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Gonzaga Basketball

‘I’m doing everything to stay on the floor’: Former Gonzaga great Corey Kispert making adjustments to NBA, new lifestyle

The NBA lifestyle is packed with charter flights, high-end hotels and games, often every other day, occasionally back to back.

And adjustments, nonstop adjustments. That’s what Corey Kispert has discovered in his rookie season with the Washington Wizards.

He’s learning a new role and system, competing against the best players on the planet, experiencing on-court successes and failures and dealing with the demands of a marathon 82-game regular-season schedule.

Off the court, it’s endless travel, time-zone changes, nutrition, rest, recovery and bigger numbers in his bank account. And opening Christmas presents via FaceTime with family members, as Kispert did in his apartment Dec. 25.

“It’s adjustments, man, a lot of adjustments,” the former Gonzaga standout said. “Adjustments to lifestyle, schedules, style of play, differences in the way a team is run and the way you play on the floor.

“Especially for a rookie, it’s all about adjusting, being open and learning from every experience, good and bad. Two, three weeks ago I felt like I had both feet planted under me. It really does take that long. We’re almost 40 games into the season, it feels like an eternity. That’s a college season and some change and we’re barely halfway done.”

Kispert is thankful he’s tackling these challenges now instead of last season. The former Zags star contemplated leaving for the NBA after his junior year when he was projected as a second-round pick. Calling it one of the best decisions he’s made, he returned to Gonzaga, became an All-American, improved his draft position and was much better prepared for the next level.

“It would have been vastly different,” Kispert said. “I would have been searching for a lot for routines and what works for me. I’ve been able to hit the ground running as far as what I need to work on in the gym. Behind the scenes, I treated my senior year as a runway for my rookie season, testing out how much sleep I needed a night or what I liked doing on the road or what worked in the weight room.

“That really makes a difference with time management in the league. On the court, I just got a level of confidence my senior year I wouldn’t have had.”

Kispert was drafted 15th overall by the Wizards, but rookies, whether lottery picks or free agents, typically assume new roles and inevitably experience growing pains.

“I’ve just seen over the last couple weeks it’s slowed down more. That’s just part of the natural maturation for a young player,” Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. said following a Dec. 16 game against Phoenix. “The game feels really fast, but I think he’s understanding how else he can impact a game by cutting, moving, spacing the floor. We know he can shoot the ball, but he’s playing off the bounce a little more.

“Defensively, he’s giving good effort. It’s not always perfect, but he tries to make sure he understands the game plan and he gives an honest effort.”

Kispert was the picture of consistency last season, averaging nearly 32 minutes per game with high shooting percentages while averaging 18.6 points. He didn’t play in the Wizards’ season opener and saw single-digit minutes in three of his first five appearances.

His playing time has soared in the last month as the Wizards’ roster was hit hard by COVID-19. He’s made four starts, played crunch-time minutes, had a pair of games with four 3-pointers and scored a season-high 20 points against the New York Knicks.

Kispert takes every precaution to stay healthy and test negative, usually getting his work done at the team facility and going straight back to his apartment in Virginia, about 10 minutes from Washington D.C.

“I’m doing everything to stay on the floor. That means giving up a little bit of social life and hanging out with friends,” he said. “I’d never wish anybody to get sick ever, but it’s afforded me an opportunity to get into games and get a lot of minutes and it speeds up the learning curve that I was on.”

That learning curve can seem steep when minutes are sometimes limited and the opposing team usually features at least one of the league’s top players. On one possession against Phoenix last month, Kispert guarded Chris Paul before switching on to Deandre Ayton.

“Guys are just so skilled and make such tough shots and do it consistently,” Kispert said. “Nothing fazes top guys. They don’t get fazed by defenses, coverages, pressure. It’s just a different elite player every single night to have a front-row seat to and another thing to soak up and learn.

“On the road after I’m done warming up, I usually stick around on the court and watch the other team warm up and their routines. That’s when I get the fandom out of the way.”

He will always be a fan of his former GU teammates, a growing list that includes Wizards teammates Joel Ayayi and Rui Hachimura, Memphis’ Killian Tillie and Brandon Clarke, and Orlando’s Jalen Suggs, whose rookie year has been interrupted by a thumb injury.

Kispert quickly secured Tillie’s and Suggs’ NBA uniforms and he’s spent time chatting with Clarke, Kevin Pangos and Domantas Sabonis. The former Zags attempt to get together for dinner when possible.

“I haven’t had a chance to play with Rui yet, but I know that chemistry is there and I know what it’s like with Joel,” Kispert said. “You know you can truly be yourself and relax and hang with them off the floor. One thing overlooked in the NBA, even though you’re busy and traveling, you’re probably in the gym for three hours every day when you don’t have a game, so you do have a lot of time to kill and it can get lonely and isolated, especially with COVID.

“Having a best friend or two from school has made it a really easy transition for everything from basketball to moving across the country.”

Kispert caught up with GU players and coaches last month in Phoenix when the Wizards faced the Suns and the Zags were preparing for Texas Tech. He watches the Zags when they’re on national television and it doesn’t conflict with Washington’s schedule.

“I’ve talked to Jalen (Suggs) multiple times as we’re watching games and it’s, ‘Man, that looks like so much fun (with fans in attendance),’ ” Kispert said. “Watching the Texas game, he was like, ‘What I would give to go back and play in that game.’

“I like where Gonzaga is headed. There were some breaks in those couple games that didn’t go our way, but a lot of that is kind of learning who they are. We’ll be just fine and we have plenty of time to figure it out. There’s not much to figure out. They’ve only lost twice.”