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WSU lands UCSD transfer Tyrell Roberts

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The Cougs beat out San Diego State for the Division II All-American.

PULLMAN, WA - DECEMBER 18: Washington State head coach Kyle Smith celebrates with center Efe Abogidi (0) prior to a non-conference matchup between the Montana State Bobcats and the Washington State Cougars on December 18, 2020, at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, WA. Jack Ellis/For CougCenter

The Washington State Cougars bolstered their backcourt on Wednesday when Tyrell Roberts, a transfer from UC San Diego, announced he had committed to Kyle Smith for his final two years of eligibility.

WSU beat out San Diego State — which has been one of the better programs on the west coast for a decade — for Roberts. He also drew serious interest from Wake Forest, Arkansas, and Creighton.

Roberts was a Division II all-American as a sophomore last season for the Tritons after averaging 19 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds, and he immediately fills a position of need for the Cougars, who are facing what appears to be the imminent departure of senior guard Isaac Bonton. WSU’s lack of backcourt depth and ball handling was a bugaboo at times this season as the team battled injuries and COVID.

Roberts is smaller than the guards Smith typically recruits — 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, according to his UCSD bio — but what Roberts lacks in height or length, he makes up for in quickness: His nickname is “Ghost” (which you can gather from his Twitter handle), something that translates to both ends of the floor.

He’s a superior shooter, having made 46% of his 240 3s last season. He made five or more 3s in eight different games, including a 10-of-12 performance that led to a season-high 45-point outburst in the Tritons’ penultimate game. He might get fewer open looks at this level, but the shooting stroke is something that fans don’t have to worry about translating. He also made 50% of his 2s, a high percentage for a guard, and while you’d expect that will take a bit of a dip against larger defenders, he’s clearly a capable finisher.

Roberts also had a roughly 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which will be a welcome sight for a team that has struggled all season taking care of the ball; the Cougars are last in the Pac-12 in turnover percentage this season.

When a player is a little smaller, defense typically becomes a concern. However, he averaged just a shade over 1.5 steals a game last season and one source described him as “everywhere” on defense. While he won’t bother opposing offensive players the same way guys like Noah Williams and Ryan Rapp do, he’ll harass them and make their lives difficult by staying tight to them and pressuring the ball. I suspect the Cougars are aiming to move away from the zone they’ve relied on so much this year and back to the man-to-man that is the foundation of Smith’s defensive philosophy.

Roberts sat out this season, which was UCSD’s first in Division I, citing COVID concerns. As the season wound down, Roberts announced a couple of weeks ago that he was entering the transfer portal and immediately drew interest from a number of high-major programs across the country looking for an infusion of scoring.

Here’s a short feature on the Tritons and Roberts from a year ago that gives you just a little bit of a window into who he is and what his game looks like — and he’ll probably remind you a little bit of the guy he’s likely replacing in Bonton:

You also can get to know him a little bit as a person through this interview from last July. He’s a mature, thoughtful young man who also is a strong student, having been named a Coastal Collegiate Sports Association all-academic honoree.

Also, I have no idea who these guys are trying to defend him in this workout from an undisclosed date, but it’s fun all the same:

Interestingly, he’ll be the oldest player in the Cougars’ backcourt when he arrives — he redshirted as a freshman, so this was his fourth year at UCSD. He’ll join third-year sophomore Noah Williams (remember, this year doesn’t count against eligibility), second-year freshmen Ryan Rapp, TJ Bamba, and Jefferson Koulibaly (who sat out this year with an injury), and newcomer Myles Rice, a lanky 6-foot-2 point guard from Georgia who signed earlier this season.

If you want to take an even deeper dive, here are a couple of full games from YouTube. They’re not his best games from an efficiency standpoint, but you’ll get a sense of the player he is. In the first, against Humboldt State when he was a redshirt freshman, he scored 18 points:

In this one, against Western Washington last season, he scored 15 points and had 3 steals:

From a recruiting standpoint, Roberts takes the last available scholarship in this class; however, there’s still room for both Bonton and Tony Miller to return — because of COVID, their scholarships would not count against the normal maximum of 13 next season. And, of course, there always remains the possibility that one of the underclassmen transfers out and opens up another spot.