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Zags in the NBA: Ten former Gonzaga standouts on rosters with training camps underway

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 1, 2021

Washington Wizards forward Corey Kispert poses for a photograph during an NBA basketball media day, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, in Washington.  (Associated Press)
Washington Wizards forward Corey Kispert poses for a photograph during an NBA basketball media day, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, in Washington. (Associated Press)
By Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review

Ten former Gonzaga standouts are on NBA rosters – the record for Zags appearing in at least one game during a season is nine in 2020 – but one is absent at the outset of training camp.

Third-year pro Rui Hachimura hasn’t reported to Washington for personal reasons. The team didn’t elaborate in a tweet, but said it is an excused absence.

The 23-year-old Hachimura is coming off another busy offseason after leading Japan’s national team in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, the country’s first Olympics appearance since 1976.

Hachimura is one of the most popular athletes in his native Japan and was followed by a contingent of Japanese reporters during his Bulldogs career. Hachimura and women’s wrestler Yui Sasaki carried the Japanese flag during the opening ceremonies in Tokyo.

“Obviously, he’s a big piece of what we want to do going forward,” new Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said, “but we have the flexibility with our depth so we have multiple guys that can play that position.”

The Wizards are in transition after acquiring Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and a first-round pick from the Lakers for Russell Westbrook.

Hachimura has dealt with a few injuries during his first two seasons, but he’s started every one of his 105 career games. He averaged 13.8 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.

Washington has until Oct. 31 to decide if it will exercise the fourth-year option in Hachimura’s contract. He’s scheduled to make $4.9 million this season, according to Spotrac.

Elsewhere, Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi graduated to the NBA after leading Gonzaga to the national title game last season, Kelly Olynyk and Zach Collins changed addresses and Kevin Pangos is in the NBA after six seasons overseas.

Here’s a look at NBA Zags with opening night set for Oct. 19:

Suggs, who has recovered from a hand injury that shortened his summer league stint with Orlando, joins a crowded Magic backcourt with Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris and eventually Markelle Fultz, the former University of Washington star who tore his ACL last January.

“I’m just happy, I ain’t going to lie to you all,” Suggs told the media after the first training camp practice.

Suggs, the No. 4 overall pick, and Anthony, a first-round pick in 2020, will probably start and split ball-handling duties.

“We can all fly around the court, it makes it a lot easier when we need to rotate,” Suggs said of Orlando’s positionless style of play. “You don’t have to call a red or switch or trap to get the ball out of their hands because there’s a mismatch.”

Kispert, drafted 15th overall by Washington, was one of the best shooters in college basketball. That figures to be his path to playing time on a team that was 28th last season in made 3-pointers per game, but there will be plenty of competition at the shooting guard/small forward positions.

Kispert’s maturity should help his transition.

“You can watch all the film you want, but as soon as you step on the floor it just becomes different,” Kispert said of adjusting to NBA game speed. “Playing pickup and moving and playing with the guys has helped me a ton and that’s been biggest key for somebody new like me.”

Ayayi joins a lengthy list of former Zags to wear a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. The 6-foot-5 guard wasn’t drafted – there were reports he declined to be picked later in the second round so he could choose his destination – before quickly signing a two-way contract.

The native of France could face an uphill battle for playing time on a squad with nine players 32 or older. A two-way contract means Ayayi is eligible to split time between the Lakers and their G-League franchise South Bay. Rookie Austin Reaves’ two-way contract was recently converted into a standard NBA contract.

Olynyk put up the best stats of his career (19.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 54.5 field-goal percentage) after he was traded from Miami to Houston last season.

Olynyk should see plenty of playing time for the Pistons, who took Cade Cunningham with the first pick in the draft. Olynyk brings experience and helps space the floor with his passing and perimeter shooting (career 36.7% on 3s).

The Pistons are coming off two straight 20-win seasons, but their win total should start climbing with a young core that includes Cunningham, Jerami Grant, former Washington Husky Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Killian Hayes.

Olynyk, 30, has played in high-pressure playoff games with Boston and two years ago with Miami when the Heat lost in the NBA Finals.

“I’m at a point in my career where I feel that I can really help a team like this,” Olynyk, who signed a three-year, $37-million deal, told the Detroit Free Press. “A young team needs leadership on and off the court. I’m nine years in now, so you have those tricks of the trade. It’s time to pass them on.”

Pangos, 28, was a standout at several stops at the highest levels of European basketball. He led the EuroLeague with 89 3-pointers last season and was third in assists (6.7) for Zenit (Saint Petersburg, Russia) while earning first-team All-EuroLeague honors.

It should come as no surprise that Pangos won a shooting competition with Cleveland point guards Darius Garland and Ricky Rubio on the first day of training camp. Pangos is Gonzaga’s all-time leader with 322 3-pointers.

Pangos, who agreed to a two-year, $3.5 million contract, provides a steady hand and 3-point accuracy, but playing time might be limited behind guard Collin Sexton (24.3 points, 4.4 assists last season), Garland (17.4 points, 6.1 assists) and 10-year veteran Rubio.

Collins, limited to just 11 games due to injuries the past two seasons, is eyeing a healthy relaunch of his career with San Antonio. It’s unclear when he’ll be able to play after three ankle operations in 10 months, the most recent in late June.

The 6-11 Collins showed promise in his first two seasons with Portland. Nearly half of the $22 million in his three-year contract is guaranteed, reflecting the Spurs’ optimism that a healthy Collins will have a prominent role in the frontcourt.

Domantas Sabonis, 25, continues his upward trend after averaging a career-best 20.3 points and 6.7 assists last season. The sixth-year pro has played in the past two All-Star games.

The 6-10 forward anchors a Pacers team that finished 34-38 last year, their first losing record since 2015. Sabonis will count $19.8 million against the salary cap in the second season of his four-year contract.

Brandon Clarke plateaued last year following his solid rookie season. His scoring average dipped to 10.3 points (12.1 in 2020) and field-goal (51.7) and 3-point percentages (26.0) slipped compared to his rookie year.

His playing time dropped in the final six weeks as he battled nagging injuries and changes in the rotation.

“As long as he stays healthy, he’s a big piece for us,” Grizzlies standout guard Ja Morant said of Clarke.

Killian Tillie appeared in 18 Grizzlies games last season on a two-way contract. He signed another two-way deal in August.

Tillie showed off his shooting range when he started the Grizzlies’ home finale last season, hitting three 3s while scoring 16 points and grabbing six rebounds.

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