Chet Holmgren was a sight to behold when he showed for basketball practice as a third-grader.
Still is, as a 7-footer that has developed into a unique talent and one of the nation’s most dominating high school players.
Holmgren was named the Gatorade National Player of Year and, just like the old days, Jalen Suggs came through with an assist. The former Gonzaga point guard surprised the future Zag by presenting Holmgren with the award via a Zoom call Wednesday.
“Having him come in in the third grade with his collared shirt and khaki shorts, not being able to do a three-man weave, to where he’s at now in his senior year (as) the best player in the country going to the best team in the country,” Suggs said of his former AAU and Minnehaha Academy teammate.
“It’s been so much fun and a pleasure, honestly, just because he’s grown so much on the court, but off the court as well.”
Holmgren, who has earned at least five national player of the year awards, joins a distinguished list of Gatorade winners, including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum.
“He (Suggs) told me he was proud of me for how far I’ve come, not only on the court but off the court,” Holmgren said. “He’s watched me grow up over the years, grow up a lot actually, and he helped me put it into scope how cool this award really was.”
Holmgren will arrive in Spokane on Tuesday, just enough time to move in and take a physical before departing four days later for the U.S. U19 World Cup team training camp at Texas Christian University.
The U.S. team will compete at the FIBA U19 World Cup from July 3-11 in Riga, Latvia.
Holmgren has attended USA Basketball training camps but hasn’t worn the jersey in competition. He didn’t get an opportunity last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This will be my first time trying out,” Holmgren said. “I’ve got a pretty good idea how it’s going to go because Jalen has been on three national teams, so he’s been able to give me a lot of insight.
“It would definitely be a great opportunity to represent my country, and hopefully represent well. It would also be a great experience personally to be able to travel the world and play basketball. Since a young age, basketball has taken me around the country, but for it to take me around the world it would definitely be even crazier.”
Suggs misses the “one-two punch” of playing with Holmgren, whom he referred to as “like my little big brother.”
Suggs believes Holmgren will make a smooth transition to the collegiate game. Holmgren is an accomplished shooter, capable ball-handler and rim protector.
“He’s been labeled a big, but he’s positionless,” said Suggs, a projected top-five pick in next month’s NBA draft after one memorable season as a Zag. “He can do anything. He does things that bigs can do, guards can do, wings can do. He’s a three-level scorer and the best rim protector in the country.
“He could be the best rim protector really in basketball, to be honest. He’s a force in there, and he takes pride in it. It’s not easy to score on Chet. Especially my junior and senior year when he got to that 7-foot height, finishing over him, it’s tough.”
Holmgren averaged 20.8 points, 12.6 rebounds, 4.7 blocks and 4.4 assists while leading Minnehaha to a Minnesota Class AAA state title. He was on four state championship teams and finished with 1,567 career points, 964 rebounds and 456 blocks.
Holmgren won the Gatorade award over finalists Jabari Smith (Auburn commit) and Class of 2022 center Donovan Clingan, and the remainder of Gatorade state player of the year honorees, including GU commits Nolan Hickman (Utah) and Hunter Sallis (Nebraska).
The award recognizes basketball and academic achievement (Holmgren has a 3.46 grade-point average) and “exemplary character” demonstrated on and off the court.
“One of the things I’m most proud about with Chet is the things that he’s doing for the city of Minneapolis, the way he always gives back,” Suggs said. “That’s one of the best parts about his entire journey. The basketball piece is one thing. Everyone knows he’s an amazing basketball player. I think the part everybody needs to know is that off the court he’s just as great of a person.”
As for the basketball piece, Holmgren is ready to join the Zags.
“It’s a great culture and they’ve had great success,” he said. “I just want to come in with a positive attitude and willingness to work hard and learn every day. And hopefully continue on the same culture of success and doing things the right way.”
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