SHORELINE — If the King’s boys basketball team is to win a third consecutive Class 1A state title, it will have to do so without Corey Kispert.
The senior standout and Gonzaga signee, who missed more than half the season with a foot injury, underwent season-ending surgery Feb. 10.
No. 4-seed King’s (21-5) continues its quest for a three-peat against either No. 6 La Center or No. 14 La Salle in Thursday’s state quarterfinals in the Yakima Valley SunDome.
Despite being sidelined, the injury hasn’t kept Kispert from being actively involved. The 6-foot-6 forward’s new role can best be described as some combination of assistant coach, fan, supportive teammate and water boy.
“He’s handled it like a champion,” King’s coach Rick Skeen said. “I remember telling Corey at one point, ‘Man, I’m grieving for you.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘You don’t need to. I’m fine. I’m choosing to think positive in this situation and I’ll help the team however I can.’
“And he has,” Skeen added. “He’s been our number-one cheerleader and he’s been an awesome assistant coach. He hops around all practice on his crutches barking at guys, putting his arm around guys and teaching guys. He has said from the very first day, ‘I’ll do whatever I can. I can’t be out there on the floor with you, but I’ll do whatever I can to help you reach your goals.’
“He’s just such a special and unique kid. I just don’t know that there’s another one like him out there.”
Kispert injured his right foot in a Jan. 3 conference game against Cedarcrest and was diagnosed with a stress fracture, forcing him to sit out for several weeks while wearing a boot. He returned to play two minutes on senior night Jan. 27, but felt a pop in his foot while driving to the basket in a Feb. 1 game against Archbishop Murphy.
“I knew something was wrong the minute it happened,” Kispert said.
He was diagnosed with a “Jones fracture,” a broken bone on the outside of his foot, at the base of his small toe. Kispert underwent surgery the following week, ending his King’s career. He expects to be fully healthy again by summer.
“I’d be lying if I said it was easy,” Kispert said of being sidelined. “But it’s been a blessing to me, all four years, to be a part of a King’s community that’s so loving and warm to all the students who go here. I’ve just received an unbelievable amount of support from players, coaches and families.”
For the Knights, it’s been a major transition process adjusting to the absence of Kispert — who was averaging about 25 points per game and recently was named 1A player of the year by the state’s coaches association for the second consecutive season.
“We’ve got some skilled guys that filled really good roles, but we had to figure out how to play differently,” Skeen said. “We couldn’t just plug somebody into that spot. We had to figure out how to get open shots with Corey not out there. We had to figure out how to defend without his presence out on the floor. So it was like starting over, really, when we lost him.”
Senior guard Dawson Porcello has since taken a big leap in scoring, but Skeen emphasizes it’s been a total team effort to minimize the void left by Kispert.
“What we said all along is if everybody will average one to two points more than before, we can make up 25 points, because we don’t have a guy that’s just going to start averaging 25,” Skeen said. “So we’ve had a lot of contributions.
“I think we’ve had to rely more on our defense. We can’t necessarily outscore people — not like we maybe could before. So the defensive side of the ball has become more of an emphasis.”
After an overtime loss to Lynden Christian in the district semifinals, the Knights won three loser-out games to advance to the state regionals, where they beat Northwest to earn a bye into Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Kispert likes his team’s chances heading into Yakima.
“I’m the biggest fan they have,” Kispert said. “I’m really confident in our ability to go take care of business in Yakima. I know some people might not think the same way that I do, but I really think that we have a really strong chance of completing the goal we set out to complete at the beginning of the season.”