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SCOUTING REPORT: Rueben Chinyelu, WSU’s newest African big man

The Cougars won another major recruiting battle, beating out Florida, Tennessee, and Rutgers.

NBA Academy Africa v U23 Rwanda Photo by Pape Emir/NBAE via Getty Images

The Washington State Cougars and coach Kyle Smith have secured yet another fascinating, high-upside big-man recruit from Africa in Rueben Chinyelu, a 6’10, 245-pound big-man who is built like a tank and plays with an impressive motor.

Chinyelu is not yet rated by 247sports.com, but WSU was in competition with Florida, Tennessee, and Rutgers for his commitment, mostly due to his remarkable performance at the NBA Global Academy Games. Chinyelu is the second recruit to join the 2023 class for the Cougs, next to fellow big-man Oscar Cluff. Both of them officially signed with the school today. (A third player announced, Olympia’s Parker Gerrits, is a walk-on.)

“Like recent players in our program, Efe Abogidi and Mouhamed Gueye, Rueben is relatively new to the game and is rapidly improving in all aspects,” Smith said, via news release. “Rueben is coming to us from the same development program as Efe Abogidi, the NBA Academy Africa. Although the Academy has only been active for five years, it is producing some of the best young talents in the world.

“Rueben’s signing is the culmination of our staff’s commitment to recruiting overseas, especially West Africa. Rueben would not be here without John Andrzejek’s relentless hard work.”

Rueben’s Unmistakable Upside

Chinyelu is, simply, a massive human being. Standing at 6’10 with a 7’8 wingspan would be enough, but he is also built like a brick outhouse. He is every bit of 245 and it shows in how he plays. He is constantly outmuscling opposing bigs for rebounds, and he hardly moves when defending in the post. This is a far cry from WSU’s other impressive big-man recruits, who have been more on the wiry side of the rim-running archetype. Chinyelu’s strength will give him an easy path to early playing time and it will help the Cougs to matchup with some of the top post-up bigs in the conference.

As with most of WSU’s recent big-man recruits, Chinyelu’s primary upside lies in his defensive potential. He is a bit raw, but his defensive instincts have been steadily improving throughout his early career. There are markable improvements between his FIBA play a year ago to his Global Academy play this summer, and he will likely continue to improve under Smith and staff in Pullman.

Chinyelu’s defense is potentially versatile, as he has the help instincts and bounce to protect the rim, but he also flashed some movement skills and quick hands when guarding in switch situations. This is also valuable if Smith wants to play two-big alignments next season, as Chinyelu projects to be able to guard some forwards and wings in the Pac-12. This versatility gives the Cougs ever more options defensively and this staff has proven adept at switching between different defensive schemes as needed to best maximize the chances of winning.

Chinyelu’s most college ready skill is his rebounding. His motor on the glass pops at all times and he has a nose for grabbing balls off the rim. He uses his strength well on box outs and he has a bit more technical feel as a rebounder than past recruits like Adrame Diongue and Mouhamed Gueye. Chinyelu should excel at keeping possessions alive for the Cougs as well as ending them for opponents.

Offensively, Chinyelu is a bit of a work in progress. The offensive rebounding is good and he has solid bounce, though he is a bit of a load leaper, but he does not have a robust bag of post-moves and he is less projectable as a shooter than some of WSU’s past big recruits. His rawness on offense might lead to some hair-pulling stretches early in his career, but he has nice touch and he could develop into a solid post-scorer as he learns to use his body more and more.

Overall, Chinyelu projects as someone who can contribute early but who also brings a lot of long-term upside. As he grows in Smith’s system, he should develop into a versatile defensive piece who can dominate the glass like few Cougs ever have. He should be a solid pick-and-roll finisher with the potential to be an alright post-scorer to boot. Chinyelu is not quite the high upside grab of past recruits like Gueye and Diongue, but he does a lot of the little things well and his impressive motor will get him on the floor consistently.

Kyle Smith’s Magic Touch

This is the fourth straight recruiting class that will include an elite big-man prospect for the Cougs. In 2020, it was Efe Abogidi, ’21 was Gueye, ’22 was Diongue, and now ’23 brings Chinyelu to the Palouse. Even more impressive is the progressively harder competition WSU has had for these recruits. Abogidi had an offer from Creighton, but WSU felt like the obvious choice. Then came Gueye, who was heavily recruited by Kansas and UCLA while also having offers from Stanford and Kentucky. Diongue was perhaps the hardest recruit to land as Texas Tech and UNLV pursued Diongue hard, and Kentucky and Kansas were also in the mix, which had WSU feeling like the underdog.

Prior to committing to WSU, Chinyelu narrowed his list to WSU, Florida, Santa Clara, Rutgers, and Tennessee, two of which are major SEC schools that are known for landing impressive big-men. WSU winning recruiting battles like this was something that felt impossible before Smith and staff, but now it simply feels like a regular occurrence. Having such a consistent influx of top-tier big-men helps keep WSU as one of the most formidable defenses in the country year in and year out.

It is hard to say, from the outside, what Smith has done to make recruiting players like this so consistent. The ties to Africa and NBA Global Academy go a long way, and there is clearly reverence for this staff from current and past players. Gueye returning for his sophomore year was a great example of the relationships this staff builds with players and the trust they have in them. Whatever it is, this pipeline of recruiting has led to some major recruiting wins and it will, sooner rather than later, turn WSU into a school that is consistently producing NBA caliber big-men. That success breeds more success and WSU’s rise up the Pac-12 latter under Smith should continue.

Roster Churn and Outlook

Projecting next year’s roster, as with any year in modern college basketball, is a bit tricky. Gueye and Justin Powell will likely pursue pro-careers if all goes according to plan for them, but the rest of the roster feels likely to return.

Kymany Houinsou, Mael Hamon-Crespin, and Diongue will hopefully be developing nicely and looking to take steps up in roles, while TJ Bamba and Andrej Jakimovski will be looking for a monster senior seasons. DJ Rodman could use an extra year of eligibility, and hopefully Dishon Jackson and Myles Rice will be on the mend and returning.

If everyone but the projected pros stay, then WSU is already at the scholarship limit for next season. There are always potential transfers we might not see coming, but replacing those players with other transfers tends to be the fix for that particular issue. Next year’s team projects to be just as talented and slightly more experienced than this season’s, which is just further proof that Smith and his staff are building something sustainable here in Pullman.

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