Gonzaga's Mark Few encouraged by Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert's growth in NBA

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Mark Few encouraged by Hachimura and Kispert's growth originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

LAS VEGAS -- There is something about the Gonzaga University basketball program the Wizards clearly like.

They have selected two players from the West Coast powerhouse in the first round of the NBA Draft over the last four years; Rui Hachimura and Corey Kispert. Hachimura crossed paths in Washington with Jonathan Williams III, his former college roommate, and both Hachimura and Kispert reunited with Joel Ayayi, which at one point gave the Wizards three members of the 2018-19 Gonzaga team that reached the Elite Eight.

Beyond the fact Gonzaga is annually one of the best programs in college basketball, and therefore always has good players to choose from, Wizards president and general manager Tommy Sheppard has known Zags head coach Mark Few for a long time. They respect each other's opinions, so if Few puts in a good word about one of his players, it goes a long way.

NBC Sports Washington caught up with Few at the Las Vegas Summer League to get his thoughts on Hachimura and Kispert, who were recruited and coached by Few before becoming key parts of the Wizards' future.

"Rui did a great job shooting the ball this year. I think that was what everybody was questioning. I think it was just a really, really long and hard year with the Olympics and everything. I don’t think everybody understands the pressure when you’re the face of an entire country in sports. You get him back out there on the floor and see his smile and see him enjoying playing, I really liked how he was playing at the end of the year for [Washington]," Few said.

Hachimura, who just wrapped up his third NBA season, played in only 42 games after a long hiatus to begin the season. After returning to the team, he said he needed a break from basketball due to the whirlwind of representing Japan in the Tokyo Olympics.

Despite that time off, Hachimura showed improvement, particularly as an outside shooter. After shooting 31.3% from long range in his first two NBA seasons, he knocked down 44.7% last year. He also set a career-high in effective field goal percentage at 56.3%.

That increase in efficiency is encouraging for Hachimura, who has been a consistent scorer since he entered the league. It could raise his ceiling in the long term.

Few was pleased to see Hachimura experience a breakthrough with a skill he has long been trying to develop.

"He's worked hard for it. He's worked really hard," Few said.

For Kispert, shooting was not a question coming in as he was widely regarded as one of the best outside shooters in the 2021 draft class. But that did not convey initially in his rookie year, as he overcame a slow start to crack the Wizards' rotation last season.

Few was paying attention along the way and saw a familiar player once Kispert gained his footing.

"I thought he did a great job, man. The way he played down the stretch was vintage Corey. I’m so happy to see that success. I think we all had high expectations for him and I knew he was in a good spot in Washington," Few told NBC Sports Washington.

Hachimura and Kispert are now the only two Gonzaga players on the Wizards' roster, but they figure to serve important roles on the team this upcoming season. Both are expected to be firmly in the rotation as the Wizards hope to count depth and versatility as strengths in the supporting cast around Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis.

Few will be watching and Sheppard will be keeping an eye on Gonzaga, as he always does in search of future Wizards players.