WASHINGTON -- Rui Hachimura and Corey Kispert each got extremely close to winning a national championship at Gonzaga. Both were on the Final Four team in 2019 and Kispert played for the Zags in their national championship loss to Baylor last spring. So, they are certainly hoping that this is the year, as Gonzaga enters the NCAA Tournament once again as the No. 1 overall seed.
They have been watching Gonzaga this season and, like many, are intrigued by star freshman Chet Holmgren, who this summer has a chance to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. He's a fascinating prospect, at a lanky 7-feet with the ability to shoot threes at a high percentage, make plays off the dribble and protect the rim.
For as versatile as NBA big men have become, there aren't many comparisons. The best one may be their current Wizards teammate, Kristaps Porzingis.
"I watched him a couple times. He has a lot of potential, for sure," Hachimura said. "He’s like 7-foot something, he can shoot and he can move. He’s actually a good defender. He can block a lot of shots. So, yeah I’m excited for him."
Holmgren, 19, is averaging 14.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks for Gonzaga this season. He shoots an impressive 61% from the field and 41.2% from three on 3.3 attempts per game. For a comparison, Kispert shot 40.8% from three during his four-year career.
Holmgren is on the short-list of prospects with a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick this June. Other favorites include Jabari Smith of Auburn and Paolo Banchero of Duke. All three will continue to make their case in the NCAA Tournament, which begins this week.
Kispert thinks Holmgren has a chance to be an excellent NBA player.
"I like him, man. He’s a really good player. He has a really good feel for the game and he has a skill set that not a lot of people have ever seen before. I’m excited to see what he does at the next level and how quickly he develops because it seems like he’s a really quick learner. I think it will be, obviously, the sky’s the limit for him," Kispert said.
Hachimura and Kispert each went from Gonzaga to the Wizards as first-round draft picks, Hachimura in 2019 and Kispert last summer. The Wizards likely won't be in the range to select Holmgren, unless they get some serious luck in the lottery. At the moment, Washington would hold only a 1.5% chance of selecting first and a 7.2% chance of landing in the top-4.
Still, you can bet Hachimura and Kispert will be paying attention to how Holmgren and the Zags fare in the tournament over the next several weeks, as will many NBA executives.