Corey Kispert and the Gonzaga University men’s basketball team saw their quest for a national championship brought to an unexpected halt last week because of the new coronavirus.
And it’s possible the King’s High School graduate and Edmonds native has played his last collegiate game.
Kispert, a key cog in the Bulldogs’ championship-caliber squad, is not committing to returning to Gonzaga for his senior year, indicating he will perform his due diligence on whether to make himself available for the NBA draft.
“Nothing is set in stone, I’m going to keep all my options open,” Kispert said. “I’m going to work with my coaches and family to make the best decision for myself moving forward.”
Kispert, The Herald’s 2016 Boys Basketball Player of the Year, had a breakout junior campaign as he became one of the Bulldogs’ leading players. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound small forward started all 33 of Gonzaga’s games this season, finishing second on the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game and serving as the team’s leading 3-point marksman, draining 78 3-pointers at a scorching 43.8% clip. It was a big step up from his sophomore season, when he averaged 8.0 points per contest as a starter.
Kispert’s play caught the attention of national evaluators, too. He was named one of five finalists for the Julius Erving Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top small forward. The other finalists are Louisville’s Jordan Nwora, Memphis’ Precious Achiuwa, Villanova’s Saddiq Bey and Xavier’s Naji Marshall.
Gonzaga was a major beneficiary of Kispert’s improvement. The Bulldogs were expected to take a step back this season after last year’s Elite Eight team lost its top four scorers: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell left early for the pros, and Josh Perkins graduated. However, the Zags went 31-2, were ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll of the season, and were considered one of the NCAA tournament favorites before the event was canceled last Thursday in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Kispert is rated by most evaluators as a second round/fringe draft prospect. He comes in at No. 45 on ESPN’s 2020 NBA draft prospect rankings, he’s ranked No. 47 by Sports Illustrated, and the Sporting News has him at No. 59. He is not listed in CBS Sports’ top 50.
So Kispert will explore his options.
“It’s still a work in progress,” he said. “I have no idea what timelines are looking like, just because of the NBA season being completely halted. So I have the luxury of taking my time, sitting back and making informed decisions.”
Kispert said he thinks missing out on playing in this year’s NCAA tournament could affect his draft stock a little.
“The tournament is a big part of any prospect’s evaluation,” he said. “You get to play against the best teams in the country on the biggest stage, and (NBA scouts) want to see how you perform. But I think anyone who knows college basketball has seen enough of any prospect they would want to take a look at.”
Kispert also said the uncertainty surrounding the status of the NBA season and the NBA draft — the draft is scheduled for June 25 and the deadline for early entry is April 26, but those dates could be subject to change as the NBA considers the best interests of public health — could play a part in his decision.
“We don’t even know when workouts will be, when the combine will be, or even if there will be a draft,” Kispert said. “None of it is set in stone. The date is still there, but that could easily be moved. Everything is fluid, so you have to be flexible.”
While Kispert doesn’t know what his future holds, he’s disappointed he and the Bulldogs didn’t get their chance in the present. The NCAA tournament would have started Thursday, and Gonzaga likely would have been a No. 1 seed, but that opportunity was taken away.
“As everything was happening you could see it coming,” Kispert said. “We were upset about it, we wanted to play, we wanted to do everything in our power to keep the tournament and season going. But the more you read about it, especially coming from where I come from, this is really serious business. As coach (Mark) Few said, ‘If you save at least one life by canceling the tournament, it was all worth it.’
“When you look at it like that, it’s a pretty easy choice.”