Washington State coach Ernie Kent sizes up Cougs' 6 rookies

NEARLY 50 PERCENT of Washington State's men's basketball team will be new to the program this season and one of them reminds head coach Ernie Kent of an old Oregon standout because he's a "great quarterback" at both ends of the court.

In the second of our two-part series breaking down WSU's 2016-17 roster, Kent offers up his insights on the six rookies in the program.

Kent said guards Malachi Flynn and Milan Acquaah are "really good, high-caliber point guards" that can play at the same time much like Tajuan Porter and Aaron Brooks did for Kent at Oregon. "Then you throw in Jamar Ergas, a big-time athlete, and you throw in a big wing in Keith Langston. You’ve got your point guards, your shooting guards, your wings and now you throw in Arinze Chidom, an athletic scoring 4-man sitting there. You throw in Jeff Pollard who’s that 5-man, workhorse-type. That’s a really good recruiting class. And all of them are outstanding academic students.

Kent noted that Flynn, who averaged more than 30 minutes per game on the Cougars' recent tour of Italy, displayed leadership skills that could compliment senior standard bearers Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu. "He may not have the vocals of those others right now," Kent said, but the way he plays and how hard he works sets an example. "And Pollard is a guy who’s a good leader because he’s got great communication skills. Largely it’s going to be Ike and Josh. Probably a little more Ike because he’s more vocal."

Here is Kent's break down of his six newcomers ...

JAMES ERGAS (6-4, 190-pound freshman)

Last season: Elite 1 Academy Phoenix; averaged 18.0 points 7.0 rebounds 4.0 assists 4.0 steals

"Jamar Ergas is the best athlete we have on the team. Ike is a pretty good athlete as you know, but Jamar is the best athlete on the team. He’s younger than the other guys but it shows just how good he’s going to be when he makes one of his athletic moves. All of the sudden he’s at the hole dunking on somebody. With him it’s going to be a matter again of learning the system, gaining confidence, adjusting to (players) size, strength and everything at this level."

MILAN ACQUAAH (6-3, 185-pound freshman)

Last season: Cathedral High in Los Angeles; averaged 22.9 points 6.8 rebounds 4.7 assists 2.1 steals

"Milan Acquaah is a great scoring guard with great feel. He can shoot the three and get to the hole and finish with either hand. He’s got a strong body (allowing) him to finish over big guys, bang inside and score."

Acquaah had knee surgery in July and won't be fully healthy until mid November.

"He practiced a little this summer but didn’t get a chance to play though he went on the trip (to Italy) with us. He’ll be cleared to practice in November."

Kent believes he’s one of the best point guards coming out of high school in the west.

"He and Malachi can be on the floor at the same time. They are good enough players where they can play with the ball or off the ball and still be really effective."

JEFF POLLARD (6-9, 240-pound freshman)

Last season: Impact Academy in Las Vegas; averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks

"He’s been one of the surprises of the summer for us. The year away at prep school in Las Vegas really helped him. It gave him an opportunity to play and to practice at a higher level, to defend against athleticism, to score against athleticism and as a 4.0 GPA student, absorbs everything. He’s very coachable and has made great strides. For a freshman to come in and have a feel for the game, to have those verbal skills, that’s hard to do. He’s kind of that glue guy, that workhorse guy that’ll work the post, work the boards, take charges, score in transition and talk on defense. Every team needs that guy. He’s that guy."

MALACHI FLYNN (6-1, 170-pound freshman)

Last season: Averaged 29.7 points, 6.0 rebounds 4.0 assists at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma

“I compare him to a Luke Ridnour-type (former Pac-10 Player of the Year) I had at Oregon. Great quarterback. Great feel at both ends of the floor. That’s unusual for a freshman. He knows how to run a team at the offensive end and he knows how to handle a team and play at the defensive end as well. I think the students are really going to like his game because he has that flair to his game. Along with those players like Ike (Iroegbu), Josh (Hawkinson) and Conor (Clifford), boy he’s going to make it a lot easier for them because of his ability to play that position.

"He plays with that calm that you don’t usually see out of freshman. He doesn’t get too up. He doesn’t get too down. His focus is very intense. A very bright young man."

ARINZE CHIDOM (6-9, 200-pound freshman)

Last season: Sunrise Christian prep academy in Kansas; averaged 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals

"We saw him early during the summer before we went on the trip (to Italy) and he was starting to play really well. He was on course to go from prep school and go to JC for a year, just to continue to develop and gain confidence. But he started to play so well his recruiting picked up big time. So St. Mary’s offered. St. Bonaventure, TCU -- he went on those trips. His phone was ringing off the hook. We came back and we had one other player (we were looking at). We wanted to get one or the other. We said, ‘Let’s get him on campus’ and he loved Washington State and we loved him. He was a good get to get late at 6-8 and 200. Obviously he’s got to put weight on."

KEITH LANGSTON (6-5, 190-pound third-year sophomore)

Last season: redshirted at Chabot College; averaged 13.3 points and 5.7 rebounds at Pasadena CC in 2014-15

"Keith Langston is one of the steals of the recruiting class because here is somebody that sat out last year. He’s out of Chicago. Went to Chabot College, Pasadena Community College and it took him a year to get his academics in order. He’s been a pleasant surprise. He’ll help offset the loss of Que (Johnson) because he has a really good feel for the game, great rebounder and can really shoot it deep. He’s not pure, but neither was Que pure, but he can really shoot the ball. He carried us in one of the games in Italy where he made about five shots in a row. He kept us in the game until we regained our composure. That’s pretty good for a guy who just walked in the door, learning a new system in six weeks and going to play European teams over there and being able to do that. That’s a good sign. Having sat out last year, that’s a good sign.

"He knows how to play with pace, meaning he knows how to come off screens and knock down shots. He can make that midrange shot but he can also catch and shoot that 3-point shot deep. He’s not a driver/slasher per se. He’s a skilled shooter."

AS FOR THE TEAM AS A WHOLE, KENT SAID big years are expected from Hawkinson and Iroegbu, but that the key is going to be support from fellow veterans Charles Callison, Derrien King and Conor Clifford.

“Charles, Darrien and Conor need solid minutes and solid years this year if we’re to be successful. And they should be able to do that judging on what I’ve seen so far.”

Acquit and Chidom find themselves a bit behind the curve, with Acquaah sidelined because of his surgery and Chidom just recently joining the program. "Not (so fast)," Kent says about the notion of a redshirt for either.

“I don’t want to talk about that now. Someone is going to need to (redshirt) but we don’t know who. That will all be dictated late in November."

"I thought that was a problem with our team last year, trying to play too many bodies," he added. "Then all of the sudden it becomes a chemistry thing. I’m not going to do that this year."

AS FOR THE EPILOGUE ON THE TRIP TO ITALY, Kent said, "All of us as a staff have said the same thing: We didn’t expect To play as well as we did over there (considering we have) so many new guys. We had five games in nine days, four games in five days and three games in three days as the trip went on. All the sightseeing and serving our troops, to do all that and have that kind of mental focus and play as tough as we played surprised us.

"We competed really well over there. To score as freely as we scored this early, that tells me the veteran players get it and those new guys have a high basketball IQ. For guys to come in and flow like we flowed on offense, that was surprising and really good to see."

The Cougars scored between 95 and 109 points in four of their five games.

"I don’t care who you’re playing," continued Kent adamantly. "We had games over there where one game we had 28 assists and another game we had 33 assists. I don’t care who you’re playing, that’s hard to do. That shows your skill, passing, getting up and down the floor, seeing plays, making plays and making the extra pass.

"The competitive nature, to understand how to play hard, defend, dive on the floor, be tough, block out tough, get up and down (the court), sharing of the ball, and how much we got done in those areas was a pleasant surprise. You come back (home) with a sense that we can tweak it and work on those things we need to get fine tuned a little bit more offensively and defensively."

RELATED: Part 1: Kent breaks down the WSU veterans

Cougfan Top Stories