Flashback: 2 Wizards go head-to-head in March Madness NCAA championship

Baylor v Gonzaga
Baylor v Gonzaga / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

With this year's NCAA Tournament underway, hundreds of college athletes will look to make their mark on the national stage. Although not every college basketball player intends on taking the next step to the NBA, for some, March Madness is an opportunity to open the eyes of scouts across the league and earn recognition with fans at the professional level.

Back in 2021, two current Washington Wizards players went toe-to-toe in the national championship game. Representing the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs, Corey Kispert faced off against Jared Butler and the Baylor Bears with both programs in search of their first national championship title. Despite entering the matchup as favorites, the Bulldogs were out-hustled by the Bears from the start, scoring a season-worst 70 points in the loss.

Jared Butler and Corey Kispert battle in the NCAA Tournament championship

After winning the jump ball, Butler notched a pair of buckets at the rim to draw Baylor out to an early 9-0 lead. With four and half minutes gone by, Kispert knocked down a three-point attempt to give Gonzaga its first made field goal of the championship game. From then on, the Bears took full advantage of an overwhelmed Bulldogs team, beating Gonzaga on the offensive glass and forcing several turnovers to extend their lead to as much as 19 points before halftime.

Coming out of the locker room to begin the second half, Gonzaga seemed to be more in touch with the offensive game that had carried them to a perfect 31-0 record prior to the championship game, drawing within 9 points on an Andrew Nembhard layup with 14 and a half minutes remaining. The Bears would go on a 15-4 run over the next four minutes of the game, including four free throws from Butler, to take the air out of the Bulldogs' comeback hopes.

By the end of the night, Butler had a game-high 22 points, knocking down four three-pointers in the first national championship-winning game in Baylor history. The 6'3" guard was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player following the victory.

On the other side, Kispert filled up the stat sheet, scoring 12 points with three rebounds, two assists, a block, and a steal. Although he and the rest of the Bulldogs could not complete the perfect season, Kispert was honored as a consensus first-team All-American in 2021 and earned the Julius Erving Award as the nation's best small forward.

How did these two college stars make it to the Wizards?

Fast forward to the 2023-24 NBA season, Kispert and Butler have turned from foes to allies at the NBA level. With the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the Wizards selected Gonzaga's star forward, while Baylor's title game leader would fall to the New Orleans Pelicans in the second round. A few days after the draft, the Pelicans sent Butler to the Memphis Grizzlies, who rerouted him to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Santi Aldama.

Butler would spend one season with the Jazz before being waived the following October. The former NCAA Tournament standout quickly caught on with the Oklahoma City Thunder but played just six games with OKC in the NBA before the team declined his qualifying offer and renounced their free-agent exception rights. In July of 2023, Butler agreed to a two-way contract with Washington.

Since their epic clash in college, Butler and Kispert have shared the floor for 117 total minutes with the Wizards, including 12 minutes in Thursday's 109-102 win over the Sacramento Kings. As their time in the District continues, the two will hope to create new memories of success; together this go around.

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