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Taking stock of the WSU roster following the coaching change

Who’s in? Who’s out? Who are we unsure of?

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NCAA Basketball: Washington at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Shortly after Kyle Smith was officially introduced as the head coach of the Washington State Cougars, he got right to work with the players he inherited from Ernie Kent.

Of course, there always is some roster turnover when a new coach takes over. In WSU’s case, there has been a lot. But it appears the movement has now finally come to an end. Here’s the current scholarship situation; below that, you can review the twists and turns of the last handful of months.

Two feet in the paint

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Washington State
Jeff Pollard is now all in.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the players (in alphabetical order) who are listed on WSU’s 2019-2020 roster.

  • Ahmed Ali, PG - 5-11/165 (senior in 2019-20, 7.3 points per game and 2.9 assists per game in 2018-19)
  • Isaac Bonton, G - 6-3/185 (junior, 21.4 points, 5.6 assists, 5.5 rebounds at Casper College)
  • Marvin Cannon, SG - 6-5/170 (junior, 7.9 points, 3.4 rebounds)
  • CJ Elleby, G/F - 6-6/200 (sophomore, 14.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3 assists)
  • Daron Henson, F - 6-7/210 (junior, 12.3 points, 4.7 rebounds at Salt Lake Community College)
  • Deion James, G/F - 6-6/220 (senior, 10.4 points, 5.3 rebounds in 2017-18 at Colorado State)
  • Aljaz Kunc, F - 6-8/198 (sophomore, 2.6 points, 1.8 rebounds)
  • Volodymyr Markovetskyy, C - 7-1/230 (freshman; 11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks at FIBA European U18 Championships)
  • Tony Miller, F - 6-6/215 (junior; 18.0 points, 6.2 rebounds at Division II Seattle Pacific)
  • Chance Moore, G/F (sophomore, sat out via transfer from Wichita State)
  • Ryan Murphy, SG (junior, 18.5 points at New Mexico Junior College)
  • Jeff Pollard, C/F - 6-9/240 (senior, 4.8 points, 2.6 rebounds)
  • Ryan Rapp, G - 6-5/172 (freshman)
  • Jervae Robinson, PG - 6-2/185 (senior, 4.6 points, 1.9 assists)
  • DJ Rodman, G/F - 6-6/190 (freshman)
  • Isaiah Wade, C/F (senior, 4.7 points, 3.5 rebounds)
  • Noah Williams, G - 6-5/192 (freshman)

UPDATE, 8/17: Well, the Ali saga has taken another, final, turn. A report surfaced on August 5 that he was indeed leaving the program, and three days later, the Hawaii Warriors announced they had signed Ali. At this point, it’s clear that Ali was always looking for an escape hatch, but didn’t find one to his liking until the offer from Hawaii — which does have a need at backup point guard. Taking Ali’s place is Tony Miller, a Montana Grizzlies transfer who sat out last season after transferring to Missoula from Division II Seattle Pacific. It’s believed he’ll be immediately eligible.

UPDATE, 6/18: Surprise! Marvin Cannon is back! This is really huge for Smith — in an interview with us, he called Cannon “my Kyle Weaver,” indicating where he sees him fitting in with the defense. Cannon does things on that end that nobody else on the roster has shown the ability to do. With his experience and his reputation as a hard worker, Cannon’s presence on this roster is a big development. He’ll probably start. And that means at this point — barring a big surprise — the roster movement is complete.

UPDATE, 6/ 7: Looks like Ali has changed his mind and is coming back to WSU after all! I’m not sure exactly where he fits in the guard situation, but at least it’s some added depth from a mature player with Pac-12 experience.

UPDATE, 5/28: WSU got the best piece of news it could get on Tuesday morning — versatile guard/forward CJ Elleby has withdrawn from the draft and is returning to school. It’s difficult to overstate how big that is for Smith; Elleby gives the him a legit, dynamic go-to player who can make everyone around him better. I don’t know how many wins Elleby’s return is worth to the team, but I have to think it’s at least a handful. And there’s reason to believe Elleby has both the skills and the personality to thrive under Smith’s coaching.

UPDATE, 5/17 (evening): Some late news on a Friday, as WSU has signed guard/forward DJ Rodman as the seventh member of the 2019 class, according to a source. (It’s since been made official.) Yes, he’s the son of NBA hall of famer Dennis Rodman, but his game is a bit different; he’s a scorer (nearly 25 ppg in high school) with a strong perimeter game. The roster is now full, but there could still be a couple of spots available depending on what happens with Ahmed Ali and Nigel John.

UPDATE, 5/17: Ryan Rapp has officially signed.

UPDATE, 5/15: Kyle Smith has added a big man to his class, signing 7-foot Ukrainian big man Volodymyr Markovetskyy to a letter of intent. As we noted in the story, this is a pretty significant signing for a couple of reasons; Markovetskyy fills a need on a roster nearly bereft of big men while also signifying an ability to recruit talent from overseas. As we’ve talked about before, WSU needs to do things in a non-traditional way, and tapping into international talent pools was a staple the Bennett regime.

UPDATE, 5/7 (evening): Well, this has been a busy day. First, we found out Chance Moore had left the program. Then, 6-foot-5 Seattle-area guard Noah Williams announced his commitment to WSU (which was subsequently confirmed with an LOI announcement from the school). This was a pretty massive get for Smith — Williams (son of former WSU player Guy Williams) had originally picked the Buffalo Bulls out of O’Dea, but the coaching change there opened things back up. Williams is rated more highly by 247Sports than any recruit signed by Ernie Kent.

Finally, the night was capped with a report from Theo Lawson at the Spokesman-Review that Marvin Cannon was exploring his transfer options. This comes as a pretty big surprise.

UPDATE, 5/7: Moore has left the program without ever playing a game, a result that isn’t totally surprising. He left the Wichita State Shockers four games into his freshman season because of playing time, and it was believed that was related to defensive demands. He signed up for Kent’s offense-first program, but instead ended up with another coach who values defense like Gregg Marshall.

UPDATE, 5/3: News came down Thursday night that Smith will be bringing Australian Ryan Rapp with him — the 6-foot-5 guard signed with Smith at San Francisco but the signing was officially announced by the school just a week ago. He apparently had a change of heart. With the assumed transfers of Ahmed Ali and Isaiah Wade, this would leave Smith with two scholarships to give, presuming Nigel John keeps his commitment. We still have not heard anything from him since he announced he was reopening his recruitment.

UPDATE, 5/2: We had been waiting a while to learn what Daron Henson would do, and we finally received some clarity — Henson told Cougfan he’s honoring the letter of intent he signed in November and still intends to be a Coug. Then, just a short time later, junior college combo guard Isaac Bonton committed to the program. We covered both here. Both were pretty huge recruiting wins for Smith. Henson seems to have a ton of potential as a stretch forward, while Bonton is a skilled scorer with solid size for the position that should allow him to guard the way Smith will want. Smith probably has three scholarships left to give, assuming Nigel John sticks with his LOI; although Ahmed Ali and Isaiah Wade still appear on the team’s roster, it is expected that they are transferring.

UPDATE, 4/30: Smith has his first recruiting commit: grad transfer Deion James.

UPDATE, 4/11: Junior college transfer Ryan Murphy, who signed with the Cougs in the early period, has asked for his release.

UPDATE, 4/10: Jeff Pollard has been moved up here after announcing yesterday that he’ll be remaining in Pullman for his final year of eligibility. Both Ahmed Ali and Isaiah Wade, originally on this list, are reportedly in the NCAA transfer portal. They’ve been moved to “in the vicinity of the paint.”

Ali, Robinson and Wade are all junior college transfers who have a redshirt available, but it’s hard to imagine they’d find another high major landing spot after unimpressive junior seasons on a bad team. There’s a chance they could leave if Smith tells them they’re likely to see a reduced role — Ali seems like a possible candidate there, since Robinson and Wade both already had small roles and haven’t indicated they’re exploring a transfer; Ali also is the weakest defender of the three — but it’s too soon for that.

Cannon and Kunc are both young, talented players whom we presume Smith would like to keep, and they’ve given no indication they’re exploring transfer options.

Moore, meanwhile, is already in the midst of sitting out until December after transferring from the Wichita State Shockers midyear, so it’s practically impossible to see him moving on again unless he was inclined to head to a junior college. He’s not in any of the photos from the workout above, but his tweets make it sound as if he’s still all in. It’s worth noting that he left the other WSU amid questions about his commitment to defense, and Smith is going to ask for the same kind of commitment to defense as Gregg Marshall did.

Murphy is a bounceback player from the Charlotte 49ers who has been enthusiastic on Twitter about coming to WSU, reaffirming his commitment shortly after Kent’s firing and before Smith’s hiring. Like Moore, it’s worth noting that Murphy — who was an “instant offense” option off the bench in his lone Division I season — transferred out of Charlotte after the 49ers hired Tony Bennett disciple Ron Sanchez.

One foot in the paint

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Stanford
CJ Elleby.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

These guys might be leaving, but they seem likely to stay.

  • CJ Elleby, G/F (sophomore, 14.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3 assists)
  • Jeff Pollard, C/F (senior, 4.8 points, 2.6 rebounds)

UPDATE, 5/28: Elleby has pulled out of the draft.

UPDATE, 4/30: Theo Lawson is reporting Elleby hired an agent and has a bunch of NBA workouts, but not to worry — the new rules allow a player to do that while retaining their eligibility, provided they pull out of the draft before the deadline. This is all part of the expected process and doesn’t really mean anything for his future at WSU. Lawson also notes the Elleby has participated in all the team workouts so far.

UPDATE, 4/10: Pollard is staying, ensuring a steady influence on the interior.

Elleby announced his intention on Friday to explore the NBA Draft, and while he had an incredible freshman season by WSU standards, he doesn’t currently appear on anyone’s top 100 draft prospects list. As we mentioned before, there’s zero risk to this move for Elleby, who has said he won’t hire an agent. He’s also prominently in the photos above.

Another guy in the photos above is Pollard, whom we know put his name into the transfer portal as a potential grad transfer before Smith was hired. Like Elleby declaring for the draft, that’s a zero-risk move for Pollard — putting your name in the portal simply allows programs to contact you and isn’t a commitment to leave, so it allows Pollard to see what options might be out there to hedge his bets. Given the dearth of bigs on WSU’s roster and given Pollard’s skill set defensively — good at moving his feet, excellent at boxing out — here’s to guessing Pollard won’t just be back, he’ll have a pretty big role on next year’s team under Smith.

In the vicinity of the paint

These players seem highly uncertain.

  • Ahmed Ali, PG (senior, 7.3 points, 2.9 assists)
  • Marvin Cannon, SG (junior, 7.9 points, 3.4 rebounds)
  • Daron Henson, F (junior, 12.3 points, 4.7 rebounds at Salt Lake Community College)
  • Nigel John, C (freshman)
  • Isaiah Wade, C/F (senior, 4.7 points, 3.5 rebounds)

UPDATE, 6/18: Given Cannon’s return, the math just isn’t there for John to be on the team. He had an offer from Pitt, but reportedly didn’t act quickly enough on it and the Panthers moved on. Here’s to guessing he ends up at a prep school.

UPDATE, 6/7: Ali is sticking around after all. Now we just wait on John, who still hasn’t given any public indication of his intentions. However, it seems like he might be out — WSU is continuing to recruit, and there’s only a scholarship available if John isn’t coming to Pullman.

UPDATE, 5/28: John has been conspicuously silent during this process, but he now says he has picked up an offer from the Pittsburgh Panthers and their new coach, Jeff Capel. He appears to be talking more to the Pitt media than to any WSU media, so make of that what you will.

UPDATE, 5/17: A source confirmed that both Cannon and Wade are not expected back, while Ali and John are both still in the picture.

UPDATE, 5/7: Cannon arrives on this list after it was reported that he’s in the NCAA transfer portal. As noted in our story, this is ... a little weird. There was every reason to think Cannon would be an important piece for Kyle Smith. It’s entirely possible that he pulls his name out and stays, but this is weird timing if he was just intending to see what’s out there.

UPDATE, 5/2: Henson has finally affirmed that he will be coming to WSU.

UPDATE, 4/23: Smith said on Jon Rothstein’s podcast that he has six guys who are currently his core group. That would mean that Ali and Wade are expected to be gone; however, both still appear on WSU’s official roster.

UPDATE, 4/10: Both Ali and Wade are reportedly exploring transfer options. As we’ve noted elsewhere, this doesn’t ensure they will be transferring; it simply gives them the opportunity to be recruited by other schools. Ali has been reported as being as good as gone by Verbal Commits, and while nothing is yet official, Ali was always the most likely of the former junior college transfers to depart. He’s a scorer at heart, and he’s going to be asked to defend in a way he didn’t have to last season. Additionally, it wasn’t a stretch to think that Smith would prefer Robinson to Ali as the starter. Wade’s future sounds murkier.

Henson is the jewel of the 2019 class, and he’s gone radio silent since Kent’s firing. The Utah State Aggies bounceback is a long stretch four who can really shoot and figured to be an immediate starter. He’d seem to have lots of options if WSU releases him from his letter of intent.

John, meanwhile, announced via Twitter that he was reopening his recruitment, then said he was still committed to WSU and just checking out his options. He’s super raw and hasn’t really played against high level competition, but the tools are attractive.

No longer in the arena

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Washington State
Carter Skaggs was unable to replicate the success of his sophomore season.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

These players are out:

  • Ahmed Ali, PG - 5-11/165 (senior, 7.3 points and 2.9 assists)
  • Marvin Cannon, SG (junior, 7.9 points, 3.4 rebounds)
  • Chance Moore, G/F (sophomore, sat out via transfer from Wichita State)
  • Carter Skaggs, G/F (senior, 6 points, 1.7 rebounds)
  • Isaiah Wade, C/F (senior, 4.7 points, 3.5 rebounds)

UPDATE, 8/17: Ali has transferred to Hawaii.

UPDATE, 6/18: Just kidding! Cannon is back!

UPDATE, 6/7: Cannon and Wade are both no longer on WSU’s roster.

UPDATE, 5/17: A source confirmed that although Cannon and Wade both still appear on WSU’s roster, they are not expected to return.

UPDATE, 5/7: Moore is no longer on WSU’s roster.

UPDATE, 4/23: Skaggs is no longer on WSU’s roster.

Skaggs is in the transfer portal, and it sure doesn’t seem like he’s looking back. After a rough season in which his role diminished from a part-time starter to just 75 minutes played over the final 16 games (including seven DNPs), he told Jamey Vinnick at Cougar Sports Network:

“I’d like to be closer to home with my dad retiring from coaching. That’s really the main reason though is that I want to be closer to home and I’ve kind of had my mind made up for a while. ...

“I would consider it if they brought in a guy that was going to be a great fit and a great situation for me, but like I’m 99 percent sure I’m gonna go closer to home and go play somewhere I’m gonna be used and valued but I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent gone.”

Home, by the way, is in Indiana. He’s not pictured in the workout above.

These situations are obviously fluid. We’ll update as changes occur.