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Zag dads: Several fathers of Gonzaga players have impressive basketball resumes of their own

UPDATED: Mon., March 29, 2021

Gonzaga basketball dads Matt Gregg (freshman forward Ben Gregg), left, and Craig Kispert (senior forward Corey Kispert) hang out Saturday on a hopping Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gonzaga basketball dads Matt Gregg (freshman forward Ben Gregg), left, and Craig Kispert (senior forward Corey Kispert) hang out Saturday on a hopping Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

INDIANAPOLIS – There’s a silvery tone to Craig Kispert’s hair.

Matt Gregg shaves his head to the nub, but his beard is gray.

The two tall, middle-aged men stood amid the busy, basketball-crazy foot traffic on Georgia Street on Saturday as fans from Oregon State and Loyola Chicago began to spill out of nearby Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

A day before their sons and top-ranked Gonzaga (28-0) were set to face No. 5 seed Creighton (22-8) on Sunday at Hinkle Fieldhouse in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament, they explored downtown Indianapolis and took in the rare “Bubbleville” ambiance.

Kispert, the father of Gonzaga senior guard and NBA prospect Corey Kispert, is jealous.

He never reached the national tournament during his time at NCAA Division II Seattle Pacific in the 1980s.

Gregg, father of freshman Ben Gregg, is also envious. His Lewis-Clark State College teams of the 1980s never reached the NAIA national tournament.

“I skipped school and took off work to watch the first weekend of the tournament when I was in college,” Craig Kispert said. “But I’d tell Corey, man, you get to play in this! Cherish it.”

Gregg, the head women’s basketball coach at Warner Pacific in Portland, nodded.

“This is what we dream of as parents and as former players,” said Gregg, a Clarkston graduate who also played at Community Colleges of Spokane.

If Gonzaga, the tournament favorite, lives up to its billing and wins the program’s first national title, about a dozen hoops-minded fathers will be able to add a significant bullet point to their “proud papa” list.

The Bulldogs’ deep, talent-heavy roster has two other types of people in abundance: future pros and fathers with impressive resumes of their own.

Genetics help.

Gonzaga forward and burgeoning 6-foot-10 talent Drew Timme is the son of Matt Timme, a 6-8 big man who played four years at Southern Methodist and appeared in the 1993 NCAA Tournament.

Martynas Arlauskas, a 6-foot-7 guard, is the son of former European pro and prominent Lithuanian basketball figure and coach Mindaugas Arlauskas.

Former Gonzaga Prep star and 6-7 sophomore forward Anton Watson is the son of former Idaho star Deon Watson Sr., who starred for the Vandals in the early 1990s.

Junior guard Joel Ayayi’s 6-7 father played professionally in France and on the Beninese national team.

“It’s good, because a lot of us fathers had some of the same challenges,” Deon Watson said. “When they’re good, you want your children to be around the right people. We are so fortunate to have our kids at Gonzaga, but that’s a credit to our children working hard to get there.”

Gregg remembers Watson’s glory days in Moscow.

“He was always in the box score, getting buckets all the time,” Gregg said.

Former Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves, who is currently leading national power Oregon in the NCAA women’s tournament, was a Division I talent himself for the New Mexico Lobos.

Graves’ son, Will Graves, is a reserve guard at Gonzaga.

Julian Strawther, a talented Gonzaga freshman, is the son of Lee Strawther, who started as a true freshman at NCAA Division III Pacific (Ore.) in the late 1980s.

While most of Gonzaga’s fathers have a coaching background and several played in college, the Bulldogs’ prized freshman guard, projected top-10 NBA draft pick Jalen Suggs’ father, Ray Suggs, played junior college football.

Considering Jalen Suggs was also among the nation’s top high school quarterbacks before committing to basketball and Gonzaga, that’s not a surprise.

So how would this group fare in a fatherly final four?

“We’d definitely win the Spokane city league,” Watson said.

“Maybe 15-20 years ago, we’d all be a lot better,” Gregg said.

Lee Strawther took it a bit further.

“It would be quite a squad,” Strawther said. “Physically, I’d think we would get the best of this current Gonzaga team if we were still in our prime.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic that prevented fans from attending most Gonzaga games, the dads didn’t get to regale each other with basketball stories of yore.

In Kispert’s four years around the Gonzaga program, he cherished exchanging stories with other fathers.

Now, they’re back at it.

“That was always fun,” Kispert said. “So now (with fans at the NCAA Tournament) it’s all kind of gratifying to have them all here again to watch.”

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