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Grip on Sports: WSU’s basketball defections gives us another reason to exercise our right to complain

Oregon guard Payton Pritchard (3) shoots against Washington State guard Malachi Flynn during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, March 1, 2018. (Young Kwak / AP)
Oregon guard Payton Pritchard (3) shoots against Washington State guard Malachi Flynn during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Thursday, March 1, 2018. (Young Kwak / AP)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • One of the eternal rights given to us by our Founding Fathers is the ability to complain about local sports teams. Heck, about all sports teams. And just when you think there might not be anything to complain about, something pops up. Or a couple things. Read on.

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• Give the NFL credit. It is trying to dampen down our complaints about a catch, something even Einstein couldn’t explain the past couple years. The league cleaned up its rule, but, thankfully, left enough ambiguity to allow us to nitpick “control” and “football move” throughout the 2018 season.

But that isn’t the best thing to complain about around here. No way. Not even close.

The Washington State basketball team, basically easy to ignore – of you look at last season’s attendance figures, that’s what everyone did – recently, has been hit by the departure of its two most important players this week.

Say what you will about the Cougars last season, at least with Malachi Flynn handling the ball and Robert Franks banging away from the outside, they had a chance to be entertaining most games. Now those two, WSU's leading scorers, will not be returning for their junior and senior years, respectively.

Franks jumped first, announcing Monday he was entering the NBA draft. He hasn’t signed with an agent yet, though he told our Theo Lawson yesterday he planned to and didn’t expect to be back. The 6-foot-7 wing will leave holding the school’s single-game record for 3-pointers made and the Pac-12’s most improved player award. He will be missed.

But maybe not as much as Flynn.

Ever since the point guard arrived in Pullman, taking the cross-state trip from Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep, he’s been in charge of Ernie Kent’s offense. The ball was in Flynn’s hands on about 80 percent of the possessions and his decisions, whether good or bad, determined how the Cougars would succeed on that end.

Now he’s made the decision to leave with two years of eligibility remaining. Speculation immediately centered round Pepperdine, where Curtis Allen, who recruited his hometown of Tacoma for Kent, is now an assistant coach.

Allen left Pullman just the other day, joining the guy who brought him to the Palouse, Ken Bone, on the staff of the guy who coached him in college, Lorenzo Romar.

Wherever Flynn ends up, it won’t be in Pullman.

That means next year’s team, coming off another losing season and a second-to-last-place finish in the Pac-12, will have to rebuild minus its top two scorers.

Kent will probably attract a graduate transfer in the mold of Drick Bernstine, last year’s senior from North Dakota. We've heard rumblings of a former Big West player possibly heading north. And the entire staff was in Kansas recently, watching the junior college national tournament, so expect at least a couple of JC guys to jump into next year’s rotation.

But, with Kent facing a win-or-else season, the Cougars will have to get it done without two players that were the leaders of this year’s team. Continuity is helpful in college basketball. The lack of it in a place like Washington State can be a killer.

• Speaking of continuity, Gonzaga hopes it will continue to enjoy its fruits next season.

Jim Meehan sat down with GU assistant coach Tommy Lloyd recently and they covered the players scheduled to return for next year. If all do, then the Zags will be a top-10 team entering the season and, as Lloyd said, can play with anyone.

But there are question marks surrounding Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura. The sophomores have been mentioned on draft boards and have to make decisions.

In the Zags’ run to the Final Four two seasons ago, then-freshman Zach Collins exploded on the national scene, helping his draft status and hastening his departure to the NBA.

Neither Hachimura nor Tillie did that during this last NCAA tournament. Both played well at times, but neither was a breakout star. That may bode well for GU fans hoping to watch them play in McCarthey one more season – at least.

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WSU: Of course Theo has a story on Flynn’s departure. In it, he included Flynn’s statement posted on Twitter, thanking everyone from Kent to his WSU professors. Flynn admitted it was a tough decision but “one I feel is in my best interest at this time.” Kent responded and seem to agree with Flynn’s decision, writing on Twitter he appreciated Flynn’s contributions to the program and adding “he made a decision that is best for him and his family” before wishing him well. … Spring football soldiered on yesterday, with pads added for the first time. Of course Theo was there to watch and he shares his thoughts and those of new defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. He also shares post-practice video of interviews with Mike Leach, James Williams, Jalen Thompson and Claeys. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Utah is still playing basketball. The Utes earned a spot in the NIT finals with a tight win in New York last night. … If you are wondering why I am linking a story on Colorado State basketball, it’s because the assistant coach hired by the Rams yesterday, Ali Farokhmanesh, has some strong Pullman ties. I know there are a lot of older Cougars out there that like to see the connections. … Arizona’s Deandre Ayton joined a long line of Wildcat consensus All-Americans. … The lineup for the 2019 Maui Classic was announced yesterday and UCLA is one of the teams. … Washington is losing a player as well. … Spring football is about to start at Washington with some questions looming for the offense and the defense. Oh, and special teams. … Arizona State’s spring is led by an experienced staff.

Gonzaga: Besides the roster news, Jim Meehan also has a story on Johnathan Williams being named an honorable mention Associated Press All-American. … Around the WCC, BYU has found its multiple-team tournament for 2019, the Maui Invitational.

EWU: There was good news and some odd news from Cheney. Jim Allen has stories about both. The good news was Bogdan Bliznyuk joining Williams as an honorable mention AP All-American. The odd news comes from volleyball, where the two remaining coaches, including head coach Michael King, were fired yesterday.

Whitworth: The Pirate baseball team lost to Whitman.

Chiefs: The series with Portland is tied at one game apiece, but it may just be even tighter than that. OK, I know that’s not possible but these teams seem evenly matched. … Everett took a 2-1 lead in its WHL playoff series with Seattle. 

Preps: It was a busy day in the prep ranks yesterday, but before we get there, we will pass along Dave Nichols’ GSL baseball outlook and his preview of the local schools. … There are roundups from Tuesday’s action in baseball, soccer, softball and tennis. … Lexie Hull and Anton Watson earned more statewide basketball honors yesterday.

Mariners: There is a lot of baseball news today and some of it originates here at the S-R. I am going to be part of a triumvirate covering the M’s from Spokane, joining Dave Nichols and Gene Warnick in giving you a different perspective on the American League’s worst team. Just kidding. Dave, Gene and I joined Larry Weir for a pod this week – surprise, I picked the Dodgers to win everything – and Dave wrote about the M’s odd signing of Jayson Werth. It’s all part of our “Out of Right Field” coverage. I lobbied for “Behind the Plate” as a title because, you know, I was such an awful outfielder. Besides, if you don’t like what we write, it’s safer to be wearing a catcher’s mask. … If you are headed to Safeco, my longtime friend John Nelson, who works there, gets you ready for the trip, explaining all the changes. And, no, the name hasn’t changed – yet. … The Seattle Times has done its Mariners’ preview section, one that is filled with pieces from the experience of attending games to the M’s long-standing failures. … We have questions. Will Ichiro be ready for opening day? They really signed Werth? Is the roster set? Should the King’s Court be abandoned?

Seahawks: A big day for the Hawks as well. It started with the release of backup quarterback Trevone Boykin, accused of assault. Who should take that spot? Some big names have been mentioned. … Pete Carroll spoke yesterday and talked about everything. No, really. Just about everything and everyone.

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• One last day on the radio with Rick Lukens, filling in for my buddy Dennis Patchin. You can listen here from 3 to 6 p.m. if you want. I will be leaving a bit early today. Until later …


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