DJ Rodman is coming back, and that means a lot to WSU

His decision could lead the way to others doing the same.

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It’s almost hard to believe that Kyle Smith is about to wrap up his fourth season in charge of the Washington State Cougars. Outside of a few coaches, there’s only one guy in the program who’s been here for all of it: DJ Rodman.

The last man standing from Smith’s first recruiting class in 20191, Rodman pulled a stunner on Sunday, announcing just before tipoff that he’d use his Covid year to return to WSU as a super senior in 2023-2024. This, after signaling for weeks that he'd likely be moving on in some capacity, whether transferring to play more hoops or pursue graduate studies in communications — or both.

In the end, he decided he could do all that by staying in Pullman for one more year. And that speaks volumes, I think, about the program Smith has built.

Rodman came to Pullman as a two-star recruit without any other reported high-major offers. As the coaching staff filled out its first class, they loved him as a potential three-and-D guy, but what they really loved was his desire and his motor. Rodman wanted a chance to play at a high major, and he believed he was good enough to do it.

Rodman wasn’t wrong: He has improved every year, elevating himself from bit player as a freshman, to a solid role player/fringe starter as a sophomore and junior, to a full-time starter as a senior — and a critical cog to the team’s success.

This table obviously doesn’t capture the totality of his contributions, but it’s a nice little snapshot of his offensive development. He’s not a go-to player, by any means, but he’s the kind of guy every winning team needs: Someone outside the go-to guys who can punish the opponent if ignored.

And we all know what he brings to the defense. His plethora of charges drawn allow us to quantify his contributions on that end in a way that is normally difficult to do.

Of course, there’s also the leadership that only an experienced player can truly provide. In today’s college game, players inevitably are going to come and go, but it’s still important to have foundational players who set the culture and show others how it’s done. Rodman is that kind of guy, along with TJ Bamba, Andrej Jakimovski, and Dishon Jackson.

Which is why I think it’s so telling that Rodman decided to stick around for another year. While so many of us love to say to students NEVER LEAVE PULLMAN!! because we remember our time there so fondly, if we’re all being honest with ourselves, we did not actually want to stay in Pullman forever. I know by the end of my fourth year, I was pretty ready to start the rest of my life. And Rodman has attended WSU through the entirety of a pandemic — something that has been really tough on this current crop of Cougs. I know I have been a little hand-wavey about it at times, but the toll on these kids has been real, with extra burdens placed on the athletes.

Had Rodman decided to test the portal waters, he’d surely have gotten some interest from some big time high-majors. And I wouldn’t have blamed him for looking around: The chance to go play for a truly big-time program has quite the allure, and this would have been his literal only chance to do that.

That he decided to forego even soliciting offers shows his teammates that he’s all in for his fifth and final season, ready to help this team get to its proverbial mountaintop. Players have a tacit understanding with each other that each guy has to do what’s best for them, so while I don’t think Rodman is necessarily running around telling guys that they should join him, it does show his teammates in a very real way that he believes in what they are building together. Someone’s gotta be the first to say they’re staying, and DJ is leading the way by saying, “I’ve got what I need right here.”

Does it convince someone like Mouhamed Gueye to put off the NBA for another year? Probably not if Gueye gets a draft promise, but if Gueye doesn’t get that, maybe he doesn’t look around, either. Maybe Justin Powell decides he’s finally found a home where he can truly develop. And hopefully Bamba and Jakimovski are just as invested as DJ — as it seems like they are.

Continuity is such a hard thing to build in college basketball today. But if there’s one thing we know beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s that the best teams at WSU have relied on the kind of continuity and experience that next year’s team would feature if all those rotation guys decide to stick around. Even if Gueye decides to go to the NBA, the team would still be fairly loaded if everyone else comes back.

Hopefully, Rodman’s very public decision is the first domino to fall in that direction.

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