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Andrej Jakimovski finds his way back home, will return to WSU

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The one-time four-star recruit isn’t transferring out, after all.

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

Nearly two months after he put his name into the transfer portal and one month after he committed to Loyola Maryland, Andrej Jakimovski is pulling an abrupt U-turn and returning to the Washington State Cougars for a second season, CougCenter has learned.

“I could not be more excited to announce that I am returning to Wazzu! When I entered the transfer portal I left my heart in Pullman,” Jakimovski told CougCenter via text message. “I have made life-long relationships here and I can’t wait to rejoin my teammates and coaches. We have unfinished business in the Pac-12 and I have unfinished business as a player! I’ve found my way back home! Go Cougs!!!”

It’s an incredibly exciting development for Kyle Smith’s squad in its push to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. It’s hard to imagine they could have added any other player of Jakimovski’s caliber this late in the game — he’s a former 4-star recruit who only scratched the surface of his ability last season — and he won’t have the learning curve required of adding someone outside the program.

College basketball rosters can get incredibly fluid during the offseason, and Jakimovski’s journey is a prime example of the musical chairs each player finds himself playing as he searches for the optimal spot to advance his career.

Back in April, the 6-foot-8 wing was put in the midst of a minutes and scholarship limit crunch after the commitments of Kim Aiken Jr. (who was transferring in from Eastern Washington) and four-star prospect Mouhamed Gueye (rated as one of the top 50 recruits in the country). But things changed a couple of weeks ago when Aiken was denied admission to WSU’s political science graduate program.

Having never enrolled at WSU, Aiken moved on to Arizona, and suddenly there was a scholarship available at WSU once again. Much like Aiken, Jakimovski — who has been at home in North Macedonia — didn’t enroll at Loyola Maryland, opening the door for him to return to Pullman.

Without a doubt, this eases much of the sting of losing Aiken, who was projected to start at the 3. While Jakimovski and Aiken are undoubtedly different players — Aiken is known for his defense, while Jakimovski is a player with high offensive upside — there is no denying Jakimovski’s talent: He came to WSU as just the program’s fifth four-star recruit in the last two decades and first since 2009 (Xavier Thames), and he went on to start 19 of the 25 games he played, finishing just behind Efe Abogidi in minutes played by a freshman.

Jakimovski’s return will lead to a small bump in projections at barttorvik.com:

Interestingly, you’ll notice that Torvik’s laptop doesn’t think much of Jakimovski’s potential offensive contributions — the algorithm actually sees Jakimovski’s addition as a net positive because of his defense. We think that’s underselling what he’s going to do this season, but it’s not a huge shock that a computer would see it that way.

Jakimovski averaged just 5.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists as a true freshman and his offensive rating was a paltry 87.5 while using just 16% of WSU’s possessions. An average player with average usage would be expected to be a bit over 100; ideally, you’d hope for a low-usage player like Jakimovski to be well over 100, and Torvik’s site doesn’t see that kind of jump in Jakimovski’s immediate future — he’s projecting Jakimovski for 97 on 17%, which is better, but still not great.

However, we’re much more bullish about what Jakimovski might give the Cougars this season. His below-average rating last season largely was driven by a comically low 2-point percentage (13-of-44, 29.5%), and it’s really hard to imagine that a player of his size, strength, and international experience doesn’t substantially improve that number. It’s also not hard to imagine he’ll give WSU more production from 3-point range — even with one very terrible stretch, he still shot 32% from beyond the arc overall.

When asked how he is striving this offseason to improve on those freshman numbers, Jakimovski said he is working on every aspect of my game. He also revealed that he was hampered by a groin injury last season, one that required surgery.

“I’m 100% healthy now!! I focused more on my two-point game, pull-ups, finishing around the rim, and being more aggressive to get more free throws attempts,” Jakimovski added.

And if you’re skeptical about his defensive contributions, we’d just point this out: The coaching staff trusted him to play a ton of minutes on a defense-first team, so logic would dictate that he probably was doing at least a good enough job on that end.

So ... what does this mean for the Aiken-sized hole in the starting lineup? It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Jakimovski goes from transferring to Loyola Maryland to starting again for a high major team trying to finish in the top half of the Pac-12 and get into the NCAA tournament. DJ Rodman played incredibly well down the stretch last season, so he surely will have something to say about that — as might Gueye.

But even if Jakimovski doesn’t win that spot, he’s still poised to be a valuable member of this team, as you can never have too many shooters. And even more exciting than that is Jakimovski’s ceiling, which seems so high — that’s where his initial move toward a transfer really stung. He seems like a guy who could be a centerpiece in the future, and it’s incredibly cool to have him back in the fold to continue to develop.

It’s worth noting that this is a tough blow for Loyola Maryland, but like we said at the top: Musical chairs. Everyone knows the game, and the reality is that they lost a potential star because of the ripple effect of WSU’s college of political science. They didn’t do anything wrong and didn’t deserve this, but ... so it goes.

With school starting in a week, here’s the (presumably) final roster/scholarship situation heading into the 2021-22 season: