On Wednesday, Chet Holmgren was named the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year, joining a long list of tremendous players to be given that honor like Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal, LeBron James, and many more. The award comes with plenty of prestige and plenty of expectation for the future, but Holmgren is more than ready to welcome that on.
The Minnehaha Academy (Minneapolis, MN) star has been in the spotlight for years and is set to head off to Gonzaga for a year before likely heading to the 2022 NBA Draft as a high lottery selection. The 7-footer is very much a modern big man with the ability to stretch the floor as a shooter and the length and quickness to score and defend at the rim. To surprise Holmgren with the award was his longtime friend and teammate, Jalen Suggs, who is on his own path to NBA stardom as a top pick in the 2021 NBA Draft after his own season in Spokane.
We got to talk with Holmgren over Zoom about being named the Player of the Year, his relationship with Suggs and how that’s helped guide him, where he’s grown on and off the court, and how he’s already working to use his platform to impact the community, starting with Gatorade doing some charity work on his behalf in Minneapolis.
What does it mean to you to be given this award and to be named the Gatorade National Boys Player of the Year, and to have a friend like Jalen be able to surprise you with that announcement?
Yeah, so two things. It’s definitely a great honor for me to win this award, not only because … it’s not just something that kind of boosts my name or my resume or anything like that. Gatorade’s actually partnering with me and doing some charity work on my behalf to help a youth sports organization that’s close to home. I’ve seen a lot of people that youth sports has helped and to be able to give back and hopefully help the next generation, it’s definitely very special.
And I was definitely surprised when Jalen hopped on the Zoom call to award me … or not award me but, you know, kind of hand the award to me virtually or however you would do that. But yeah, it was a pleasant surprise. It’s really cool to have a childhood friend and teammate, somebody that I’ve known for so long, present me with the award.
You talked with with one of my colleagues a few months back and you mentioned some of the people you look up to off the court are guys like LeBron and KD and others that do that work in the community. When did you start thinking about your platform, as you kind of grew as somebody who’s getting national attention and somebody who’s going to have opportunities and doors open up, and how you could use that to help your community?
Yeah, once I realized how many people I could reach — not only with my voice but with my social media platforms, etc. — once I realized that I could reach out and get a message out to people, I thought it was very important to voice what I feel strongly about, what I believe in. Hopefully do that and, you know, create a positive change while doing that.
I talked with with Jalen a few minutes ago, what is it like having somebody like him who is a year ahead of you and is going through all these processes that you’re going to go through, whether it’s making a decision on college and now currently going through the draft process, that you can lean on and talk to about things? Not a lot of people have experience in being a five-star and being a top-flight player and you have somebody so close to you, that you can actually have those conversations with who has experience?
I mean, I think you almost just answered your question [laughs]. It was definitely very helpful. Because like you said, you know, he’s a year ahead of me. Everything I’m seeing now, he saw it last year and it’s very helpful to be able to go to him for advice and kind of understanding on, you know, what I’m about to go through and he’s been very helpful.
You’re going to Gonzaga where he just spent a year. What are the things he told you about playing there and playing for Mark Few?
Yeah, you know, everything. He answered every question I had and with knowing him for so long, I could trust pretty much anything he said. He had nothing bad to say, he had nothing but praise for them. It’s been a great partnership for them and he told me it’d be the same for me this next year coming up, and it’d be a great fit and a great opportunity for me.
I asked him this about you, so I’ll ask you the same about him. What have you seen in his game over the years that he’s grown and developed to get to this point where he’s about to be a top-5, top-10 pick in the NBA Draft?
That’s pretty hard to say cause, I mean, he’s been so good at almost everything for so long. So it’s hard to pick one thing, but he’s definitely great at creating for his teammates. He’s been doing that for a long time, drawing attention and getting downhill and finding open teammates when the defense collapses. But on top of that his leadership and his hustle, lot of people this year are we talking about how hard he plays and I’ve been seeing that since third grade. He’s definitely one of the highest motors, hardest playing kids I’ve ever played with. And I try to learn from some of the things he does.
And then for you, what are you most proud of in your development over the years to get to this point where you are earning an honor like this as the top player in the country?
Yeah, you know, I’m just proud of myself in the way that I’ve handled it all. It’s a lot coming at me but I think I’ve done a great job of being able to manage it all and stay true to myself in doing it.
Something that Jalen said is he’s always been impressed with your work ethic. How did you learn to embrace the work and the things you have to do between game days to get to the point where you can perform at your best and continue to get better as the competition gets better around you?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I just say it comes from staying true to myself like I said before. It’s something that I’ve kind of come accustomed to myself and expect of myself, really. And then I’d say it also comes from watching other people and the mistakes they’ve made and trying to learn from other people’s mistakes so I don’t have to learn for myself. I’ve seen other people make mistakes and I don’t want to make them myself and a lot of that comes down to, you know, working hard. A lot of people aren’t willing to put in the work but the work speaks for itself and if you stay true to the work it’ll serve you well.
As you get ready to go to Gonzaga, what’s your focus this offseason in your game and the things that you look at and want to be able to continue to improve headed to the next level?
I want to improve all facets of my game really and continue to work every day. I’m getting better, you know, putting a lot of work in this past 12 months now on my body, lifting almost every day and started a nutrition plan and all that. And on top of that, continue to work on my skills. You know, it’s scoring at all three levels, and learning the game, becoming a student of the game, watching a lot of basketball and trying to learn as much as I can.
How did that aspect the part about continuing to learn the game factor into your decision to go to Gonzaga and play for a coach like Mark Few for you who has been coaching for so long and has had so many successful players come through on that program on their way to the NBA?
Just go in and be willing to not only put in the work, but be willing to listen and learn. Like you said, he’s been at it for so long and he’s got a lot of successful players, so you know who am I to come in and try and tell him I’m right [laughs]. I’m coming in with all the willingness and all the want to try and pick his brain and pick everybody’s brain on the staff and learn as much as I can in however long time I’m gonna be there for.