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Yankuba Sima transfers from St. John’s

The Spanish center leaves the Red Storm after the first semester of play

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Michigan State vs St. John's Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Yankuba Sima, the 6’11” sophomore center from Spain, will transfer from St. John’s basketball. As a sophomore, he will have two years and a semester remaining at another NCAA institution, and should be eligible next December.

“I want to thank the coaching staff and the administration for all of their support since I arrived at St. John’s,” said Sima in a press release. “I enjoyed my experience at St. John’s, but right now I feel it is best for me to explore options that will be a better fit for me as I work toward my goals.”

“We wish Yankuba the best of luck,” said head coach Chris Mullin. “I know this wasn’t an easy decision for him, but we respect and understand it. He’s a good basketball player and a good person with a bright future ahead.”

Were there signs last night?

Last night, despite not fouling at all, Sima played 13 minutes; all while Tariq Owens, a skinnier but more active center, continued to emerge. And today, Sima is looking to leave.

Yankuba Sima averaged seven points and five rebounds per game in 35 games for Chris Mullin’s team; he was an exciting player with upside who was one of Chris Mullin’s early recruits. He came on when the team was thought to have Chris Obekpa and Adonis Delarosa on the team; both transferred, leaving Sima as the lone center.

The Spanish big man was on Draft Express’ radar, but his inability to be a consistent impact player bedeviled his scouting reports and his time at St. John’s. He had solid games - a career-high 17 points against St. Francis, 14 rebounds against NJIT. And he was a solid shot-blocker, especially after the weeks he missed with a broken hand.

But in many games, his effort and timing were off, which led to an inability to catch the ball in traffic, low defensive rebounding numbers, and a generally low-impact center despite playing off of some dynamic guards. his strength and anticipation in the paint was also an issue; big men feasted on his defense.

This year, Sima started eight of ten games, but averaged 18 minutes per contest - down from 23 minutes per game last season - and seemed to find a lot of bench time later in games.

We believed Sima’s best days are ahead of him, but those days will not be at St. John’s.

In his absence, Tariq Owens will obviously get more minutes and starts. Amar Alibegovic handled himself well in extended time on the floor yesterday.

But the big men will need to step up.

Kassoum Yakwe has struggled with foul trouble, and his rebounding has been mediocre; plus, he is 6’7”, a less imposing figure to shoot over than the 6’11” Sima.

Owens averages nearly seven fouls per 40 minutes, so he cannot be full-game solution without correcting that issue.

Amar Alibegovic is an upbeat veteran presence, but averages over six fouls per 40 minutes, has struggled to shoot the ball, and has spent much of the year playing spot minutes (though he has played 10 minutes or more in the past three games, all victories).

Richard Freudenberg is slim and has had an ineffective transition to Division I.

Darien Williams has barely played, and has looked a step slow when he has.

Yes, the team can give more minutes to Bashir Ahmed as a power forward, and next year’s team will welcome Michigan State transfer Marvin Clark, Jr. and freshman center Zach Brown.

But this year, the squad is a little thinner than it was yesterday, and the Red Storm will need to adjust.

Bonus: a note on Yankuba Sima’s shoes, taken from the Cal State Northridge game.

NCAA Basketball: CSU Northridge at St. John Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports