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Sports >  NCAA basketball

Feeling the draft: Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs ready to hit the NBA stage

UPDATED: Wed., July 28, 2021

Corey Kispert was warming up for a recent workout with the Golden State Warriors when he heard a voice from behind.

“I’m riding the bike and it’s, ‘Hey, Spokane to the league, pretty cool,’ ” Kispert said. “I turn around and it was Klay Thompson. We talked a little about Eastern Washington and basketball and his time at WSU.

“He’s been a basketball role model of mine for a long time, and I say that very publicly. It was really cool to meet him and talk to him.”

It’s about to get even cooler for Kispert, and likely for three of his former teammates at Thursday’s NBA Draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The 6-foot-7 wing is projected as a first-round pick, possibly in the lottery portion (top 14). Most mock drafts have Jalen Suggs going at No. 4 to Toronto.

Gonzaga could have four players drafted with guard Joel Ayayi and forward Filip Petrusev, who played professionally in Serbia last year after spending his first two seasons at Gonzaga, often projected as second-round picks.

The 6-11 Petrusev is listed at No. 43 to New Orleans and the 6-5 Ayayi is right behind at No. 44 to Brooklyn in The Athletic’s latest mock.

Kispert has been in New York since Monday and joined Suggs at a pre-draft photo shoot. They’ve been featured in NBA.com videos with Kispert touring Times Square and Suggs walking through the High Line park.

Toronto seems the most likely landing spot for the 6-5, 205-pound Suggs as a possible replacement for free agent point guard Kyle Lowry. Nine of 12 mock drafts on NBA.com paired Suggs and the Raptors, the closest thing to a consensus behind Cade Cunningham going to Detroit at No. 1 in all 12 mocks.

There was at least one dissenting opinion.

“There’s no point guard there (with the fourth pick),” ESPN’s Richard Jefferson said. “There’s no point guard you can take and hey, ‘We’re going to let Kyle go’ and then we’re going to get a young player that’s a point guard at a high level.”

Suggs told members of the media that Toronto’s player development “is off the charts,” and he praised Lowry’s winning mentality.

“I will say the ones that do pass up on me and take another prospect, it will come back and it will be to their detriment because you can look at my track record and what I’ve done and it’s always win at the highest level and my play has been at the highest level,” Suggs said.

Kispert, who generally falls in the 10-20 range, put a lot of thought into who he wanted to invite to the draft to sit inside the Green Room or at another seating area nearby.

He’ll be joined by his immediate family, his agent and girlfriend and former Zag women’s basketball standout Jenn Wirth. Gonzaga will be represented by assistant coaches Roger Powell Jr. and Brian Michaelson.

Kispert also asked Adam Davidoff, a former Gonzaga manager and current grad assistant, and Ken Nakagawa, who was a GU grad assistant and then video coordinator before joining Tommy Lloyd’s staff at Arizona. Nakagawa and Kispert spent hours studying video of college basketball’s top shooters.

“Those guys really helped me in workouts,” Kispert said. “I invited them because they were part of it.”

Kispert prepared for the draft by moving to Chicago and working out with a group of prospects that included Baylor’s Jared Butler, Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp, Michigan’s Isaiah Livers, West Virginia’s Miles McBride and Alabama’s Herb Jones and John Petty.

Kispert lined up against the first four players on the list in the last two years.

“Talked a little trash,” Kispert said, “but it was a lot of fun to get to know them personally.”

And Butler, who helped Baylor defeat Gonzaga in the national championship game? “Forced to (relive the title game) because we were roommates,” Kispert said. “That was the elephant in the room. We had to knock that out when he walked through the door. Anytime I relive that game it’s painful.”

Kispert participated in parts of the NBA Draft Combine in June, carefully choosing to go through interviews and physical testing but declining to participate in shooting drills of 5-on-5.

“It’s all just weighing risk and reward,” he said. “No matter who I worked out for I knew I wasn’t going to get much from shooting. The biggest knock has been my athleticism and moving with guys, so skipping on shooting and doing the testing was a perfect way to showcase what I could do in the NBA. Thankfully I performed well.”

That he did, with a 2.99-second shuttle run, tied for second out of 55 participants, and a 37.5-inch max vertical.

There’s another knock on Kispert he isn’t buying.

“I would say the lack of potential, having a low ceiling,” he said. “I’ve improved on paper and on the court every year at Gonzaga. Just because I’m 22 and I’m a senior, people label me as a guy with less potential than the 18-year-old with raw talent.

“I know I have so much to get better at, but I have the work ethic and track record to back it up.”

Kispert’s progress over four seasons at Gonzaga was off the charts. So was his shooting accuracy, which topped out at 44% behind the 3-point line last season. He’s widely regarded as the best shooter in the draft.

The development of his all-around game – he’s improved as a ballhandler, creator, finisher and defender – stems from putting in time in the gym.

“It’s really cool to look back and see how far I’ve come,” he said. “There were countless times I was working my tail off and nothing was coming out of it. I felt like I was taking one step forward and two back. Part of the reason I invited Adam and Ken (to the draft) was because they had front-row seats to see me struggling through it, failing, trying again and getting better.

“That’s the beauty of what I am as a player, how much I had to work through to get to this point. The work isn’t over, just because I made it here. It doesn’t mean I can stop. I’m looking forward to that same mode, whether I was a sophomore in college or a sixth year in the NBA.”

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