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Corey Kispert is a vital piece to the puzzle

The Washington native made a big jump as a junior and finished as Gonzaga’s second-leading scorer.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Washington at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

A strange and unexpected end to the season prevented Corey Kispert from building his case as an NBA prospect on a national stage. But the work he did last summer is what set the stage for him to have the type of season that made such a thought possible.

Gonzaga needed Corey Kispert to take a big step forward in the 2019-20 campaign. Following a run to the Elite 8 with one of the most talented teams that Gonzaga has fielded in the Mark Few era, a lot of production walked out the door. As one of the few holdovers from the rotation, Kispert was expected to make up for the void left behind.

To prepare himself for the expanded role required of him, Kispert worked tirelessly on improving his footwork, handles, passing, and ability to score all around the floor. That work paid off, as the junior forward turned himself into a multi-dimensional scorer that propelled Gonzaga to the status of Final Four favorite.

Despite a brief mini-slump over a three-game stretch in November (remember that?) when he shot 3-24 from the field and failed to score more than 4 points in a game, Kispert finished the year as the second-leading scorer on a team ranked in the top two of the AP poll for much of the season and led the team in three-pointers made (78) by a big margin.

Kispert’s importance to the team was crystal clear, as the games in which he struggled coincided with Gonzaga’s two losses and some of its close calls. Shooters will inevitably experience slumps over the course of the season, but the best players still find ways to contribute when the shots aren’t falling. Kispert’s improved as a facilitator over the years, particularly in screen-n-roll actions, and he can continue to build as a scorer in the paint and consistent defender as he rounds out his game.

Assuming Kispert returns, he will be the lone incumbent senior (graduate transfer Aaron Cook will be the other) on a young team carrying very heavy expectations. Kispert should take another step forward in his productivity, his work ethic guarantees that, but it will be his leadership and experience that will be crucial in helping Gonzaga achieve its goals next season and hopefully lead to another Final Four berth.