PULLMAN, Wash. — When asked to describe his team's offseason in one word, WSU men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith chose 'fluid.' And that pretty well sums it up.
There’s been a lot of movement down on the Palouse this spring, as seven players have hit the portal, including four that played starting minutes throughout last season.
“For me, it's similar to our first year we came up here, as far as nonstop recruiting,” said Smith.
Five years ago, the word recruiting was almost strictly used in college basketball in terms of high schoolers.
Now it extends to the portal and, in many cases, the players currently taking up scholarships on your own roster.
“There are 13 potential free agents every year, so my job is not coaching anymore. It's more general manager because, like I said, I’ve got to manage this stuff. I don't know if it's sustainable for my life, for my lifestyle,” said Smith with a laugh. “When you say, ‘Is it sustainable?’ Yes, but when you're around the clock as my phone is buzzing nonstop here, that's where it gets tricky.”
What’s even more tricky is that winning has more pitfalls than ever before for non-blue blood programs.
It gets the players attention, in particular from agents, who are looking to get their clients the most money as possible.
The best way to do that is to get a bidding war started by going in the portal.
“We were a victim of our own success a little bit. I think had we lost early in the NIT, then it would have been like, ‘Hey, let's come back!’ But we garnered more interest from agents and other people,” said Smith. “This was a little shocking to me, to be honest. It was a boom, like, ‘Okay, guys are going to do this.’ They had some success, and I told our staff, I said, ‘Guys are known to trade up whether it's cars or other things.’”
There are currently three Cougs in the portal who played significant minutes and have not announced their next moves.
Smith said that forward Efe Abogidi has a lot of emotional connections to Pullman, so the staff is hoping that helps them in their quest to retain him. Smith also said that as long as fellow forward Mouhamed Gueye doesn’t go the NBA route, he believes the freshman will return to WSU. Smith also hopes that one or two of those guys returning would also lure shooting guard Tyrell Roberts back.
Smith isn’t naïve though. He knows that it’s time for WSU to up their NIL game as well.
“There's just not a lot of people and businesses,” Smith said of Pullman. “We're just in the process of educating everyone. What the process is, and it's tricky. We're just trying to educate people in and around our area that, ‘Hey, this is the new model, and we're going to have to do some things to try to at least make our experience competitive.’ It's gonna put the pressure on Washington State basketball. What are we going to do to keep up?”
Smith also mentioned another path for WSU may be the Moneyball route, which essentially means pairing younger talents with older guys transferring up from smaller schools.
Obviously though, that means more turnover year to year, but that just might be the reality regardless.
“The schools that are really following the rules are going to fall behind probably, but that's okay. That's kind of what it was before,” said Smith with a chuckle. “Before, there were certain programs that were outside the lines, but there was this amateurism. We still held on to this idea that there was the student-athlete. That might have changed forever.”
As for Smith’s message to fans currently worried about the state of the program, he keeps it simple: “Keep the faith. We'll be fine.”