Kyle Smith has earned the nickname “the center whisperer” as he has landed another skilled and highly touted big-man, this time signing Frenchman Mael Hamon-Crespin. Hamon-Crespin is a star for the INSEP program in France and was one of the best remaining freshman recruits on the board. He is young for his class (still only 17), big (6-foot-9), and skilled.
“We are thrilled that Maël has decided to become a Coug,” Smith said via news release. “He is a skillful big man with size, which is an important piece to our puzzle. With his ability to make threes and stretch the floor, he will complement our lengthy and athletic front-court talent. He comes from the elite French junior program INSEP, and he is very experienced in international competition.”
INSEP has an excellent track record for producing talent. From Gonzaga stars such as Joel Ayayi and Killian Tillie, to France’s uber-athletes such as Yves Pons, and even NBA stars such as Tony Parker. WSU making a name for themselves with this program is huge, as it could become another talent well for Smith and staff to tap into; current players on the INSEP roster such as Melvin Ajinca, Noah Penda, and Mohamed Diakite project to be high-level players in the near future and building this relationship is potentially huge.
As for Hamon-Crespin himself, he presents an interesting dynamic to this front-court that we have yet to see. Hamon-Crespin, much like fellow incoming freshman Adrame Diongue, is a well-above-average passer for the center position. It does not always show up with assist numbers, but his passing is versatile, and it pops on tape. He is an excellent outlet passer, starting fast breaks off of defensive rebounds with consistency by finding his guards out ahead of the defense. He also passes well in the flow of an offense, operating chin actions and handoffs at a high level. He makes quick and decisive decisions that often result in an advantage being created.
A big sell with Hamon-Crespin is the jump-shot. Although he was only 20-of-94 from deep this past season, the form is super smooth and projectable. High release, good arc, and solid energy transfer. He does lean to avoid contests at times, but it is easy to see him developing into a mid-30’s caliber shooter, and with his ability to set screens and pass, he could become a deadly offensive role-player. The volume is there and he takes some audacious threes, off-movement and off the dribble, and that is definitely part of what contributed to the low percentage. What type of shooter he will be his freshman year is a bit of a question, but it’d be a shock if he isn’t a better shooter than Mouhamed Gueye and Efe Abogidi were this past season.
His post-game is good, but still developing. His greatest strengths are his footwork and fluidity. He shifts his weight incredibly quickly, allowing him to completely dust defenders who are in bad position with spin-moves and drop-steps. He does not have the pure dominating strength of someone like Dishon Jackson, but he is incredibly sudden with his moves and there are likely some continued athletic gains to come as gets into a college weight program.
His biggest issue in the post is that he is not super comfortable scoring with his left hand and defenders often sit on hooks and spins to his right. Even when he does make a move to his left hand, he often tries to go up with two hands or reposition himself to get a right-hand finish. Still, he should be an excellent post-scorer down the line and, when combined with his high-level passing feel, could be a truly deadly offensive presence.
He does not have an incredible handle, mostly due to a lack of shift in his hips, and his size definitely pigeonholes him as a great playmaking big and not a jumbo wing. He sometimes tries to do too much and gets himself in bad situations, but that is almost a positive with his youth, because the freedom to explore and make mistakes is vital for development.
I’m interested to see if he can develop down a path similar to Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili. Mamukelashvili started his career as a ball-moving big, slowly developed into an elite elbow playmaker, then got the jumper to a high-level, and he was running pick-and-roll and playing as the transition point guard by his senior year. Hamon-Crespin has that upside with his youth and ball-skills, but he has to develop to reach that outcome.
Athletically, Hamon-Crespin is a bit better than expected. He is mobile and smooth, far from the plodding big-men that are often expected from European post-scorers. He is super light on his feet and he has impressive bounce off one foot. He could even potentially be a solid lateral mover on defense, due to that fluidity, if his footwork is cleaned up. He is fairly fast in the open court, and he runs the floor hard, giving him a path to easy buckets that not all bigs have.
He has his issues getting vertical, as he needs major load to get up off two-feet, and that limits his upside as a rim protector or lob threat, forcing the staff to get creative with his positionality. In the end, though, Hamon-Crespin is a funky and functional athlete who should be able to avoid getting played off the floor as many traditional bigs do.
Defensively, Hamon-Crespin needs a lot of work, but he is not a zero on that end. The fluidity gives him upside to move with wings on the perimeter. He has good hands, poking the ball away on digs and from loose ball-handlers, but his footwork on defense is currently rough. The rim protection is likely never going to be there. As my friends on Podcast Vs. Everyone like to say, I trust Kyle Smith to make any player a competent defender rotationally, but Hamon-Crespin does not have the vertical pop to scare drivers away and consistently effect shots at the rim. His ability to move at his size means he could develop into an above average rotational defender who can guard wings and forwards on the ball, but it will likely be a couple seasons before he reaches that level of impact.
Crepsin is a great add overall and he increases the ceiling of this team long-term. There are worlds where Hamon-Crespin develops into a devastating offensive player with NBA upside, but even if he doesn’t hit that ceiling, he projects as a great connector who can score in the post and shoot. Smith is excellent at identifying under-the-radar talents, building relationships, and getting commits from high upside players and future pros, Hamon-Crespin is no different.
Welcome to Pullman, Mael Hamon-Crespin!