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PULLMAN, WA - FEBRUARY 23: Washington State Cougars Men’s Basketball versus the University of Washington Huskies at Beasley Coliseum - Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye (35)

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Where does WSU basketball go from here?

Take a deep breath. It’s going to be OK.

Mouhamed Gueye has made his way to the transfer portal.
| Jack Ellis/CougCenter

After news dropped Monday morning that star freshman big man Mouhamed Gueye is now in the NCAA’s transfer portal — which followed on the heels of Tyrell Roberts’ entry into the same, on Friday — Washington State men’s basketball fans who are wondering when the hits are going to stop coming can probably breathe at least a little easier now: The transfer portal is finally effectively closed, as players had to have their name in by May 1 in order to be immediately eligible next season.

There still could be a name that trickles out — there can be a delay of a day or two between a player providing notice and the actual paperwork being filed — but this is probably where the Cougs’ roster stands as Kyle Smith and his staff figure out how to retool:

Man, that’s a lot of OPEN. It’s sort of startling to see it in this fashion, and it’s certainly way, waaaaaay more than we’re used to seeing at this time of year. I do understand why that might induce a fair amount of panic for a lot of people, particularly when it includes the loss of two of the most promising big men who have ever signed up to play for WSU. It’s hard not to feel like all of this is a significant step backward when the program seemed to be on the cusp of huge things with this particular group of players. Beyond that, it’s been almost exclusively departures at the point, save for the commitment of Dylan Darling, who isn’t expected to be an immediate contributor.

While I don’t blame you if you feel that way, panic is not the approach that I would take — not only in terms of what NIL will do for/to WSU, but also in terms of next year’s prospects for the team.

Like most people, I have some thoughts about the current NIL landscape, but they’re not yet fully formed; I want to wait a little longer to see how things actually shake out — both here and around the country — before I decide exactly how I feel about where we’re all going with this thing, and whether it’s as problematic for WSU as it appears at the moment.

As for next year’s team, I’m still cautiously optimistic that they can exceed last season’s accomplishments and continue the upward trend of the program. I’m sure many of you are highly skeptical, and — again — I understand why. But let’s talk this through a little, and maybe you’ll step back from the ledge.

First, instead of focusing on who is gone, let’s talk about who we know is back: The core of TJ Bamba, Dishon Jackson, and Andrej Jakimovski actually is a great place to start with building a team. Coming in together in 2020, each of them has been in the program for two seasons, and all have flashed enough to where it doesn’t take a ton of imagination to see how they could blossom into cornerstones of a great team.

Bamba’s ability to use his strength and get downhill to the rim — complemented by a serviceable 3-point shot — just screams Get Buckets Guy, particularly if he learns how to get some foul calls around the rim and can finish at just a little higher rate. Jackson can be a legit post presence as he continues to mature; we’ve already seen what he can do, and like so many big men who have come through Pullman, it just takes a little time — and some better injury luck — for it all to come together, and the third year is when that tends to happen. Jakimovski, meanwhile, has the best pedigree of the trio, still rating as the sixth-best recruit in program history. The inconsistency that has plagued him (while also being nagged by injuries) is the kind of thing that tends to sort itself out as a player gets older. We know what kind of all-around game he has as a shooter, passer, and rebounder, and if he can just unlock the ability to finish better at the rim, I think you’re talking about a legit 15 points/7 rebound/4 assists guy in 30+ minutes a game.

Improvement isn’t always linear, but all three of these guys — who each have been starters at times in their short careers — look ready to me to step into bigger roles and thrive.

Then, there are the other returners. You know what you’re going to get from DJ Rodman — and there’s a distinct possibility that I’m underselling him by putting him down here instead of up there. His stroke seemed to desert him last year, but he made up for it by picking his spots to get to the rim. He’s a dependable defender and a tenacious rebounder who can continue to be an important role player — with the chance to expand that if the deadly 3-point shot comes back.

As for Myles Rice and Carlos Rosario? Well ... your guess is as good as mine. Both redshirted this year, but Rosario — who played just bits and pieces of his freshman season in 2021 — seems to have taken his because of some sort of injury, as he was spotted with an arm in a sling on the sidelines. Rice, meanwhile, simply rode the bench as a true freshman.

Exactly why Rice redshirted is not quite clear, but what is clear is that everyone I’ve talked to in and around the program swears that he’s actually really good — a silky smooth point guard who’s ready to pick up major minutes next season. Placing much faith in “he’s great in practice” isn’t always the best policy, but these are people I trust who are not prone to overselling.

I have no idea what to make of Rosario. Once upon a time he was a highly regarded recruit — he still ranks seventh all time for WSU, just behind Jakimovski — and maybe that talent is in there, waiting to shine? Again, I’ve got no clue, but he hasn’t left, so ... maybe?

Then it’s a matter of supplementing with the six scholarships you’ve got open.

The Cougs clearly need frontcourt help, and that might be coming soon: four-star center Adrame Diongue out of Compass Prep in Phoenix visited WSU a week and a half ago, and his announcement comes on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. PT. Diongue currently sits 81st nationally in 247Sports’ 2022 composite rankings and 63rd in the On3.com consensus board.

If he were to pick the Cougs — and it appears to be down to us and UNLV — he’d be the second-highest WSU recruit ever by 247Sports’ composite metric, trailing only Klay Thompson. Yes, higher than Gueye, who currently sits third. And if Diongue — all 7-foot/185 pounds of him — does pick WSU, is it really that tough to imagine him, at the very least, approximating Gueye’s contribution as a true freshman?

[UPDATE: He picked the Cougs!]

Then, you work in some transfers. Another ball handler. Maybe a sharp shooter. More depth in the frontcourt. Those guys are all out there in the portal, where programs and players each seem to be taking a more deliberate approach to finding the right landing spots for everyone. And there aren’t just “guys” in there — there are loads of guard/wing types who would be legitimate upgrades over the players at those positions who have transferred out of WSU.

I won’t lie: It’s going to be awful tough to find an upgrade on Abogidi, or even just someone who can do what he does defensively. But what if I told you I don’t think it’s crazy to think that Gueye might come back? Would things feel pretty different with a trio of Jackson + Diongue/Gueye up front to go with Bamba + Jakimovski and Rice + transfers? Just something to think about — I don’t think it’s actually that far-fetched.

I know this process is uncomfortable. But the reality is that building a basketball roster just looks different now than it once did. A lot of fans pine for the days of Dick and Tony Bennett and their brick-by-brick building of the program, but if you’ve been paying attention, that hasn’t been a reality in college basketball for years now. (It might even be fair to say that Tony’s 2019 championship was the last team of its kind, as Saint Anthony himself has struggled to adapt to the changing landscape, having landed in the NIT last year, like WSU.)

Player movement is the new norm, which means building a winning roster is just going to look different now. If you can put together a talented core that develops and supplement it with talented one- and two-year players — whether they’re precocious high schoolers or transfers with established resumes — you can build a winning team.

Some fans will embrace that change. Others will just accept it because, well, what choice is there if you want to continue being a fan? Still others will simply never get over it and will just abandon the sport. So it goes.

It’s definitely insane right now. I’m not going to try and convince you otherwise. Maybe this eventually at least becomes a more sane process, but since this isn’t really a rational market, it probably will only happen if the involved parties decide on some regulation — whether by regulating the NIL marketplace or by making player contracted employees with their schools. That probably doesn’t happen anytime soon, so this — more or less — is how it is now going to be.

Personally, I’m just rolling with it. While I fall into the “what choice do I have?” camp — I mean, I keep writing for this silly website, and I subjected myself to nearly every game of the Ernie Kent era — I also take a ton of comfort in the fact that Kyle Smith is the one orchestrating this. The gains made in his first three years are unparalleled in modern WSU men’s basketball history, and he and his staff have proven again and again and again to be shrewd recruiters and excellent talent evaluators.

I trust them wholeheartedly.

Let’s start adding the pieces and get back to getting excited for WSU’s return to the NCAAs for the first time in 15 years.

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