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NCAA Basketball: NIT Semifinal-Washington State at Texas A&M Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

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WSU Basketball 2023 Recruiting Preview, Part 1: Top Targets

The Cougs have some major aspirations with the 2023 recruiting class.

Looking ahead down the recruiting pipeline is one of my favorite things to do as basketball fan and analyst. EYBL and other AAU circuits are officially up and running and there is a lot of basketball to watch. This next class — which will enroll in college in fall of 2023 — is currently entering their senior year of high school, and this is the make-or-break year for many prospects. Some of these guys have a multitude of offers while others are more under the radar. Either way, they could all bring a lot to the program as Kyle Smith looks to build a Pac-12 contender.

Potential Holes to Fill

In any given year in college basketball there could be a million different holes for a team to fill. WSU has both benefitted from and been burned by the transfer portal, and that makes consistent recruiting important. Looking at potential issues with the team and putting those fires out before they can hurt the team are big keys for modern basketball team building.

Here’s how the scholarship situation currently stands. This obviously is fluid — for example, Mouhamed Gueye is exploring the NBA Draft process, but he could return, so we left him on there — but it gives a decent idea of how the roster is currently constructed:

Sharpshooters are always important to have. They help make an offense work even when great looks are not being reliably generated. Andrej Jakimovski, Tyrell Roberts, and Michael Flowers admirably filled that role this past season. Flowers is going pro, meaning his three-point production is already long gone. Roberts and Jakimovski seem primed to return in 2022, but the future beyond that is in question. Roberts will exhaust his eligibility next year, and whether it be the transfer portal or professional options, Jakimovski also could leave a hole in the program that will need to be filled.

Attacking guard play is a luxury that WSU does not always have, but it is a huge boost when they do have it. Having guards that can get downhill and make plays is important and it would supercharge WSU’s offense. There is much belief within and around the program that Myles Rice will fill that role, but getting depth there is still a priority.

Athletic bigs are a huge key to Kyle Smith’s defensive philosophy and consistently filling the program with them is important. Though Ege Abogidi is almost certainly gone, and there is still some question about Gueye, replacing their skillsets year in and year out is valuable. If Gueye does stay another year, it is easy to expect him to go to the NBA after his sophomore season. The staff is prioritizing Adrame Diongue in 2022 and it seems like Solomon Ominu will be joining the 2023 class, but making sure the big room is full of options for Smith and staff is important.

Bucket getters are always important to have. Guys that can just go out and score when nothing seems to be working are incredibly important, especially on a defense-first team like WSU. Bringing in guys who can score for themselves — whether it be around the rim, with pull-up jumpers, or in the pick-and-roll — is an important roster cornerstone for teams like WSU.

Funky Forwards are my personal favorite type of players, but not something this staff has invested heavily in yet. There was some belief that Gueye could be this type of player, a forward with a weird collection of movement skills and a jumper/feel/ball-skills, but he ended up falling more into the athletic big camp. These types of players are true ceiling-raisers in college basketball, as they can fill so many types of roles and change what a coach can do in high-leverage moments depending on how they develop — think Brady Manek at North Carolina or Isaiah Mobley at USC.

Making the Grade: Top Guys We Could Bring In

Brooklyn Hicks (Seattle Rotary)

Archetype: Attacking Guard

Offers: Washington, Eastern Washington, Oregon State, Portland, & San Francisco

Brooklyn Hicks is perhaps the best guard prospect in the state of Washington. He is currently unranked by 247’s composite metric, but their own evaluators have rated him a mid-three-star prospect. His offers show that high major teams know he is better than that listing. He is a front-runner for Player of the Year in the state next year and his style is a perfect fit with WSU.

The first sell with Hicks is obvious: he is an awesome athlete for his size. He gets downhill off straight-line drives constantly, he finishes above the rim, and he is one of the fastest players in the open court that I’ve scouted. His body is strong, too, and at 6-foot-3, he is big for his position. There is a lot of Isaac Bonton in his game — but more polished at the same age.

Hicks flashes a nice mix of passing skills to go along with that powerful handle. He is a point guard more than a combo, and that bodes well for WSU as he could be a true, every down playmaker for them in the right outcomes. He can get to the rim to finish or make a play just about every time down the court.

The jumper with Hicks could use some work, but there is reason to believe he can develop it to a high-level. The touch is good, and his body control is nice, but he does not have experience taking many jumpers as he is used to playing on-ball and getting to the rim. If he can balance the athleticism and playmaking with a jumper, he’d be an on- and off-ball threat and a potential all-Pac-12 player if he hits his high-end outcomes.

AJ Johnson (Jalen Green Elite)

Archetype: Attacking Guard

Offers: Arizona State, Creighton, San Diego State, Texas, Texas Tech, St. John’s

AJ Johnson — the younger brother of former 2nd overall pick Jalen Green — is an elite athlete with ball-skills at 6’5. This is an archetype Smith and staff have fallen in love with before with guys like Noah Williams and TJ Bamba. Johnson moves well on defense, gets downhill with ease, and can throw down some nasty dunks.

Johnson has hit a late growth spurt and is still filling into his 6’5 frame, but the shift and explosiveness he has pops. He is a high-level ball-handler for his size who developed as a point guard coming up through the ranks. He sets up defenders with change of pace and explodes in and out of moves like few with his size.

The jumper is a bit of a work in progress with Johnson, as the release is slow and right in front of his face, but there are plenty of outcomes where he never shoots a three and is still a valuable player at the collegiate level. However, the jumper is far from broken and it’s pretty likely he can at least hit spot-ups at a high level and the off-the-dribble game could develop.

The real sell with Johnson is that he can improve as a passer and decision-maker and play as a true point guard. He is big and long with elite athleticism and a handle, which is an excellent base to start with. He has moments as a passer, and his ability to get downhill is impressive. He can play as a point guard; he would be excellent on both ends and be a huge boost to the Cougs.

Andrej Stojakovic (Compton Magic)

Archetype: Sharpshooter/Bucket Getter

Offers: Florida, UConn, Indiana, Kansas, USC, Stanford, Kentucky

Andrej Stojakovic — son of former Sacramento Kings star Peja Stojakovic — is one of the breakout players of EYBL session 1 and that breakout earned him offers from WSU, among many other schools. Stojakovic profiles a lot like another Andrej on WSU, but with a bit more flexibility and handle skill.

Stojakovic can shoot with the best of them for his age group, just like his dad. He is currently a mostly mid-range maestro, working into the mid-area and pulling up on a dime. He hits these shots in a variety of ways and that versatility is promising for his future shooting at the college level. He hits spot-ups at a high-level and it is easy to project him as an absolute sniper at the next level.

Stojakovic’s all-around scoring is intriguing. He has some moves as a ball-handler that pop for someone with his 6’6 frame. Some nice spins, tween hesis, and even the occasional hang dribble pull-up. These skills help project him as a solid bucket-getter if the jumper and space creation click together.

The major upside with Stojakivic was similar to that of Jakimovski: a point forward who can shoot. The point forward role has not truly unlocked with Jakimovski yet, but that was still a good bet to make and Stojakovic is a similar one. Stojakovic can make plays for himself and others, and that type of player is a true ceiling raiser for a potential contending team.

Pryce Sandfort (D1 Minnesota)

Archetype: Sharpshooter Wing

Offers: Iowa, Drake, Gonzaga, Wake Forest, Nebraska, Iowa State, Clemson

Pryce Sandfort, younger brother of Iowa freshman Payton Sandfort, is one of the best shooters in his class. Few can shoot like he can with his size and his skillset would fit on any team in the country. Every team needs high-level shooters with size and length who can move off-the-ball and maybe even hit some pull-ups down the line.

Sandfort can do a little more than just shoot. He uses the threat of his jumper well to make plays for himself or other. He can get to the rim better than most within his archetype and his playmaking has some upside. He reads the floor well and has a knack for making plays in the pick-and-roll.

The worry with Sandfort is the general lack of athleticism. He does not get by players in isolation, and he is rarely finishing above the rim. It is tough to see him being a good finisher at the college level and that limits his overall upside. If he can’t get downhill and finish, he is going to struggle to unlock his top-end outcomes as a playmaker.

The overall sell with Sandfort is that he is a gravity creating shooter who will help raise the floor of an offense. WSU is invested in continually having solid shooters on the wing and Sandfort fills that role better than most. He stretches the floors for other playmakers and has plays run for him as movement shooter.

Osiris Grady (Coronado High School)

Archetype: Funky Forward

Offers: Howard, Ole Miss, Texas Tech, UNLV, USC, West Virginia

Osiris Grady is a fascinating mix of skills inside of an athletic, 6’8 body. Forwards like him are rarely seen in Pullman, with his bounce and ball-skills, but they tend to excel when they are up here. From guys like Kyle Weaver, Robert Franks, and CJ Elleby to more role-player wings like Que Johnson, Ivory Clark, and Mychal Ladd. All of these players could be compared to Grady in terms of archetype and potential role.

The first thing that pops about Grady is his impressive two-foot bounce. He can get up for some huge dunks and finishes in transition, on the roll, or when attacking off the dribble. He could potentially mix in as a lob threat and post scorer with the team, operating as a small-ball big and boosting the defensive versatility of the team.

The real upside with Grady is that he can develop as a passer and self-creating scorer. The jumper has some work to be done, but his handle is developed for his size, and he can make some crisp passes, mixing in behind the back whips, cross-corner skips, and post dump-offs like few players his size and age do. The handle is solid too, using his burst to get by players and his body control to avoid contact and reaches to get to the rim and score. There is a path for Grady to become a versatile wing/forward with the right program and development.

Grady is one of my personal favorite bets for WSU to make in this recruiting class. They have steep competition for him, but the upside is astronomical, and he would give the team something it does not have. He is the type of player that makes a lot of sense to bet on because the payoff would be huge.

Overall Outlook

The overall feel of this class is that it might not end up Kyle Smith’s best, but there is major upside if they grab the right guys. Hicks and Johnson provide a lot of upside as primary creators with athleticism and size, Stojakovic and Sandfort are great wing shooter bets, and Grady is a major upside piece to bet on.

Getting two of this group of players should be the goal for WSU here. No team bats 1.000 and WSU especially does not hit a high percentage when it comes to landing top talent, but Smith and his staff have proven persuasive in the right moments. Hicks seems like the most likely get as he is still underranked and WSU is in early.

Stojakovic and Johnson are difficult grabs as they are going to get lots of looks from top tier programs and WSU would have to win major recruiting battles for them. Sandfort feels doable, but he has a brother with Iowa and that tends to sway many players. Grady is definitely gettable if WSU goes after him hard as he is most likely a depth piece in the classes of other High Major programs, where he would be a headliner with us. Grabbing two of these guys to build a class around would make this the best class since 2020, where WSU grabbed Efe Abogidi, Dishon Jackson, Andrej Jakimovski, and TJ Bamba.

This is far from the end of this recruiting class, too, stay tuned for part two of this breakdown where we’ll dive into some of the other guys WSU is in on, as well as some of my personal standouts from EYBL that I think WSU should give a look.

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