Corey Kispert called it the toughest decision he’s had to make in his life, and for good reason.
He had to consider the potential impact of COVID-19 on the upcoming season. He had the option of turning pro and the likelihood of being a second-round NBA draft pick. And he had the option of chasing a national championship on perhaps the most promising roster in Gonzaga history.
Kispert announced Monday – the final day for early entrants to withdraw from the NBA draft – that he’ll return to Gonzaga for his senior season.
“You try to think about it as, ‘If everything is normal what would you do?’ But you can’t, there are so many things that are outside of normal that weighed on my decision,” Kispert said. “As time went on, the feedback from NBA teams got better and better. I could have very well been an NBA player this year.
“It came down to where would I be happiest for the next year of my life. I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent here, the coaches, the players, the people and playing in this uniform. I knew playing one more year would make me happiest and I’ll be better off in the long run.”
Kispert’s return is the last and likely the most important piece to Gonzaga’s roster. Simply put, Kispert is the Zags’ leader, a versatile go-to player who immediately becomes a candidate for West Coast Conference player of the year and All-America honors.
Kispert, 21, hoped to make a decision by the middle of July, just before the Zags began holding limited workouts and conditioning sessions, but he delayed the timeline because he kept going back and forth.
“I didn’t feel settled at all. I wanted to know everything and have all the information, but at the same time you can’t get it all,” Kispert said. “Basically Wednesday and Thursday of last week, it was ‘OK, Corey, you have to make a choice.’ It was probably Friday afternoon (when he decided). It took me a long time and I’m happy with what I decided.”
The 6-foot-7 wing was encouraged by what he heard from NBA executives during an unusual pre-draft process limited by COVID-19 protocols, noting the feedback reached a point he didn’t think possible when he declared for the draft in April. He’s optimistic he’ll make his NBA dream come true after Gonzaga’s 2020-21 season.
“With that being said, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have some unfinished business to attend to,” Kispert said. “Returning to school gives me the best opportunity to not only improve my game to be ready for the NBA, but also to give my best and final shot at the national championship that we have been coming so close to for years.”
Kispert joined junior guard Joel Ayayi in removing their names from draft consideration. Filip Petrusev, the 2020 WCC player of the year and an All-American, signed with Mega Bemax in his native Serbia and will keep his name in the October draft.
Ayayi’s return and seeing first-hand the work ethic of the returning players and three freshmen were factors in Kispert’s decision.
“Joel and I have gone through a lot of stuff together. Seeing him come back was a big pull for me,” Kispert said. “We were sad to see Filip go but guys like Drew (Timme), Pavel (Zakharov), Anton (Watson) and Oumar (Ballo) have a chance to fill his shoes.
“It’s an ultra talented group that works super hard and they’re fun to be around. That’s part of the reason I’d be happier playing here than trying to be a pro this year.”
The Zags’ starting lineup – likely Kispert, Ayayi, Watson, Timme and Jalen Suggs – and bench – probably Aaron Cook, Dominick Harris, Julian Strawther, Martynas Arlauskas, Ballo and Zakharov – on paper is an impressive blend of talent, depth, experience, size and versatility.
Kispert’s return probably seals Gonzaga in the top three, and possibly No. 1, in preseason polls and as a legitimate NCAA title contender.
Kispert led Gonzaga in minutes per game (32.9) and made 3s (78) and was second in scoring at 13.9 points. He connected on 43.8% of his 3s and 81% at the foul line. He was first-team All-WCC, second-team U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-District IX, the Division I-AAA men’s scholar athlete of the year and a finalist for the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award.
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