There has been much consternation for the last couple of months around the uncertain nature of the Washington State Cougars men’s basketball roster, but a pair of major moves today proved coach Kyle Smith absolutely has the program continuing on its path back to the NCAA tournament.
First, big man Mouhamed Gueye — one of the bright spots of last season’s NIT final four run as a true freshman — announced he’s returning to WSU.
“I decided to go back to Washington State to help finish what we started and to keep getting better as a player and a person,” Gueye told ESPN.com’s draft expert Jonathan Givony. “Next season will be different because I will have more responsibility and going through the draft process I learned and experienced a lot and I feel like my confidence went up and will carry to the season. I just want to get better in every aspect of the game and be the best version of myself.”
Shortly thereafter, news broke that the Cougs had picked up one of the best guards left on the market: Tennessee transfer Justin Powell.
“I was looking for opportunity,” Powell told Givony. “Going somewhere I can have the ball in my hands and showcase what I can do like I did my first year in college. Playing in an NBA offense in terms of pick-and-roll concepts and spacing was important. Washington State led the Pac-12 in 3-pointers attempted and they had several departures in the backcourt, which left a big void there that I can hopefully step into. I’m going into it with the mindset of working hard and everything will work out. I’ll try to be a good leader and hopefully help the team make it to the NCAA tournament.”
WSU fans already are familiar with Gueye, the long, athletic center/forward who looked to only be scratching the surface of what he’s capable of, showing flashes of brilliance while on his way to averaging 7.4 points and 5.2 rebounds. He got better in conference play, where he was named to the all-Pac-12 conference team, highlighted by a three-game stretch late in the season against Washington (twice) and Oregon State in which he scored 25, 10, and 19.
This season, with Efe Abogidi seemingly gone to the NBA’s G-League and a trio of high-volume shooting guards having moved on, it would be expected that Gueye would step into more of a feature role on offense for the Cougs while still being a key cog of the defense, able to guard multiple positions.
Powell, meanwhile, fills the gaping hole left by Michael Flowers at the point. At 6-foot-6 and 197 pounds, he was considered a high-three-star prospect out of Kentucky in 2020, featuring offers from Auburn, Cincinnati, Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Tennessee. In his first 10 games for Bruce Pearl, he averaged 28 minutes, 11.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists, which included a pair of 26-point outings. However, a concussion ended his season, and he transferred to Tennessee.
While the Vols thrived, it proved to be a bad fit for Powell, who averaged only 14 minutes and 3.7 points. Now, he moves to WSU, where he’ll once again have the opportunity to be a playmaker with the ball in his hands — and plenty of front court targets to throw to. His shots are distributed fairly evenly between 2s and 3s, and he’s a deadly shooter from deep, having hit 43 of his 106 attempts in his 40 career games.
Powell has three years of eligibility remaining, but it seems as if he’s targeting a pro career sooner rather than later: He was showing up on mock NBA draft boards early in his freshman season, and after last season, he considered heading to the NBL in Australia before choosing WSU.
Here’s a look at what he can do:
With that, the Cougs now have one scholarship left to fill: