Aztec pipeline: Ex-Washington State point guard Malachi Flynn becomes third Cougar in 8 years to leave for San Diego State

Washington State head coach Ernie Kent, right, speaks with guard Malachi Flynn (22) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oregon State in Spokane, Wash., Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017. Washington State won 75-62. (Young Kwak / AP)

PULLMAN – Malachi Flynn offered up some surprising news the final week of March when Washington State’s starting point guard announced he’d be leaving the Cougars with two years of eligibility remaining.

Flynn’s actual destination shouldn’t be as much of a surprise.

On Monday, Flynn, who just completed his sophomore season with the Cougars, announced he’d complete his career at Mountain West power San Diego State, which has only missed out on the NCAA Tournament twice since 2010. Flynn will have to sit out one season per NCAA rules, but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

The sunny, sandy shores of San Diego have been a popular landing spot for Cougar basketball players that have elected to leave the Palouse for one reason or another.

Flynn becomes the third WSU player in eight years to leave for the Aztecs, joining former guard Xavier Thames, who left in 2010, and center Valentine Izundu, who got his release from the Cougars in the spring of 2016 after a lengthy dispute with the school that surrounded Izundu’s recruitment and potential tampering allegations by SDSU.

A native of Tacoma, Flynn averaged 15.8 points per game and 4.3 assists per game as a sophomore and started 30 of the 31 game he appeared in after logging 30 appearances and 30 starts as a true freshman.

It’s possible Flynn piqued SDSU’s interest long before he decided to leave the Cougars. One of his productive games came in the early stages of the season against the Aztecs in the championship game of the Wooden Legacy at Cal State Fullerton. Flynn scored 24 points on 7-of-16 shooting and 6-of-11 from 3-point range to lead the Cougars to a 93-86 win. He also had five rebounds and six assists, compared to just one turnover, in the game.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Flynn, upon announcing his decision to transfer, was contacted by a number of high-profile schools including Baylor, Texas A&M and Creighton. The Spokesman-Review previously reported that Gonzaga showed interest in the former Bellarmine Prep star, but GU’s interest cooled off late in the process and Flynn never visited the school.

At Gonzaga, he would’ve been set up to become the Bulldogs’ starting point guard in two years. He’ll have a similar opportunity at SDSU, where Devin Watson is entering his senior season as the Aztecs’ floor general, leaving the position open when Flynn becomes eligible in 2019-20.

The former Cougars have had mixed success on the Pacific Coast. Thames was only a part-time starter when he arrived at SDSU, but left as a two-time All-Mountain West selection who earned the conference player of the year award 2014. Thames also took the Aztecs to three NCAA Tournaments (2012-14).

Izundu grad transferred to SDSU in 2016, but even getting his release from WSU was a rocky process. WSU coach Ernie Kent initially denied Izundu’s transfer because he claimed the Aztecs had contacted his player before the season was over – essentially, an act of “tampering.” After a WSU committee heard, and subsequently rejected, Izundu’s appeal, Kent lifted the restriction and allowed the center to contact SDSU.

Izundu played 16.9 minutes per game in his lone season with the Aztecs and scored 2.5 ppg to go with 3.3 rpg. SDSU failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament that season.

Flynn is one of five non-seniors to have left the Cougars since the end of the 2017-18 season. Two more scholarship guards, Jamar Ergas and Milan Acquaah, have also announced plans to transfer, and it’s expected that previously suspended junior KJ Langston won’t be back next year. Walk-on guard TJ Mickelson has also left the program.

Standout junior forward Robert Franks declared for the NBA Draft without an agent, but reportedly wasn’t invited to the NBA Combine, which may increase the likelihood of returning to the Cougars next season.