Let’s get to the point. Kassoum Yakwe - and Yakwe’s coaches - know that he struggled last season. The former top 100 forward, 6’7”, 210 pounds and full of bounce, took a step backwards from his solid freshman season.
The defense was still there, but the offense and confidence receded as he started playing with a trio of ball-dominant scorers.
Head coach Chris Mullin mentioned the downturn at Big East Media Day.
“Kassoum Yakwe and Tariq Owens... at times were overmatched physically,” said Mullin during Big East Media Day. “With another year of experience and another summer in the weight room, I think they can hold their ground a little better.”
“That’s a big focus, more so for Kassoum; [his play] went down a little bit last year. We look for him to rebound,” joked Mullin, “…and rebound better.”
At 6’7”, Yakwe is a very unique player for Chris Mullin’s team - gifted with athleticism, but figuring out how to use it in productive ways, especially in the half court.
By the numbers
Kassoum Yakwe all games: scoring
Kassoum Yakwe, all games: rebounding, blocks, steals
Kassoum Yakwe scoring rate stats, conference play
Kassoum Yakwe rebounding, steals, blocks: conference play
Three Things About Kassoum Yakwe
Last year was strangely rough. It was like Yakwe quit coffee (which I highly recommend for normal people, by the way). Across the board, the numbers were down. Part of this may have been his position - playing a bit more center than the previous year, not playing next to the stronger Christian Jones, perhaps. But there was something.
His defensive rebounding dipped from 17% in conference play as a freshman to 9% - a lower rate than guards Shamorie Ponds or Malik Ellison. His usage went down from 18% to 13%. His shooting inside the arc backslid as well.
He tried to be a recipient of pick and roll passes, but struggled at times to gather the ball in traffic. He shot a midrange jumper that looked on target, but was not as successful as he might have liked. Offensive rebounding and free throw attempts were down as well.
Is this the year the jump shot comes around? Yakwe has been working with Mitch Richmond, it seems, to add a jump shot to his repertoire. It would be a shot to take when wide open at the elbow. He hasn’t started to hit it consistently, but that shot would open up driving lanes that he could use as well.
Still a shot blocker. Despite some struggles for Kassoum Yakwe, one thing remained constant - he is a very good shot blocker. His ability to deflect shots against taller players allows for him to play taller than he is. His foul rate is still a bit high, which is what happens when that much of a player’s defensive game is spent in the air, but it’s not bad for a leaping defender. (But if it were lower, he could stay on the floor more.)
Kassoum Yakwe’s second year was a regression for a player who still shows a lot of promise. But can he find a way to be an undersized forward who can make an impact, one who forces steals and blocks shots, he will be a threat on defense and a loud contributor for stretches on offense.
Make no mistake - if this team generates lots of transition opportunities, Kassoum Yakwe will have lots of highlights. But in the halfcourt, struggles to catch and gather the ball in pick and rolls limit his offensive game.
Yakwe will see time. And he will see an impact. But will we see a return to his freshman form - or even an improvement?