and I’m like, ‘Hey this guy will come,’ ” Smith recalled. “He’s like, ‘Kyle he’s not good enough.’ I’m like, ‘Randy we were a 2-27 program. Almost anyone’s good enough.’ … He always said, we’re going to compete against Gonzaga and Gonzaga was not what they are now, but they were close enough. They were perennial top 20 and reached top 10. He was right. He’s right. We could get good players there.”
The staff works their tails off and grinds like crazy. Let’s not get this twisted: All college basketball staffs work their tails off. But I’m pretty confident that nobody on Ernie Kent’s staff ever flew to Romania for a FIBA event, as assistant coach John Andrzejek did in his recruitment of the highest-rated recruit in the class, Andrej Jakimovski. Andrzejek also initiated contact with Abogidi via ... Facebook.
There’s also a little bit of good fortune involved. This one could go down in Cougar lore:
The Cougars had another ace up the sleeve. Abogidi had a relative living in the United States. Rather, Abogidi had an uncle living in Washington. Rather, the African-born center who’d spent his childhood living in three countries, two continents and trotting the globe to play basketball had an uncle living in Pullman – yes, Pullman – and working at Schweitzer Laboratories.
“I don’t know how that happened,” Andrzejek said. “I’m expecting the NCAA to investigate it at some point, but it really is just the flukiest, most random thing of all time.”
The Cougs currently have just one player signed in their 2021 class, point guard Myles Rice from Georgia. He’s another high-three-star kid ranked just outside the top 200. WSU could sign one more player to bring their scholarship total for 2021-2022 up to 15 in accordance with the NCAA’s policy of allowing seniors who return after this season to not count against the normal 13-scholarship limit.
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