Among the questions that were pressing right away for St. John's as they were heading into the off-season was the situation surrounding center Chris Obekpa and his future with the program. With his suspension in the run up to the NCAA Tournament, it looked as if St. John's and Obekpa were going in separate directions. Eventually, with the parting of Steve Lavin and the hiring of Chris Mullin, it became apparent that Obekpa was on his way out. In June he made the decision to transfer for his senior season and earlier this month made his decision to transfer to UNLV.
Though Obekpa's transfer is a loss for the Johnnies, it is also a fresh start for Mullin, who is building up the roster with a cast of transfers and recruits. Among those recruits is Yankuba Sima, who, following the transfer of Obekpa has become the only true center on St. John's roster. While it means he'll most likely be tabbed as a starter for the position, it also gives him time to grow as well as this is a year of transition and reset for St. John's.
The road that Sima took to get to Queens was one that spanned the globe, stretching from Africa to Europe by way of Florida before arriving at St. John's. Born in July of 1996 in the tiny West African nation of Gambia, Sima would call the Catalan city of Girona, Spain as home. Spain was also where he would take up the game, playing at the Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands by heading off the Florida to play for Arlington Country Day School and Elev8 Sports Institute in Jacksonville, Florida for his final high school season.
Aside from bouncing from Spain to the United States for basketball, Sima has also played internationally for Spain on the Spanish Under-18 team. Last summer at the European Championships Division A, he averaged 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game while averaging 33 minutes of play. He also shot 45% from the field. Spain would lose to Croatia in the quarterfinals, but would make to the fifth place classification game where Sima would face off against the Italian Under-18 team and fellow St. John's recruit Federico Mussini. The result of the game would be a win for Spain with Sima putting up 13 points and nabbing 13 rebounds.
While he was posting impressive numbers for Spain in Europe, back in the United States Sima was getting the attention college basketball programs from around the country. Before committing to St. John's, Sima also had offers from Maryland, Louisville, and Baylor. St. John's would beat all three other schools in getting Sima, a huge coup for a program rebuilding.
This summer, Sima was a part of the Spain Under-19 team at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship in Greece. Spain would make it to the quarterfinals where they would lose to the hosts, eventually finishing the tournament in 8th place with a classification game loss to Australia. Over the span of seven games in the tournament, Sima posted 9.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game.
With strong showings internationally, Sima now turns his attention to the playing for St. John's. On the roster he is the only true center at the moment, but even with the lack of depth at the position is going to still benefit from possibly rotating with Mussini and pairing up with Tariq Owens who would most likely be at the four, but is sitting out this season. He is considered to be wiry strong and can run the floor with a lot of room for potential and development. Time will tell how Sima fully develops, but for the time being he looks to be off on the right foot.