Admit it, you thought they were done!
I’ll admit, I thought they were too.
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin had said as much — or so we thought. He’s never 100-percent forthcoming with his roster plans, and that’s what makes it all so interesting to follow.
Yesterday, we saw why. Northwest College (WY) post Axel Okongo committed to Missouri with a tweet. On the surface, Okongo, a native of France, appears to be a little underwhelming, but reading Matt Harris’ Q&A with JUCO Advocate scout Brandon Goble will put your mind at ease. Okongo was a prospect lost in a bad situation, playing at a JUCO program with little interest in developing the athletic but raw post.
Left without any real college interest, Okongo participated in a few showcases, and it was at the Evan Turner Showcase in Chicago where he stood out to Goble, who reached out to Missouri assistant coach Michael Porter Sr.
Axel was a participant in the @ETurnerShowcase this year where he really showed out in front of numerous scouts. The upside of the 7ft 240lb big man is off the charts. Mizzou may have just stole one of the most under the radar players in recent memory. https://t.co/gDqXsF16rt— JUCOadvocate (@JUCOadvocate) June 10, 2019
Goble’s review might make you even forget about the incredibly pedestrian numbers Okongo put up this past season at Northwest.
Still, there will likely be a learning curve, regardless. But the good news is Missouri was prepared to press on this season without Okongo so he won’t be forced into action if he isn’t ready. But the Tigers at the least have a prospect who can lean on people in practice, and at most has a potential diamond in the rough who just needs the right light.
So about those scholarships...
The biggest question coming out of this seems to be about the 2020 class. And I’ll reiterate something I’ve said more than once: MU will have as many scholarships as they need next year. Right now, the program will have one available. But there is flexibility from guys who might look for professional opportunities, more playing time and so on. There’s room if the coaching staff wants it. If all of the Tigers top targets in 2020 wish to hop on board, Martin and Co. will make it work.
This upcoming season, Mizzou is 13-deep, and how the depth plays out will be something worth watching. So for brevity’s sake, I’m merely adding Okongo to the existing depth chart.
I feel like there isn’t much new, unless Okongo turns out to be a revelation. Currently, we think Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Javon Pickett, Torrence Watson and Xavier Pinson are probably going to play the most on the perimeter. Inside, Jeremiah Tilmon, Reed Nikko and Tray Jackson could soak up the most time, with minutes available for the others.
Competition for those minutes should be fierce, and I like bringing in player like Okongo, who can push guys already on the roster and whose skill set contrasts with Nikko. Even if the ceiling for Okongo is high, he’s still going to need time to develop. Meantime, Nikko’s proven he can provide 12 minutes a night spelling Tilmon.
While Nikko is a more traditional big, you know what you’re getting from him. He’s going to set up on the low block, play defense and rebound. Okongo is big but his game isn’t one of a traditional back-to-the-basket threat. Instead, he’s more mobile, comfortable playing pick-and-rolls and as a rim-runner.
If you compare Okongo to an NBA body like Clint Capela, it makes a lot of sense. He’s not Lamarcus Aldridge or even Anthony Davis. But he’s an integral part of the Rockets system. With him setting ball screens for James Harden, defenses have to consider the skilled ball handler barreling towards the rim. If you overcommit, a simple lob gets lofted for Capela to smash down at the rim for an easy two. Finally, sending help down from the corner leaves shooters open.
With that comparison in mind, you can see how Okongo can fit into this roster — if he develops. Initially, he’ll likely fight Nikko for minutes, and next season, with plenty of work in the weight room and hammering on the skill work, he could take on a much more impactful role.
The ceiling for him is high even if initial expectation may be more tempered.