After much speculation, it is now official that three stars from last season's Gonzaga men's basketball team will at least entertain the idea of leaving the program for the NBA Draft. Following junior forward Corey Kispert’s announcement, redshirt sophomore guard Joel Ayayi and sophomore forward Filip Petrusev will also enter the process of going pro with an option to return to GU if they so desire.
Since the abrupt end to the season, many fans had begun wondering what the future may hold for the trio and the program itself — much like last season, there will be a new wave of fresh faces to dawn the Bulldogs uniform come fall. However, there were questions concerning what returning players would be on campus to lead the young squad. Despite the possibilities, GU basketball fans should see this news as a win-win scenario.
Entering the season, the most likely Zag to be thrown into NBA talks was Kispert. The sharpshooter was expected to step into a larger role as one of the few players to return from the season prior and was named to a handful of award watch lists.
While his performance was not underwhelming, it may have been overshadowed by Petrusev’s breakout campaign. The sophomore led the Bulldogs in scoring and was in consideration for many prestigious awards by season’s end, including the Wooden Award for the nation's top collegiate basketball player. His stock on NBA draft boards everywhere skyrocketed, with the possibility seeming more and more likely that he would entertain the idea of leaving GU early.
Ayayi may be the outlier here at first glance, but his size and quickness make him a quality prospect along with his improving three-point shot.
With all of that said, there is a slim chance any of them will hear their names called on June 25.
According to ESPN, all players rank outside the top 45 of college prospects who will be draft-eligible, with Kispert the most hopeful at No. 45. Petrusev ranks No. 60, while Ayayi is currently unranked. Many mock drafts do not include any Zag not named senior forward Killian Tillie, although the possibility remains that Ayayi, Kispert or Petrusev end up as second-round selections.
However, the chances remain slim given the current state of each Zag’s intentions. All three have made it clear they will not hire agents while going through the draft process, a move that allows them to return to school if they so choose. Their statements all read along the lines of wanting to return to GU and they will remain in contact with the coaching staff and program along the way.
So, why even try for the NBA at this point? It’s actually more beneficial than one might think.
First, it allows players to test their value and skills. By declaring draft eligibility, NBA scouts will review each player’s performance this last season, as they determine whether they can help their franchise win.
Intangibles, physical attributes and skill sets are all evaluated and estimated by professionals. Interviews between general managers and prospects will then take place, where discussions occur regarding the players talents. Players can then learn from this feedback and apply it to their game going forward.
Essentially, it’s a way to elevate their game by hearing the opinions of some of the best scouts in the world. If their game isn’t ready for the next level, prospects can return to their collegiate programs for another year to ready themselves based on the scouting advice they received.
Think about it: a group of veteran leaders much improved with the best recruiting class this program has ever seen? That spells championship contender right there.
And, if that isn’t the case, expect a long-term effect instead.
The trend of sending Zags into the NBA has caught on more recently than ever before, and with that, brings more young talent into the doors of The Kennel.
With players like Domantas Sabonis, Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura all thriving in the pros since their departure from college, high school prospects who dream of playing in the NBA have begun to recognize GU as a step toward that goal. Next year’s star-studded incoming class is an example of this effect, along with transfers that Mark Few always seems to capitalize on.
With that in mind, it wouldn’t be horrible to watch any member of the trio leave for greener grass, even if it means not seeing their faces on campus again. As more and more Zags fill the pro level, expect even more talented ones to come walking through the door.
Ultimately, these moves will have a lasting effect on the program and will answer much needed questions, but whatever the outcome, the Zags will continue to be in good hands.