Minnehaha Academy basketball coach Lance Johnson had a lot on his mind last weekend facing two marquee games, including one in front of 17,000-plus against a national power at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
The coach didn’t have a single worry about how his best player and Gonzaga’s newest commitment, Jalen Suggs, would handle two huge games sandwiched around the announcement of his college destination on national television.
“He always performs well when there are a lot of cameras and lights,” Johnson said of Suggs. “I never worry that he’s not going to step up and rise to the occasion.”
The coach has seen it before. Johnson was there when Suggs jumped into his arms as a seventh-grader after breaking his wrist when he collided with an opponent. A few months later, Suggs returned and scored 20 points in a sectional playoff game.
Suggs has led Minnehaha to three state basketball titles and one football championship. After three days of practice and barely picking up a ball since August, Suggs scored 30 points in the first game of his senior season. Ten days later, he scored 41 points.
It was a big weekend for Gonzaga, Minnehaha and Suggs, which is saying something for a top-10 recruit who already has a cache of three USA Basketball gold medals, player of the year awards and countless trophies and honors.
Suggs had 25 points and eight assists in a win over Park Center on Friday. The 6-foot-4 guard announced his commitment to Gonzaga, becoming the highest-ranked recruit in program history, about an hour later live on ESPN2.
Suggs delivered 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists the following day in a Target Center victory over Sierra Canyon, a California team that included LeBron James’ son Bronny and Dwyane Wade’s son Zaire. Minnehaha’s Chet Holmgren, a 7-footer who visited Gonzaga in October and is No. 4 in the 2021 class, had nine points, 10 rebounds and 12 blocks.
“We played Park Center and they’re very good, and obviously everybody knows how good Sierra Canyon is,” Johnson said. “And Jalen was clearly the best player on the floor both games at every point of the game, defense, offense. He’s a pro.”
The top-ranked Zags hope that pro thing can wait at least one year. Suggs said he’s “fully invested in Gonzaga” during his announcement, but he also said he’s also considering professional options overseas.
Several prep standouts have opted to turn pro in the past decade, including R.J. Hampton, one of the nation’s top recruits last year who is playing for the New Zealand Breakers. Hampton’s salary is reportedly well in excess of $100,000 and he signed a five-year shoe and apparel deal with Li-Ning.
Sports Illustrated projects Hampton as the 11th overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft.
Emmanuel Mudiay, now with the Utah Jazz, played in China before becoming the seventh pick in the 2015 draft. Brandon Jennings chose to play in Italy and was taken 10th in the 2009 draft. Jennings played in the NBA from 2009-18.
Larry Suggs, Jalen’s father, is handling discussions with international teams.
“I just tell them to call me, shoot me some numbers, let me see if it makes sense,” Larry said. “If it does, yeah. If it doesn’t, no.”
Larry said there’s no timeline for a decision. Jalen can’t sign with Gonzaga until April, so it could be months before it’s known if Suggs wears a Zags uniform next season.
The elder Suggs said the conventional path is appealing and he applauded Jalen picking Gonzaga.
“You gotta put your kid in the best fit basketball-wise,” Larry said. “Gonzaga was the best fit. You watch it and replay it and basically all the ball screens and the offense coach (Mark) Few has made and tweaked, it all makes sense.”
Jalen made up his mind on Gonzaga about a month ago. The Zags have been considered the front-runner for months.
“What I told him is just kind of keep it simple and relaxed,” Larry said. “And one day you’ll wake up and say, ‘Dad, I want to do this.’ That’s kind of how it went.”
That didn’t stop the calls from powerhouse basketball and football schools.
“We had late calls from all the big schools to play football and basketball,” Larry said. “They were all calling with one last push.”
Jalen has experience dealing with attention, the limelight and facing high-level opponents.
He’s been on USA Basketball teams since 2017. He’s played for elite AAU programs and he’s a talented football player, ranked 15th nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks.
On the basketball court, he’s an explosive athlete with an improving 3-point shot.
“He’s always been a mature player that knows what he’s doing,” Johnson said. “But you can see there’s an aura about him being a year older, more calm. He’s always been a leader.
“His 3-point shooting is getting better and better. He’s above 40%. By the end of the year, it’s been the trend that he shoots better when he gets his basketball legs back.”
Suggs is ready for his next step, whether it’s at Gonzaga or overseas.
“With Jalen, you don’t often hear that he needs to develop anything,” Johnson said. “It’s, let Jalen be Jalen and play in a system like Gonzaga and get the college coaching and conditioning and diet. He’s already sensational.”
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