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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Minnehaha coach on Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren’s Big Monday: ‘Just very proud’

April 20, 2021 Updated Tue., April 20, 2021 at 10:09 p.m.

Chet Holmgren, a standout at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, committed to Gonzaga on Monday and the 7-foot-1 forward has signed a letter of intent.  (Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
Chet Holmgren, a standout at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, committed to Gonzaga on Monday and the 7-foot-1 forward has signed a letter of intent. (Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Chet Holmgren and Jalen Suggs were together again at Minnehaha Academy if only for a few hours on a memorable Monday for the Minneapolis private school, the Grassroots Sizzle AAU program and Gonzaga.

They each won four state basketball titles at Minnehaha, three as teammates, so the school’s gym was an obvious setting for them to announce their next moves.

First up was Holmgren, the top-ranked recruit in the 2021 class who committed to Gonzaga. A few hours later Suggs, one year older than Holmgren, made it official that he was leaving Gonzaga after one season to enter the NBA draft.

A doubleheader of announcements that reshaped Gonzaga’s roster and left Minnehaha coach Lance Johnson and Grassroots Sizzle director Brian Sandifer beaming with pride.

“I’ve got a shirt on right now that says, ‘Living the dream.’ I truly am,” Sandifer said. “Blessed, happy, thankful. Humble more than anything.”

“We’re obviously feeling a lot like (Gonzaga), just very proud,” Johnson said. “And to be honest, really lucky that we had these two guys at our school. It’s almost a bittersweet day that the Jalen and Chet era is over, but at the same point we’re also a program that thanks them and puts blinders on and goes forward.”

Gonzaga is doing the same thing with Suggs exiting as the program’s second one-and-done freshman and Holmgren arriving as the highest-ranked recruit in school history.

The Zags have a few personnel questions left – mainly Drew Timme’s status, though most anticipate the standout forward will be back for his junior season – but another formidable roster is taking shape. Coach Mark Few told The Athletic that guard Andrew Nembhard will return next season to pilot the offense.

Holmgren cited Gonzaga’s ability to match its system to players’ skill sets as one of the reasons he picked Gonzaga. The 7-foot-1 Holmgren’s versatility gives Gonzaga numerous options at the both ends of the floor.

“We used him all over the court. We didn’t just throw it to him in the low block, although we demanded that as well,” Johnson said. “When he rebounded the ball, he usually brought it up court without an outlet. We allowed him to shoot 3s and I would assume Mark (Few) would do that at Gonzaga. He’s a lot better coach than me.

“Chet is gifted offensively because he can do so many things.”

Same at the defensive end. Johnson studied Holmgren’s influence, including swatting shots, altering shots and shots that weren’t attempted because of his paint presence, and estimated Holmgren was worth 40 points per game.

“We literally saw it in the state tournament where you’re scouted very well,” Johnson said. “People would dribble into the lane and see Chet and they kept dribbling right out of the paint.

“You want him around the basket. He is an incredible shot blocker. A lot of times we put him on the other team’s worst player, to be honest, and let him play a one-man zone essentially. He can guard multiple positions, that’s his other strength, and we didn’t have to worry about switching him onto a guard.”

Johnson and Sandifer go way back with Suggs and Holmgren. Johnson coached both players throughout their high school careers and Suggs’ father, Larry, helps with the boys and girls programs.

Sandifer and Larry Suggs have known each other for three decades. Sandifer started the Grassroots AAU program and joined forces with Larry’s Sizzle program about eight or nine years ago. Jalen and Chet were Grassroots Sizzle standouts.

Johnson noticed lots of Minnehaha students sporting Gonzaga gear during Jalen’s freshman year with the Zags. Johnson anticipates Holmgren will have a similar impact.

“Our bookstore needs to start getting more Gonzaga gear,” Johnson said. “Everybody at our school was wearing Gonzaga gear with Jalen there.

“It was fun with Jalen out there and the number of games was got to see them play on national television. It made it a perfect fit for all of us and a perfect school for him.”

Sandifer and Johnson are confident Holmgren and Suggs will thrive next season.

“Just like Gonzaga has never had anybody like Jalen, they’ve never had anybody like Chet,” Sandifer said. “I think he’ll be the most watched freshman since Zion (Williamson). He’s so unique.”

“Jalen’s body is NBA ready,” Johnson said. “He’s going to work on his perimeter game a ton.

“He’s so multidimensional. He can guard multiple positions, offensively he can get to the basket. I just think he’s going to be instantly a really key component for any team.”

Johnson added that he’d “send anybody to play for Mark Few” after watching Suggs’ success. So, is there anyone else in the Minnehaha pipeline?

“We’ll let you know,” Johnson said.

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