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WSU hoops commit Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge is now a 4-star recruit — in football?

This recruitment is going to be fascinating to watch.

Stanford v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

Back in June, Kyle Smith picked up a surprise commitment from a player who was just wrapping up his sophomore year of high school — Portland-area forward Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge, who is in the 2021 class.

Rawlins-Kibonge has always been a basketball player, but this past fall, he also decided to try his hand at football for the first time. It turns out, he’s really good at football! Like, really, really good — just ranked him as a four-star defensive end recruit heading into his senior season.

Rawlins-Kibonge now holds reported football offers from the Oklahoma Sooners, Miami Hurricanes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, and most of the Pac-12 — although, notably, the hometown Oregon Ducks are missing. It appears this is why:

Interestingly, the school at the top of his offer list with a “warmer” designation is none other than the Washington State Cougars, and the lead recruiter is listed as new defensive coordinator Jake Dickert. If he were to come to WSU, he’d be one of the top football recruits ever landed by the school.

The logical conclusion here? Although nobody has said it, it appears WSU is recruiting Rawlins-Kibonge as a two-sport player, as Smith’s ability to hold onto him might hinge on making a two-sport deal with the football staff — 247Sports’ Brandon Huffman says Rawlins-Kibonge is, indeed, looking to play both sports, although he offers no detail beyond that.

As near as I can tell, Rawlins-Kibonge hasn’t really offered any insight into his thought process, although he did say at the time of his commitment that falling in love with Pullman was what caused him to commit so quickly, and if that’s the case, then the football staff should have a legitimate shot at landing him.

There is a potential benefit to that for Smith: Any scholarship athlete who plays football has to count against their 85 scholarships, which would free up one of basketball’s 13 scholarships. The downside, of course, is that he’ll miss up to half of every basketball season, depending on whether the football team makes a bowl game.

Let’s be honest, though — even a two-sport deal might not be enough to hold on to a fast-rising football prospect who already has a pretty massive offer on the table from Alex Grinch. Nemec — who focuses on high school recruiting for The Oregonian — says Rawlins-Kibonge is his top football prospect in the state for 2021, given his potential.

Nemec also doesn’t seem to think much of Rawlins-Kibonge’s “commitment” to Kyle Smith:

Another possibility is that Rawlins-Kibonge’s basketball recruitment takes off as well: has given him a high three-star rating and put him in the top 200 hoops prospects in the country. Those kinds of players don’t typically come to WSU, either! A few weeks ago, he was averaging 15 points and 14 rebounds for one of the best high school teams in Oregon.

Smith has a knack for identifying and recruiting excellent players early (he loves to tell the story of how he got a commitment from Ty Jerome when he was the coach at Columbia, only to see Jerome flipped to Virginia by Tony Bennett). It will be fascinating to see how WSU navigates this one. Here’s to hoping he really loves basketball and is looking for a place willing to give him a legitimate shot to do both. That’s a deal a school like WSU is willing to make to land an elite athlete — something that might not be true at a football factory like Oklahoma.


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