Column: Those close to Malachi Flynn view on-court success as no surprise

April 29, 2020

Junior+guard+Malachi+Flynn+claps+his+hands+after+a+play+during+the+Aztecs%27+66-63+loss+to+UNLV+on+Feb.+22+at+Viejas+Arena.

Kareem Jones

Junior guard Malachi Flynn claps his hands after a play during the Aztecs' 66-63 loss to UNLV on Feb. 22 at Viejas Arena.

This past season, junior guard Malachi Flynn took the San Diego State men’s basketball team to new heights, leading the team to a 30-2 record and winning the Mountain West regular season title in addition to being named a consensus all-American by various outlets.

His success as a player amazed fans every night at Viejas Arena, although those who are close to him saw this as no surprise.

Bernie Salazar, Flynn’s high school coach at Bellarmine Preparatory School, always knew he was going to be successful as a basketball player.

“I always knew he was special,” Salazar said.

Salazar coached Flynn during his high school career at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Washington from 2013 to 2016. He first met Flynn and his family when Flynn was in the third grade, and from that moment, he saw something special in him.

“His older brother played basketball with my oldest son, and so I got to know him at a young age,” Salazar said. “He was fun to watch because he could really play. He was the smallest guy out there, but boy, he could score, he could handle the ball. He was so fun to watch.”

Not only did Flynn’s high school coach know he was going to be successful, his best friend knew it from the first moment they met.

UNLV men’s basketball guard David Jenkins Jr. is one of Flynn’s closest friends. He has known him since the fifth grade, and they first met playing against one another as kids in basketball recreation leagues around Tacoma.

“We would always be in little kids leagues around Tacoma and the leagues kinda worked where everybody would kind of play against each other,” Jenkins said. “I want to say one day we just played against each other, and I noticed how good of a player he was, even at a young age.

“We kept playing against each other as years went on. Then, as the years went on, we got to play with each other, we got to work out with each other. We just got to build chemistry from there on out. I’ve known him for a long time.”

On the court, those who are close to Flynn use two words to describe him the most: passionate and intelligent.

Flynn’s passion is one of the reasons why he was successful during his time at SDSU and throughout his college career.

Assistant coach Dave Velasquez saw that passion firsthand when Flynn scored 24 points for Washington State against the Aztecs to win the Wooden Legacy tournament back in the 2017-18 season.

“When we recruit at San Diego State, we like to recruit swagger, we like to recruit guys that can play in a hostile environment,” he said. “For anybody who was at that game, our fans packed that place, and we were ready to get that win.

“Malachi had a certain swagger to him, talking a little mess to our fans, and he had a little something to him, an edge to him like we called it, an edge that was really appealing to us.”

Jenkins Jr. said Flynn exudes passion in how he plays the game. Whatever is needed of him on the court, Flynn can do that and then some.

“He’s so passionate about the game, and that’s what makes him so special,” Jenkins said. “He scores when his team needs him to score. He makes the play when his team needs him to make the play. He’s willing to do anything to win. He’s willing to sacrifice scoring 20-point games. He is willing to sacrifice anything and everything, be able to win, and not a lot of players are like that.”

Not only was Flynn’s passion evident in how he played the game, it can also be seen in his constant drive to get better as a player.

“He is a true gym rat,” Salazar said. “He always had a passion for getting better as a player. He really spends a lot of time on his craft and on his schoolwork and every year he just kept getting better. He was always in the gym doing the work and people don’t understand that usually the best players are also the hardest working players as well.”

One moment when Velasquez recalls Flynn’s constant drive to get better was during a team practice back in the 2018-19 season.

At the time, Flynn had just transferred to SDSU and took a redshirt year, as many transfer players do due to NCAA rules. The Aztecs were preparing for a home game against Brigham Young University, and the coaches were figuring out how to guard T.J. Haws, who averaged 22 points-per-game for BYU at the time.

During two practices, Flynn almost carried the scout team to a win against the starters.

“I’ll never forget how unstoppable Malachi was,” Velasquez said. “I truly to this day believe that the way he played in those two practices was a huge piece for why we won that game, because there was no way that Haws was going to play as good as Malachi was in those two practices. If we can find a way to slow down Malachi, we can find a way to slow down BYU.”

Even though Flynn stands at just 6-foot-1, he makes up for his height with high intelligence in how he sees the floor and operates as a player.

“It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play,” Salazar said. “He (Flynn) plays really big. He’s always been a winner, and brings out the best in his team and his teammates. I just think he’s really smart. He has a lot of intelligence.”

Flynn was a reflection of what the coaches wanted on the court for the Aztecs, knowing when to make the right play and how to set others up for success.

“He has the ability to have a coach’s feel on the floor,” Velasquez said. “He has the ability to know, if Jordan Schakel hit two (shots), then he needs to get him that third, or if Matt Mitchell is playing really well in the post, he’ll call his own set to get him a post touch, and on and on.

“He had such an innate ability to, all season, just really have a good sense of what’s the right play to make. His ability to have that high of an IQ but also involve his teammates is why I tell the NBA guys he’ll have a chance to make it, because he has that ability to do more than score.”

Off the court, Flynn’s demeanor can be described as loyal and genuine.

“I think he’s a genuine person and a very loyal person, which is my favorite trait about him,” Salazar said. “He’s a normal, down-to-earth, fun loving guy. He’s a good young man that wants to do things correctly and who happens to have a real passion for basketball and a gift for it as well. He’s loyal to his school, his teammates, his family, you just see it in him as a person.”

Flynn’s personality is representative of his upbringing.

He grew up with six siblings and all of them lived in the same household at one point. He has had the same friend in Jenkins Jr. since the fifth grade.

Flynn is loyal to the soil.

“He’s a very loyal guy,” Jenkins said. “He doesn’t switch up on his friends, he keeps his circle really really small. He’s loyal to everybody who’s loyal to him because he realizes that the same people that trusted in him when no one else did, he recognizes that.”

Flynn is also loyal because in his youth, he was doubted by a lot of people. He continues to be doubted today, as some NBA Draft experts question his size at the point guard position.

As he grew up, he stayed true to those who stood with him the most.

Jenkins Jr. is one of those people.

“He’s loyal to those types of people because at a young age, even when Malachi was growing up, he was doubted by a lot of people,” Jenkins Jr. said. “Whatever odds he had against him, he defied those odds and he was loyal to the people who believed in him during those tough times.”

Not only is Flynn loyal, he is also laid back and stays focused on one thing: basketball.

“He’s just a cool dude,” Velasquez said. “He’s a basketball nut. He’s all about hoops all the time. He’s just a hoop head. He’s a chill, laid back kind of guy and that’s exactly what he is.”

As he departs SDSU for the NBA, Flynn is unknown to many outsiders other than for what he does on the basketball court. When people meet him for who he is as a person, they will realize that he is someone who represents his family, school and home city with passion, intelligence, loyalty and authenticity.

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