Kyle Smith has been building the Washington State basketball program up for the past two seasons, and this impressive recruiting track record continues with the recent commitment of Nigerian big man Solomon Ominu. Ominu is the next in a line of Africa-based recruits that Smith has recruited to Pullman, joining Efe Abogidi and Mouhamed Gueye. Ominu is the first recruit in the 2022 class for the Cougs and he plays into a couple consistent philosophies that Kyle Smith employs: Smith highly values size and defensive playmaking, and it is not hard to see that those values endeared Solomon to Smith as a recruit.
There are some future questions about what the 2022 recruiting class could look like as a whole for the Cougs; Solomon Ominu is technically taking the last scholarship spot on the 2022-23 Cougs roster, but with the NBA hopes for some players and potential transfer of others, it is hard to pin down an exact look for that class. Ominu is a good start and there are some obvious team-building benefits he will provide, but the rest of Smith’s future class will be an interesting thing to monitor going forward.
Ominu is a hard player to get true grasp on right now because of his interesting path. He committed to WSU before playing high school or grassroots in the United States, which is a rarity for D-1 prospects. Ominu has played well in Africa and received three offers from high-major schools (Memphis, Oklahoma, and WSU) and his quick commitment to Wazzu shows that Kyle Smith is starting to turn WSU into a recruiting powerhouse within African basketball circles.
As a player, Ominu is most notable for his size and athleticism. Listed at 6-foot-10, 230, there is a potential for him to get even bigger and turn into a true interior force. Build-wise, he has notable similarities to Dishon Jackson in terms of size and strength. He is working on a face-up game that could develop in a similar way to Jackson’s as well. However, Ominu is almost certainly not being recruited for his potential face-up game. Instead, he is being recruited for the potential elite defense he could bring at the college level. His size will help him dominate the paint and force turnovers in a way that few can.
Solomon has a lot of developing left to do and a lot playing time to experience before we can get a true gauge on expectations for him, but it is not hard to see him becoming a 3- or 4-star caliber prospect over this next year in the US. Stars are far from a direct indicator of future success, but they can be an indicator of the caliber of prospect being brought in. Ominu will likely climb quickly and it will be interesting to see where national consensus falls on him.
Ominu will spend his next season, and first in the US, playing at Bridgton Academy. Bridgton Academy is an odd place, with a defunct social media presence and a bevy of low D-1 prospects that have been produced. Most recently, Zee Hamoda played there. Hamoda is going to be a freshman at Utah State this upcoming season and was a low-level prospect who ended up getting some mid-major offers. Ominu could very well end up being one of the better prospects to ever attend Bridgton and it could be a great place for him to develop some real on-ball skills in the post.
More familiar to Coug fans, Carter Skaggs spent time at Bridgton in high school. Skaggs was a very fun player at WSU, most notable for his efficient shooting, electric personality, and run in with Chizmezie Metu. Bridgton games are very hard to find online so the scouting of Ominu might have to wait until a potential grassroots circuit. It is far from certain that Ominu will play any circuit though because he is already committed and soon to be graduated. Still, there is hope that we will get to see some pre-college tape for Ominu and start to build some expectations for his Coug career.
There is a chance that Ominu will be expected to be the Efe Abogidi replacement for the Cougs. The overwhelming expectation among scouts is that Efe Abogidi will leave WSU for the NBA next season. This is an overall good thing for Smith and his team because the production of NBA talent will make the program more attractive to recruits who want to reach the next level. Ominu has the outline of a defensive forward close to the level of Abogidi and he will likely be expected to fill that role in the long-term.
Coug Recruiting in Africa
Africa is a truly untapped market of basketball talent that goes overlooked because of the lack of team infrastructure in Africa. Efe Abogidi has already proven a big hit for Smith and Mouhamed Gueye is one of the most highly rated recruits in WSU history with high expectations for his upcoming freshman season. Ominu will have expectations to have similar upside as those guys and continue to grow the roots of the WSU program within the African basketball scene.
NBA players such as Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam have begun trying to build up the African youth basketball infrastructure, but it is far away from the structure offered by the U.S. and much of Europe and Asia in terms of youth development and showcases. WSU choosing to tap into this undervalued well shows that Kyle Smith is trying to win by exploiting a new market inefficiency.
It is well known that WSU is far from a blue blood basketball program and that means that winning at the highest level will require winning at the margins and inefficiencies that the blue blood programs overlook. Tony and Dick Bennett did this by using the “Movers and Blockers” system to exploit holes in defenses. That system helped WSU overcome significant talent deficiencies. Smith is taking a slightly different approach; getting the same caliber of talent but through less worn paths. So far, this style has proven effective and WSU basketball is the healthiest it has been in over a decade.
The 2022 Class as a Whole
The 2022 Recruiting Class will be an interesting one to watch for the Cougs. Ominu was a solid first grab, but there are other offers the Cougs have made that have a lot of potential to contribute for the program. If no one leaves the program after this season, then technically Ominu will be the only 2022 recruit entering Pullman. However, Efe Abogidi is more likely than not to be an NBA player in a year, Noah Williams could potentially turn pro, and Mouhamed Gueye could end up the first one-and-done player in WSU history. This is not to mention potential transfers from competitive positions. Filling out the 2022 recruiting class could quickly turn from not necessary to vital at the end of this season.
The first is Jalen Reed of the Southern California Academy. Reed is a 4-star recruit and a top 100 prospect, but he could continue to rise over the next year. Reed is a very powerful athlete with an easily projectable frame. He is 6’10 and 220 pounds and he uses that frame to push players out of the way and finish with authority. He has some interesting ball-skills that could be developed too, including some flashes as a passer and ball-handler. Reed is very raw, but there is a lot to like there.
Another interesting big-man that the Cougs have been linked to is Adrame Diongue. Diongue is a very good athlete for a 7-footer and he plays with an incredible motor. The great PD Web wrote about him for Pro Insight and gave a very comprehensive breakdown of his game, which you can find here (PD’s Sleepers: EYBL (prospectiveinsight.com)). Diongue is a very intriguing upside swing, but it is yet to be known if the commitment of Ominu, a fellow big-man, drops WSU out of the running for Diongue.
The last two players that WSU has offered that really interest me are Lewis Duarte from Charlotte, NC, and DJ Nix from Cannon, NC.
WSU is not really known as a huge player in the North Carolina recruiting game, but these two players provide particular value to Smith and his defensive philosophy. Both Nix and Duarte are very solid athletes who make a lot of plays on the defensive end. They are somewhat raw, but that defensive ability is a direct fit for Smith and the Cougs and their size on the wing is also a major benefit.
Kyle Smith Rebuilds With the Best
Kyle Smith is a master at rebuilding dead programs to unexpected competency. Starting at Columbia, where he turned a 15-13 record, 6-8 in the Ivy League, into a 25-10 team that dominated the conference. He then moved onto San Francisco where he turned a bad WCC team to a team that could upset top ranked Virginia. Smith’s time at WSU has already been a success, but the trajectory will have to continue upwards for Smith and the Cougs going forward.
WSU continues to grow as a program, adding to Smith’s resume of rebuilt programs. Smith has built a recruiting philosophy around acquiring players with size, athleticism, and upside as defensive playmakers. He has consistently recruited players who rank amongst the top in WSU’s all-time recruits and Ominu could potentially make his way up that list soon. With this success in terms of recruiting will soon come the weight of expectations. Smith has never really faced expectations in his career and his response to them will be a huge indicator for what he can turn this program into moving forward.