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Axel Okongo’s transfer means Missouri has flexibility over the summer

If the right name pops up, Cuonzo Martin can pounce.

NCAA Basketball: Chicago State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, news broke about Axel Okongo entering his name into the transfer portal, and the reaction was mostly a shrug. No offense intended towards Okongo, but his addition to the roster was almost certain to end with him spending the majority of his time sitting on the bench.

Mizzou didn’t need Okongo to be a starting center. They already had one in Jeremiah Tilmon. And in terms of depth, the Tigers also possessed a qualified backup in Reed Nikko. Last spring, Cuonzo Martin wasn’t looking to add a body, but he found one with size who could challenge shots at the rim in practice and hopefully make the team better. But looking at a senior year spent much like his junior year, Okongo opted to move on.

For his one season in Columbia, here were his numbers:

  • 30 minutes played in 8 games, 2-2 from the field, 1-2 from the Free Throw line, 2 rebounds, 1 block, 1 turnover.

Obviously, the output from Okongo isn’t anything than can’t be replaced. Additionally, scholarship flexibility at this time of the year isn’t all that valuable...but we do love our scholarship counts around here.

mizzou basketball scholarship count 6-6-20

I feel pretty confident Jordan Wilmore can at least replicate the production of Okongo as a freshman. If not, Martin seems confident in a growing role for Parker Braun also. Either way, MU can likely find a way to fill 12 minutes to 16 minutes of coverage each game backstopping Tilmon.

Okongo was projected to being the third center, and in that case, simply adding a player to occupy a 13th scholarship makes little sense. MU can head into the season with just 12 scholarship players. They don’t have a need to fill the vacancy unless the right name pops up.

So, are there any names?

Yeah, actually, there are two really intriguing names who happened to pop up and available to be scooped up yesterday as well:

Yor Anei is a productive big from the Kansas City area who is leaving Oklahoma State after two seasons. Given that the NCAA recently hammered OSU for recruiting violations, including a postseason ban, it’s likely Anei will be immediately eligible at his new home.

Anei averaged around 20 minutes each of the last two seasons and was good in his role. Despite hailing from Lee’s Summit, Anei wasn't heavily recruited by Missouri when he was in high school. At the time, Martin was focused more on other targets, and the staff wasn’t putting a premium on post players in the class. They still had Tilmon, Nikko, and Mitchell Smith on the roster.

Watch out for Creighton in this race. If Mizzou hops in they’ll have a chance, but the expectations this season are much higher at Creighton, and they need a big man.

MU fans should be familiar with the other name that went into the transfer portal.

When Blake Hinson was a recruit, he visited Columbia, and his choice came down to the Tigers and and Ole Miss. The Tigers felt good about their chances, but Hinson opted for Ole Miss.

Back then, Hinson’s decision didn’t produce much angst, either. Mizzou had Jontay Porter coming back, and the Tigers offense would orbit around him. Meanwhile, Ole Miss had all kinds of minutes available for a rebuilding team, and Hinson saw the path.

Why he’s transferring? I have no idea.

Since arriving in Oxford, Hinson’s been a key rotation piece, a combo forward who’s at home spotting up and playing in space. While his overall efficiency dipped last season, he was a double-digit scorer and a pivotal piece for the Rebels, who will need to replace leading scorer Breein Tyree. In other words, it was unlikely coach Kermit Davis would shrink the junior’s role in a campaign where Ole Miss could be on the the NCAA tournament bubble.

For whatever reason he’s available, and he’s a really good combo forward. He fits nicely at either the three or the four spot, and Mizzou could use consistency from that spot. I don’t know if Missouri will pursue either Anei or Hinson, but now with Okongo gone, they at least have the flexibility to get there if they need to.