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Grip on Sports: Flynn the latest Cougar to follow a roadmap drawn by former WSU point guard Thames

Former Washington State guard Malachi Flynn  drives the ball against Kansas State during a Dec. 20 game at the Spokane Arena. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Former Washington State guard Malachi Flynn drives the ball against Kansas State during a Dec. 20 game at the Spokane Arena. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • One of my favorite players while I was covering Washington State was Xavier Thames. The California kid didn’t stay in Pullman long, leaving after one season and transferring to San Diego State. Turns out he was a trendsetter. Now Malachi Flynn is following the same path. Read on.

••••••••••

• Thames’ transfer was one of those you could see coming from two rest areas ahead. Recruited by Tony Bennett’s staff, he arrived at WSU with Ken Bone, the replacement head coach who had different ideas of what he wanted in a point guard.

And a different point guard, Reggie Moore.

Bone handed Moore the keys to the offense his first year, with Thames, also a freshman, serving as his backup. That didn’t go over well, especially considering Thames didn’t seem to have much of a chance to earn the starting spot. After a year of coming off the bench, Thames decided to return to California. He picked San Diego State.

Where he, and the Aztecs, thrived.

Thames developed into what Bennett imagined, a 17-point-a-game scorer, a lockdown defender and the Mountain West Player of the Year. The Aztecs went to the NCAA Tournament each year he played, including the Sweet Sixteen his senior year. 

Meanwhile, Bone struggled in Pullman, never making the NCAAs, and Moore was ultimately dismissed from the team in 2012. 

Thames, who is still playing professionally in New Zealand, was the first player of consequence to leave during Bone’s tenure in Pullman. He wasn’t the last. Nor the last Cougar to head to the mesa. 

Valentine Izundu played two years for Bone’s successor, Ernie Kent, before leaving Pullman for San Diego. The 6-foot-10 center never really starred at Houston (his first college stop), Pullman or with the Aztecs. But he seems to have been part of a trend.

See, yesterday, Kent’s own version of Moore, Malachi Flynn, announced he was transferring to San Diego State.

When Kent replaced Bone a few years back, he went looking for a point guard who could run his up-tempo offense. He found him in Flynn, the Tacoma kid with the quiet demeanor. For two seasons Flynn ran the Cougar attack, scoring when needed (he averaged 15.8 points a game last year) and setting up his teammates when needed (he also averaged 4.3 assists).

He seemed to be the perfect fit for the Kent offense. Until he announced in March he was leaving Pullman.

Now we know where he’s headed. It’s where Thames and Izundu headed before him.

The Aztecs’ basketball trajectory is somewhat different than the Cougars. In 12 of the past 13 years, SDSU has played in a postseason tournament, eight of those in the NCAA. That’s not something Washington State can brag about.

Flynn will have to sit a year, of course, but being the Aztecs played in the NCAA tourney last season under first-year head coach Brian Dutcher, there is little doubt they will be back again sometime in his two seasons in the land of perpetual 70-degree weather. The roster seems stacked

The Cougars? Next year will probably be Kent’s last unless his made-over roster can show marked improvement, a goal made tougher by the latest defection southward.

•••

WSU: Where Flynn landed is the main story of the day from Pullman. Theo Lawson has the particulars. And some more history. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the New York Times discovered the Luke Heimlich story a year late. … The Pac-12 favorite, Washington, opens the season against Auburn. Tickets go on sale today for the Sept. 1 game in Atlanta. … Oregon is losing a basketball player to a transfer. … Arizona will emphasize guard play next season. … Colorado’s arena will have a new name soon.

Gonzaga: Johnathan Williams will take part in a combine put on at the IMG Academy later this month. Jim Meehan has that story. … Larry Weir’s Press Box pod covers Brandon Williams decision to re-commit to Arizona. 

Idaho: Sophie Hausmann shot an even-par 72 at the NCAA golf regionals.

Preps: Sad news in the prep volleyball world. Former Spokane-area coach Buzzie Welch died early Sunday morning. Dave Trimmer has Welch’s obituary. … The soccer regionals are this week and Jim Allen focuses on Ferris’ task ahead. … We also have roundups from softball, golf and Idaho baseball.

Mariners: There are answers to some pressing questions in this mailbag.

Seahawks: A former Washington receiver impressed the Hawks enough to earn a contract. … Cliff Avril is not leaving Seattle. He’s transitioning to a new career. 

•••        

• It seems as if today will be the last near-perfect day for a while in Spokane. The temperature will reach the high 70s and there won’t be any clouds. Near perfect. Tomorrow? Rain. Spring can make you shake your head. Until later … 

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