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Missouri lands pledge from Yaya Keita

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The DeSmet big man’s athleticism and energy fill a pressing need for the Tigers in the 2021 class.

mizzou basketball recruiting

What a difference two weeks can make, right?

In late August, Missouri found itself with a lone commitment from Anton Brookshire, and Texas was close to scooping up a pair of coveted prospects in Tamar Bates and David Joplin. Back then, it was fair to wonder when coach Cuonzo Martin would experience a breakthrough.

Well, it’s here.

First came Kaleb Brown. Two days later, the staff snared a long and rangy wing in Sean Durugordon. Meanwhile, Martin’s stealthy ways reaped dividends with Trevon Brazile, whom the Tigers had been courting just before his stock blew up. Yesterday, Brazile snapped up an offer only four hours after it was extended.

All the while, though, the Tigers played a waiting game for their lead target at a position of need. And on Wednesday, the program’s patience was rewarded when DeSmet forward Yaya Keita committed to MU, becoming the fifth member of the 2021 class and its first top-150 prospect.

So, in a mere 16 days, Martin locked up four pledges and filled out the bulk of his vacancies. That rapid work not only yielded several high-upside pieces but enables the staff to turn its focus to a 2022 class chock full of local talent. As for the last opening, Martin can pause, take a breath, and wait to see if the spring transfer market offers up an experienced ball-handler.

For now, though, he’s assembled a class that’s cracked the top 25 nationally.

Let’s Meet Yaya Keita

  • Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.
  • High School: DeSmet
  • Position: Post
  • Ht/Wt: 6-foot-9/225 pounds
  • Rivals Ranking: No. 145
  • 247 Sports Composite Ranking: No. 169 (0.8998)
  • Total announced offers: 8
  • Offers to note: Iowa, Iowa State, West Virginia, Saint Louis, Missouri State

From a physical standpoint, Keita’s built for the rigors of high-major hoops with a muscular frame, strong hands, and a sturdy base to body up on the block. A youth spent playing soccer in Mali, where Keita grew up, also helped him develop nimble feet and spatial awareness that comes in handy operating as a roller and cutter.

In another era, the Spartans’ offense would orbit around its sizable front line. Yet coach Kent Williams’ system doesn’t flow through Gassama or Keita. Playing in the half-court, Keita’s touches come by slipping picks on side ball-screens, diving on high pick-and-rolls, and filling the short corner when a defense rotates.

On occasion, DeSmet inverted the floor, had Keita set a down screen and bury a smaller guard on a switch. There were also a few instances where Keita operated in handoffs, faced up when defenses dropped back, and stroked home a jumper. Failing that, he’s relentless on the glass and able to track longer misses.

Once the tempo picks up, Keita doesn’t lumber down the floor, making him an ideal rim runner. He can also trigger transition opportunities off deflections. There are even a few cut-ups of him pulling down a miss and pushing the break.

All of those traits make Keita a perfect fit for the direction of Mizzou’s offense, which has shifted toward ball-screens, spacing shooters in the corner and in need of a mobile big. While Keita might be slightly undersized, his fluidity, mobility and motor more than make up for lacking a few inches. And if his face-up game becomes more assured, it’s not out of the question for him to evolve into a pick-and-pop threat.

With Jeremiah Tilmon set to exit after this season, securing a long-term solution to pair with Jordan Wilmore was crucial. Now, that task is checked off.