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WSU’s Ernie Kent believes he’s found his 1-2 punch

TACOMA’S MALACHI FLYNN will arrive in Pullman in time for summer classes, Ernie Kent said in announcing his latest addition to the roster, and the Bellarmine Prep star will bring with him an impressive résumé. Combined with another WSU guard signee from the early period, Kent said he has the combination he was looking for.

“Getting Malachi here along with Milan (Acquaah), the two of them give me that one-two punch that you talk about needing on the floor. (They have) that skill, speed, ability to see the game and play the game at a high pace. I’m thrilled that we have them,” said Kent.

Flynn was named the Washington state player of the year for all classifications by the Associated Press, as well as the AP’s State 4A Player of the Year and AP first team all-State. He was also named the Tacoma News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year, Class 4A Narrows League MVP and Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches’ Association 4A Player of the Year.

Kent believes Flynn will arrive in Pullman with the ability to contribute major minutes and scoring comparable to other freshmen guards he recruited at Oregon.

The WSU head man cited the upcoming trip overseas to Italy this summer as a “miniature version of a practice season” that will speed up their transition into Pac-12 play. The trip will take place at the beginning of August before classes begin for the fall semester.

One component to the enthusiasm Kent has for Flynn is the opportunity to fill a need to improve the play from the point guard -- there's no question the lack of consistent play out of the Cougar backcourt contributed to but one Pac-12 victory and a nightmarish 17-game losing streak this past season.

“With the way we play, the point guard position is so, so critical,” said Kent.. “Skill on the floor is so critical. I saw a player who just emerged throughout his senior year. (Flynn’s) senior year was special considering he got double teamed and triple teamed at times. He still played within himself. He had an ability to score, keep his teammates involved in the game and then just play at such a high basketball IQ level throughout the course of the year.”

Kent indicated that “it is very likely” he will use the three remaining scholarships open to add players to this class. Though he didn’t emphasize the point that there are additional candidates likely to sign a NLI with WSU, the fact that in the current recruiting climate there are roughly 400 guys looking to transfer schools in search of more playing time certainly points to the Cougar roster adding three more scholarship players.

“We’re looking at high school players, junior college players and overseas. We are actively recruiting and quite frankly we stay actively recruiting throughout the course of the year in anticipation of something like (four players transferring out of the program) happening at the end of the year. It’s happening too frequently all over the country in all of the conferences and a lot of the programs.”

Some WSU hoops fans have become disgruntled by the exodus of players following each of Kent’s first two seasons in Pullman. There has never been such notable roster turnover for Washington State which is why so many are concerned.

“It’s not necessarily they are leaving the program because they’re disgruntled or leaving the program because they don’t like the style of play. It’s playing time.” Kent continued, “If you take a look at college basketball, it’s the norm. It’s what’s going on everywhere. The number one thing talked about at the Final Four with the NCAA and the coach’s association is the transferring situation in college basketball and in particular, the graduate transfer. You cannot slow it down. There’s nothing you can do about it. You have to deal with it and be ready to move on, regroup and keep building your basketball program.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Fortunately for us we have a summer to do it, work some kinks out and make some adjustments before we get into next season. I’ve got a great nucleus coming back with Josh (Hawkinson), Ike (Iroegbu) and Conor (Clifford). I think they all can really score. Obviously Charles Callison, Derrien King, Robert Franks and Viont’e Daniels, they’re working extremely hard right now. What’s coming in the door will be a nice fit with them to get us headed in a positive direction.”

Key to WSU making dramatic improvements over last season is not just bringing in skilled student-athletes but adding guys to the roster who are capable of meshing into a solid team. Kent and his staff must assess more than just how talented a prospect is. Steps must be taken to assure both individual and team success within the Cougar basketball program.

“First of all it comes on the process of us recruiting,” explained Kent about whether or not prospects are a good fit. “Really taking a good look at where they’re coming from. Their environment. We talk to a lot of people before we bring a young man in the door.  We were in a little bit of a hurry up mode when we got the job and didn’t have the opportunity to do a lot of research that way when we first got here. With this group, everything came back real positive.

“The second indication is when you bring young people in on a recruiting trip and just how well they fit with the guys. We take a lot of feedback from our players in terms of what they think because they spend intimate time with them away off the floor. Those type of moments that are important to us to have the right feedback come back. It was excellent with all three of these players that are coming in…All indications with all three of these guys is (they) are very pleased with what we’ve brought in the door. And I feel very comfortable with what we’ve brought in the door as well. “

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