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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga players, staff get close-up view of Corey Kispert at Washington-Phoenix game

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 16, 2021

PHOENIX – Corey Kispert’s face lit up when he recalled receiving a text message last week from Gonzaga assistant coach Brian Michaelson that the Zags were planning to attend Thursday’s Washington-Phoenix NBA game.

“I’m really excited to see the guys again,” the former Zag standout said 90 minutes prior to tipoff before jogging back to Washington’s locker room for final preparations.

Kispert anticipated a busy postgame, hoping to chat with former GU teammates, coaches and as many as 30 friends and relatives in attendance at Footprint Center.

Even with Gonzaga’s growing contingent in the NBA, it’s still uncommon for GU’s road schedule to line up with an opportunity to watch a former Zag in action in an NBA game.

Thursday was one of those rare occasions as fifth-ranked Gonzaga practiced on campus, fulfilled media obligations and hopped on a charter flight, arriving in time to catch Kispert and the Wizards take on the Suns.

“It’s terrific,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said during his media session Thursday morning. “He’s a really, really, really great friend to all these guys and was a mentor to some of them. You just get so busy during the season and he’s so busy, it’s hard to keep contact sometimes.”

The Zags are in Phoenix to prepare for Saturday’s early tip – 10 a.m. – against No. 25 Texas Tech in the Jerry Colangelo Classic at Footprint Center.

The Zags were also hoping to see Kispert’s former teammates Rui Hachimura and Joel Ayayi, but Hachimura is still working his way back from an extended absence from the Wizards due to personal reasons.

Ayayi has played in five Washington games and 11 with the organization’s G League squad. Ayayi, who didn’t accompany the Wizards on their West Coast trip, is averaging 12.8 points, 7.2 assists and 6.1 rebounds in the G League.

“We are (looking forward to it), and unfortunately we were really looking forward to seeing Rui and even though Joel doesn’t travel with them, we were kind of hoping that would happen,” Few said. “But it’ll be great to catch up with Corey.”

The Zags watched Robert Sacre play early in his NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers. When Gonzaga played in a scrimmage in Oklahoma City in October 2016, the timing permitted the team to see Domantas Sabonis’ first home game of his rookie season with the Thunder.

Some in Gonzaga’s travel party were able to see Zach Collins, then a rookie with Portland, against the Utah Jazz in February 2018, the day before GU downed BYU 79-65 in Provo, Utah.

Former Zags frequently make it to Gonzaga road games, particularly during the West Coast Conference schedule.

Collins watched the Zags several times from seats just behind the bench when Gonzaga faced Portland at the Chiles Center.

Kispert is averaging 12.8 minutes, 3.8 points and 1.8 assists coming off Washington’s bench. He didn’t play in two of the past four games, but he entered against the Suns with 7:35 left in the second quarter and Washington trailing 45-36.

Kispert quickly had an assist and a layup in transition as the Wizards closed within 45-42, but Phoenix pulled away to lead 62-50 at intermission. Kispert played the entire fourth quarter in the Suns’ 118-98 victory and finished with six points and two steals.

Gonzaga sophomore Julian Strawther was a backup behind Kispert last season as the 6-foot-7 wing earned consensus All-American honors and helped the Zags reach the NCAA Tournament’s title game against Baylor.

Strawther said after GU’s exhibition rout over Eastern Oregon that it was tough waiting his turn last season, but he couldn’t have had better players to learn from than Kispert and Ayayi.

“I can’t wait to see him,” said Strawther, GU’s second-leading scorer at 14.0 points and team leader with 22 3-pointers. “We talk all the time on the phone or whatever, but it’s finally good to see him in person again.”

Kispert has kept an eye on Strawther and the Zags this season

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Strawther said seeing Kispert in an NBA contest “really exemplifies the Gonzaga way and just how this program moves and operates. So, just to see him succeeding at the highest level, I feel like it all motivates us.”

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