It is obvious when watching Chet Holmgren play basketball why he’s the No. 1 high school recruit in the country. The five-star prospect out of Minnesota — who, as of now, is not committed to a college basketball program — is more or less a seven-foot point-center, capable of breaking an opponent down off the dribble and hitting a jumper in their eye on one end before turning around and sending their shot into the fifth row of the bleachers on the other. In an era when the phrase “unicorn” is thrown around for basically anyone whose game exists outside of what basketball fans consider normal, Holmgren is legitimately one of the most unique players in the world, regardless of age.
That skill set, when mixed with his never-ending desire to be great, has led to waves of praise getting heaped onto Holmgren. The latest came on Thursday, when the Minneapolis native was named the 2021 Morgan Wootten Player of the Year alongside UConn commit Azzi Fudd. The award is given annually to a pair of high school standouts who, per a release, “demonstrate outstanding character, exhibit leadership and embody the values of being a student-athlete through schoolwork and community affairs.”
“It’s definitely an honor,” Holmgren told Dime over a Zoom call. “I feel like it’s still kinda sinking in, but I’m taking it day-by-day.”
Dime caught up with Holmgren and discussed his game, what the future holds, the success his longtime friend Jalen Suggs has had for the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs, and what likes to do off the court.
As a broad thing, how does it feel to know that when people look at the list of people who are McDonald’s All Americans, Chet Holmgren’s name is gonna be on there?
It’s a long list of great basketball players, to have my name up there with them is definitely an honor. But I don’t want that to kind of be an end goal for me — it wasn’t for them, lots of people have gone on to do great things in their career, I’m gonna work to do the same.
Obviously the bummer news that they’re not gonna have the game this year, when did you hear about that, what went through your head when you heard that?
I don’t remember the exact date I heard it, but it was definitely a bummer when I did hear it. It’s kind of been a dream to play in that game, looking forward to it for many years, was definitely a driving factor in continuing to push and work every day, to be in the game. So it was definitely a hit for me when it was announced that it wasn’t gonna be played, but it’s still an honor to be part of the game.
I wanna ask about your game, how would you describe it to someone who hasn’t seen you play yet?
To put it simply, I’d say on both ends, do whatever it takes to help win. Could be anything — playing point guard, playing power forward, playing small forward, wherever I’m needed, whether I’ve gotta be a facilitator, scorer, primary defender, help-side defender, anything.
What’s the thing in your game you take the most pride in?
Definitely defense. I feel like if you score 30, but someone scores 30 on you, I don’t really see the hype in scoring 30 in a loss. Definitely don’t like getting scored on, definitely take pride in playing defense, cause defense wins championships.
When you talk to coaches, scouts, players in college, the NBA, whatever, what’s the feedback that you get about what they want you to work the most on as you get ready to make a jump in competition?
I just know my game’s not polished, not finished in any way, and I’ve just got to continue to keep getting better every day. That starts in the gym, I’ve been working a lot on my body, getting stronger, more explosive, better balance. And then on top of that, I’ve been working on my ball-handling, getting a better handle. Need to work on my shot and my decision-making as well, with the ball in my hands and without it, and my lateral speed on defense.
Who are your favorite players to watch, whether it’s other people in high school or people in college or the NBA, and what do you like about their game?
I’ve got friends in college right now playing. My guy Jalen’s doing great things in March right now, shout out to him. But also, in the NBA, I just like to watch basketball in general, not just one player. I like to take different things from different guys, definitely watch a lot of Kevin Durant, not only this year, I go back and pull out the old tapes. I watch a lot of LeBron, how he leads, how he makes guys better, how he kind of controls the whole game. Many different things from many different players. I watch a lot of Steph Curry, who doesn’t?
I’m glad you mentioned KD because when I watch him and I watch you, it’s that similar body type, it’s that similar mentality on both ends of the court. What’s the thing you admire most about him and what’s the thing about about him you take the most pride in having in your game?
It’s hard to pick out one thing, he does so many things as such a high level. But his ability to score at all three levels and do it efficiently, he doesn’t need 10 dribbles to get to where he wants to go, he gets to his spots. No matter what the defense does, he can score.
One thing I didn’t know until recently was you and Jalen were high school teammates. What is your favorite thing about watching him as Gonzaga’s gone on this run and he’s been a stud the entire time?
Not just high school teammates, pretty much lifelong teammates until this year. Since I started playing basketball in third grade, we’ve been playing on the same team for the most part. It kinda came as a surprise to everybody what he’s doing this year, but I could have told you last year it would have gone like this. He’s a high-level competitor, a high-level athlete, he just makes special plays on the basketball court.
What’s the thing that we, as the basketball watching public, don’t know about him that you think we need to know? It can be something about him as an athlete, a competitor, a person, if he’s a goofball, anything.
I think it’s just … he’s pretty much good at everything he does. He’s one of the best Call of Duty players I’ve ever seen up close, and multiple sports, too. A lot of people know he’s really good at football, but pretty much any ball he picks up, he’s better than you at. He’s just a great all-around athlete and a great person as well.
Something I hate in these interviews is someone always tries to go, “Hey, where are you going to college.” But the thing I do wanna know is, what are the things that are most important to you as you’re preparing to make this jump to another level of basketball?
There’s a lot of factors, but at the end of the day, it’s gonna come down to fit. How do I fit into their style of play? How do I fit into their offense? How do I fit into their defense? How do I fit in with the other players on the roster, not only on the court, but off the court? How do I fit in with the coaches? All that basketball stuff comes first, but then it comes down to how do I fit into the school and everything along with that.
What are some interests you have outside of basketball?
I put a lot of time into basketball, but there are other things. I like to definitely play video games as well. I like to cook … I mean, I like to eat, but cooking goes along with that, so I think I could throw down in the kitchen a little bit. I used to fish a good bit, but I kinda got too busy for that, had to put that on the back seat, but I’ll get back to it.
What video games? I’d guess Call of Duty since you and Jalen play that, no?
Yeah, it’s mostly Call of Duty. Not too many new games coming out right now, but a lot of the battle royale-style games, they kinda come in and … like Apex Legends, that kinda came for a little bit then died out. Everybody knows Fortnite, that got overplayed. But yeah, right now, it’s pretty much Call of Duty right now.
I know all the recruiting services have you as the No. 1 basketball player in the country, are you also the No. 1 Call of Duty player in the country?
No, no. [laughs]
Who’s got you?
Just a pastime. I bet a lot of people got me. I just hop on there for fun sometimes.
Everyone’s always gonna ask you about basketball, but who are the people that you admire outside of basketball, the people you admire away from the court?
There’s a pretty good list. I’d like to start with my parents, definitely great role models, do a lot of good things for me. My sister, other people as well. Then people like LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving does a lot of great things off the court that I don’t think he gets enough credit for, kinda gets overshadowed by some other things, unfortunately. But he’s definitely a great person off the court as well.