Jalen Suggs Passing the Torch (Again) As ‘Unicorn’ Chet Holmgren Arrives at Gonzaga

Jalen Suggs Passing the Torch (Again) As ‘Unicorn’ Chet Holmgren Arrives at Gonzaga

The former high school teammates won’t play together in college, but there’s an unspoken bond that continues.

Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren have the kind of telepathic on-court chemistry that dynasties are built on.

For four years at Minnehaha (Minneapolis) Academy, the duo terrorized the state and even the country, producing arguably the nation’s top inside-outside combination and winning a state title three-peat from 2017 (Suggs’s freshman year) to ’19.

That’s why when the COVID-19 pandemic snatched away the chance at winning a fourth last March, just one day after winning the sectional title, Suggs found solace in knowing that he and Holmgren, who’s one year Suggs’s junior, were on the same page on how to make that right.

“We didn’t have to say anything,” Suggs says. “It was understood.”

A year later, Holmgren made good on the unsaid promise, posting 18 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and two blocked shots to claim the 2020–21 state title.

“We had to get it done,” Holmgren says. “That’s one I definitely share with Jalen and those guys from the year before.”

Eerily, history has repeated itself.

Once again, Suggs has passed the proverbial torch to Holmgren, this time at Gonzaga, where Suggs and the Bulldogs fell just short of completing a dream season after an 86–70 loss to Baylor in the men’s national title game on April 5.

Suggs has since declared for the NBA draft and Holmgren, the SI All-American Player of the Year and No. 1 player in the SI99, reports to Spokane on Tuesday.

No conversation. No harmonious head nod. No cryptic social media posts.

“What’s understood, didn’t need to be said,” Suggs says. “He knows and I know. We both have the same mindset and that’s to win at all costs.”

The Bulldogs are certainly built to win, evident from their No. 1 ranking in Sports Illustrated’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 even before Drew Timme announced his return.

Timme and Holmgren will give the Bulldogs, arguably, the top frontcourt in the country next season and the kind of versatility that will frustrate opposing defenses.

Timme averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and 2.3 assists a game last season and scored in double figures in all but one game. Add in the No. 2 overall recruiting class in the SI All-American team rankings, and the Bulldogs seem primed for another Final Four run.

“I can tell you I’m definitely not planning to lose,” Holmgren says. “I have no problem saying that the goal is to win it all. We’re striving for greatness.”

Suggs says that even with the inevitable bull’s-eye, Holmgren’s goal is “definitely” attainable for what he called a “special” roster next season.

“With everyone they’ve got on the roster they’ve definitely got what it takes,” Suggs says. “It’s all in their hands. They’re in control of their own destiny. Chet is a different animal.”

Different animal indeed—more specifically a “unicorn,” the moniker Holmgren earned around the college basketball recruiting world for his on-court gifts that defy logic.

At 7′ 1″, Holmgren can run the point like a seasoned floor general, knock down three-pointers like a marksman, dominate the paint and protect the rim like his life depended on it.

The best part?

Holmgren plays with a chip firmly implanted on his shoulders and approaches each play like an unknown player looking to leave his mark.

“I have high standards and goals for myself, and the only way I know how to get to where I want to be is to work hard,” Holmgren says. “That’s how I’ll approach things at Gonzaga. I’m constantly trying to be better. I don’t get caught up with all of the distractions.”

Be that as it may, said distractions will inevitably abound, and no one knows better than Suggs what Holmgren is in store for next season.

The constant hype, the haunting “monkey on their back” story line as the program chases that elusive national title, the seemingly 24-hour news cycle overanalyzing the highs and lows of their season.

“Controlling what you can” and having short-term memory is the best approach for Holmgren, says Suggs.

“He’s just gotta take the good days and keep it rolling and take the bad days and learn from them,” he continues. “I can’t wait to see how it goes for him. But he’s a competitor and, like I said before, he knows what to do. I’m not worried about that. We’ll be tapped in the entire way.”

Whether they talk or not. 

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