There was some surprising news out of St. John’s last Friday, when it was announced that 6’11 sophomore center Yankuba Sima was transferring from the program mid-season. Chris Mullin is off to a terrible start this season, as the Johnnies hold a 5-6 record and have lost to Old Dominion, Delaware State, and just yesterday, they fell to LIU-Brooklyn by 1 point. Losing Sima is definitely a blow, as the Spaniard was a solid contributor and had a lot of potential to develop into one of their best players.
The former 3-star recruit reportedly held offers from Baylor, Louisville, and Maryland coming out of high school, according to 247 Sports. As a freshman at St. John’s, Sima emerged as a key part of the puzzle in Mullin’s rebuild of the program. He averaged 7.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in 23.4 minutes per game last season. However, Sima’s playing time decreased to 17.8 minutes per game this season, despite starting 8 of 10 games. His production was down, as he was averaging 6.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks through ten games.
Although Sima is still developing his game offensively, he has more potential as a defensive stalwart for any team that takes him in. He is still a bit raw, but you can’t teach size, as the saying goes. So, why would he potentially be a good fit for Rutgers?
Head coach Steve Pikiell and the coaching staff did a tremendous job landing 7’0” center CJ Gettys late in the summer. Gettys has been invaluable this season and a big reason Rutgers is off to a 9-1 start. He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 21.6 minutes per game. Although his leadership as a fifth year senior will not be easily replaced, Rutgers will certainly need to replace his production on the court next season. While backup center Shaq Doorson has shown flashes this season, he is still working his way back after missing all of last year due to injury. Even if he continues to develop, Rutgers still needs another big body.
Enter Sima, who I think, but am not certain, would have 2.5 years remaining and be eligible for conference play next season, as long as he signs with a school before the end of this year. He would have to sit out two consecutive semesters I believe. Rutgers only has 12 scholarship players this season, so they could afford to take on a transfer candidate right now. Gettys is done at the end of this season and 2017 commit Geo Baker would fill his scholarship.
Would Sima consider Rutgers? I don’t know for sure, but there are some obvious connections here. Sima played at the Canaris Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands. That is the same program where current Rutgers players Shaq Doorson and Issa Thiam played. Former assistant and current Director of Player Development Greg “Shoes” Vetrone has recruited there for years and brought those two players to Rutgers. Sima ended up transferring to Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, Florida, which is also where Issa finished his high school career.
I’m not sure of how well Sima knows Doorson or Issa, but I’m sure there paths have crossed at some point based on the common stops during their high school days. At a minimum, it’s likely Shoes has interacted with Sima on the recruiting trail. Rutgers wasn’t a school he considered during his initial recruitment, but that was likely due to the status of the program under former head coach Eddie Jordan. With Pikiell now in the fold and getting positive results early on his tenure, that could entice Sima to now consider Rutgers. Having a familiarity with other players on the team only helps.
I’m not saying Sima is a perfect, blockbuster get for Rutgers. He is still a development project and isn’t close to having the same polish on the offensive end as Gettys. You can read an assessment of Sima after his freshman season here from our friends at Rumble In The Garden. However, he is 6’11” and has proven to be a solid defensive player early on in his college career. The reasons for his departure from St. John’s haven’t surfaced publicly, but he is obviously looking for a fresh start.
Rutgers needs to continue to add talent and depth to the roster, so Sima is certainly an intriguing possibility for the coaching staff to consider. It’s likely Sima will make a decision very soon, in hopes of being eligible to play for his new school when conference play begins next season. It will be interesting to see where he lands, whether it is on the banks or not. Stay tuned.