Rodney Terry added an intriguing piece to Fresno State’s roster Tuesday, receiving an oral commitment from 6-foot-9 combo forward Cullen Russo from New Mexico Junior College.
Russo, who also had scholarship offers from Minnesota and Wichita State, can play inside and out and gives the Bulldogs men’s basketball team more versatility in a group that includes four returning starters and its top five scorers from a year ago in first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection Marvelle Harris, point guard Cezar Guerrero, guard Julien Lewis, forward Paul Watson and forward/center Karachi Edo.
“I saw a great opportunity to go in and help them as a team,” Russo said. “I’m just going to come in and do whatever Coach Terry asks me. I bring a lot of versatility on my side, can guard the two through the five.”
Terry is not allowed by NCAA rules to comment on prospective student-athletes until a National Letter of Intent has been signed and validated, but New Mexico coach James Miller and prep school coach Stan Hughes said Russo can make an immediate impact on a Fresno State team expected to make a forward move next season in the Mountain West Conference.
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“They’re getting a very solid player, a great kid off the court,” Hughes said. “Basketball-wise, he is basically a freak athlete that can play inside or outside, shoot the 3, put it on the floor, attack the rim. At 6-9, he’s a great defender that can guard a guard up top out on the floor. I think they’re getting a serious steal and a future pro.”
Russo as a sophomore at New Mexico Junior College hit 51.4% of his shots in averaging 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He also averaged 1.8 steals and 1.2 assists for a team that went 23-9 and 11-5 in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference.
“He was recruited by every which league, every which level and kind of narrowed it down to those three (Fresno State, Minnesota and Wichita State),” Miller said.
“It came down to Fresno and Minnesota, and I just think he liked what Fresno had to offer. It was a better fit and obviously Coach Terry and Coach (Byron) Jones did a good job of recruiting and maintaining a relationship with him from early December on.
“I would imagine in talking to Fresno that they will play him at the four predominantly, but he can dribble, pass and shoot at that size. He weighs about 220 pounds, very talented, can shoot the ball out to 3. He’s a very good player and has a chance to be really special after two more years.”
The Bulldogs are losing guards Emmanuel Owootoah and Darnell Taylor, who have received releases to transfer in search of more playing time, so Terry and his staff still have two scholarships available in the spring signing period to build on a class that includes Russo, Washington transfer Jahmel Taylor and forward Nate Grimes from the Quality Education Academy in Winston Salem, N.C., who signed in November. Forwards Terrell Carter and Eugene Artison also return.