Former Gonzaga star Jalen Suggs returns to the Kennel, says ‘warm welcome means the world’
Feb. 10, 2022 Updated Fri., Feb. 11, 2022 at 9:33 a.m.
Jalen Suggs experienced a full McCarthey Athletic Center on his recruiting visit, but he wasn’t able to play in front of the customary 6,000 Gonzaga fans during his one season as a Zag because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Suggs wasn’t in uniform during his surprise visit for Thursday’s Gonzaga-Pacific game, but the Orlando Magic rookie soaked up a packed Kennel atmosphere and even did his part by standing and cheering from the front row for the majority of the game.
“This is the greatest,” Suggs said. “It’s been hard to keep it a secret. I couldn’t keep it a secret from the guys on the team. It feels so good, to feel the embrace and love from everybody here.”
Suggs received a huge ovation from the crowd when he was announced just before tip-off, shortly after his game-winning 3-pointer against UCLA at the Final Four played on the videoboard.
He received a standing ovation after a Suggs’ highlight video was played during the first media timeout. Suggs pulled out his phone and took video of his shot and Kennel Club fans surrounding him in stands.
“It sucks I didn’t get to experience them and this atmosphere that’s here every night,” said Suggs, who spent time in two different Kennel Club sections rooting on many of his former teammates. “It is what it is. To know I can come back to the warm welcome that I did means the world. It’s just another assurance I made the right (college) choice.”
Suggs took advantage of a break in Orlando’s West Coast swing to return to Spokane. Orlando defeated Portland on Tuesday, but Suggs was limited to seven minutes by a sore right Achilles. The Magic visit Utah on Friday.
Suggs plans on returning next Saturday for Gonzaga’s Senior Night against Santa Clara. He let GU players and coaches know earlier Thursday he would on hand for the Zags’ 89-51 blowout over Pacific.
“We keep in touch,” junior forward Drew Timme said. “He keeps in touch with all of us, but to actually see him again, especially in the middle of the season with what he’s got going on, it was pretty special and pretty cool.”
Suggs makes every attempt to watch Gonzaga games with his busy NBA schedule. He has a tight connection with GU 7-foot freshman forward Chet Holmgren, his former AAU and prep teammate who credits Suggs’ dad, Larry, for helping him develop guard skills.
“What I see with him is a lot like with me, coming in early, tough transition and it’s a lot different than high school,” said Suggs, whose mom, dad and agent joined him on his trip to Spokane. “We’ve had a couple conversations about it and how my adjustment went and I gave him a few tips.
“To see how he’s been playing once he’s gotten comfortable has been great. Man, he’s a terror on defense. And he’s a hard guard on offense. You don’t want to put a slow big on him. You don’t want to put someone smaller and faster on him because he’s too big. I’m super proud of him.”
Suggs, who recently returned from a thumb injury, is averaging 12.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 28.0 minutes. He has started 32 of 35 games.
“There’s been ups and downs, as it is with anything in life, but you learn from it,” said Suggs, the fifth overall pick of last year’s draft. “I’ve definitely grown as a player and I think even more as a person.
“I think just taking everything I’ve learned from here, me and coach (Mark) Few talked about it a bit before the game. The pick-and-roll reads hasn’t really stopped me at all, hasn’t troubled me because of how many we were in while I was here. Ton of credit to everybody here, taking me in and helping me learn and grow.”
Suggs sees big things ahead for Gonzaga the rest of the season.
“They’ve got the bigs, the guards, the wings, the defense and the offense speaks for itself, as it does every year,” he said. “I’ve got supreme confidence in these guys.”
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