Teams that win national championships have a guy like Corey Kispert on their roster, and everything about his basketball character screams ZAG.
Despite being a true freshman last season, Kispert won the starting spot at the small forward position following training camp, and literally made a splash when he scored the first points of the season.
Kispert proved he deserved the job too, with mature all-around performances before going down with an ankle injury in the seventh game of the season.
Before suffering that injury, Kispert showed a well-rounded game at both ends of the floor. He clearly earned the trust of the coaching staff on the defensive end with his comfort and understanding of his responsibilities within the defensive system, highlighted by 46 and 38 minute appearances against Florida and Texas at the PK80. The 6’6” wing also showed an ability to score from inside and out, showcasing a smooth shooting stroke from the perimeter, while able to get into the paint and finish through traffic thanks to a physicality not often seen with freshmen.
Despite only missing 2 1⁄2 games after spraining his ankle against Incarnate Word, the injury appeared to hinder Kispert’s game for an extended portion of the season as he battled through a loss of explosion and confidence. There were still flashes of his star potential, highlighted by a 23-point performance against Portland on the road, but the rhythm and comfort evident through the first seven games of the season was not consistently present and the coaching staff didn’t lean on him in big situations as they did pre-injury.
Still, Kispert has everything in his toolbox to be a dynamic glue guy on this season’s deep roster while biding his team before he assumes the mantle of being a true star for this program. When considering his physical tools, basketball IQ, and relentless work ethic, I have no doubt that Kispert will be a vital piece of the puzzle this season and will be one of the pillars of the program for the next three years.
The Zags had some barren years at the small forward position, but now have an embarrassment of riches there thanks to Kispert’s readiness to contribute immediately upon arriving at campus last fall. Entering his second season, Mark Few now has the luxury of playing any of Kispert, Zach Norvell, and Rui Hachimura at the three, or all together in what could be one of the most imposing lineups in college basketball.
While Norvell earned the right to stay in the starting lineup when he slid into Kispert’s spot after the ankle injury, Kispert showed he is worthy and capable of handling starter’s minutes. His two-way play brought balance to the starting lineup at the start of last season, and Mark Few will have some choices to make this year as he considers how to configure his lineups for maximum effectiveness. Regardless of how the rotation shakes out, however, expect Kispert to play a big part.