Jalen Suggs is preparing for one of the biggest nights of his life this July when he will find out where he’ll be beginning his NBA career after a stellar season at Gonzaga, leading the Bulldogs to the national title game and cementing his place in NCAA Tournament history along the way with his buzzer-beater in the national semifinal.
On Wednesday, Suggs took some time out of his day to surprise one of his longtime friends and teammates back in Minnesota, Chet Holmgren, with the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award, hopping on a Zoom call with Holmgren to present him with the award. It was a cool moment for two kids that first started playing basketball together in third grade and are now on the path to the NBA, with Holmgren following Suggs path to Gonzaga and, almost assuredly, the 2022 NBA Draft after that.
Suggs knows a thing or two about the award, as he was both the Gatorade Minnesota Boys Basketball Player of the Year and Football Player of the Year before choosing to dive into hoops for good, and after he presented Holmgren with the national award he spoke with us via Zoom. We talked about what it meant to be able to share that moment with his friend, the growth he’s seen from Chet on and off the court over the years, his own growth as a player and a leader, NBA Draft prep, and just how difficult it was for him to give up football to focus on hoops.
What was this like for you and being able to surprise somebody that you grew up with with with this honor and this award and sharing that moment with him?
It was special, just because I’ve been with him for every step of the journey and his process. So now to be able to give him the Gatorade National Boys Player of the Year Award, it’s just a true testament to the person he is. Not only the basketball player, because we know he’s amazing out there, but the student that he is, the person that he is, and what he does for his community of Minneapolis to now give back in all those things. And to receive this prestigious award, I was honored to be a part of that presentation.
You mentioned you’ve seen him every step of the way and his personal growth. What have you seen from Chet the person and how he’s grown into the young man that he is today?
Just his mental game. I got to see him sprout from my height when we were about five-something to seven feet, where he just kept going — I stopped and was kind of stuck saying he just kept going. But to see the mental side of it, you know, how much he’s grown as a leader, as a person, how he’s growing up into a grown mature young man. It’s funny because we got to go through and experience it all together, and I’m right ahead of him and everything that I’m experiencing, he gets to see it and learn from it, and then act accordingly in his own way. So it’s been a pleasure, you know, and I loved having him as a part of my process and then being a part of his.
An on the court, what impresses you the most about the way he’s gone on this journey to become the best player in the country and win this Gatorade Player of the Year award?
I mean, you see everything he does and how he scores the ball. Just how he moves, how he dribbles, he’s a force defensively, but his work ethic is second to none. Honestly, I haven’t seen many people who work as hard as him. He’s always in the gym, always working on his game. That’s all he wants to do, man, is to go to the gym, get shots up, go work out, go lift. He’s really dedicated himself to becoming better every day and it’s showing off, you know, where he’s the No. 1 player in the country and getting these awards. So I couldn’t be more proud of him.
He’s about to go to Gonzaga and go through the kind of the year that you just had there. What have you told them about what it’s going to be like playing for Mark Few and the work that he’s going to be able to put in there?
We talked throughout the year and I’ve gotten to share some of my experiences there, how that went for me, and things that I saw and learned. But really just I’ve told him, Go enjoy it and go take every day as it is. Control what you can control, because you’re never going to get this time back ever. So take everything for what it is, enjoy and learn from the good, learn from the bad, and take the good in and appreciate it. And then just go do it and go take over. I always tell him to go and impose his will on the court, and then off the court, he’s really adopted that mindset too in being the best person and really one of the better people out there. So I can’t wait for him to go and tackle this second part of his basketball phase.
For you, what would you say, from when you arrived at Gonzaga to now as you’re going into this NBA draft process, has been the biggest point of growth for you on the court and where you feel like you really developed your game as you get ready to go to the next level?
I say one of the pieces on the court that I’ve really developed and gotten better at that I wanted to get better at was just controlling the game. I’m always playing at my own pace, and that’s one thing that Coach Few would tell me every day. Be in control of the pace, don’t let anybody speed you up, slow you down. However you want to play, make sure that you can do that comfortably. And that’s one thing now throughout the year I learned and picked up on and have gotten a lot better at. Then, I mean, of course just the mental side of becoming a smarter basketball player, seeing different reads different looks. And then just becoming stronger [mentally]. Taking the bad for what it is and learning from it, and then moving on to the next. Because, again, it’s not always going to be pretty and it’s always going to be good. You got to take the bad for what it is.
As you’ve gone into your pre-draft process and training what have been your focuses and what if teams told you that they’re looking to see out to you as you come into the league?
My focus is just becoming better every day. Whether that’s on my handle, my jump shot, pick-and-roll reads, getting stronger, watching film, watching games, and becoming smarter. Really just trying to grow as a basketball player and in every aspect become better so that when I get there, I’m ready for anything that I have to face.
You were the Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year in both football and basketball and I wanted to ask about how you went about making your decision to focus on basketball going into college and now into the pros. What were the things that you weighed about your own future, picking between two sports that you obviously loved and played growing up?
Winning those two awards for both football and basketball, it was great. It meant the world to me. Seeing all the hard work that I put in, not only for basketball but then for football, and being acknowledged for that, it was great. But the process of getting down to one and choosing a sport, or whether it’s going to be both, it was so hard. It was long. It was tough, honestly, because, once I got to the end and I kind of knew that I was going to go to Gonzaga, I knew that was a place I wanted to be. But it had no football team. It hurt, cause that’s something I love to do and something I’ve always done, and that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do anymore. Not right now, and you never know what the future holds, but going to the NBA now that’s my job, and don’t you don’t mess around about business.
So it was tough, you know, it was emotional. I cried about it a little bit, took a lot of long, long nights thinking about it. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made to go to Gonzaga, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. There’s always going to be the “what if” game I can play. But, you know, that’s what it’s there for. For the what if and, you know things to always think about and joke and laugh about.
And you don’t get chased by 300-pound men that are trying to hit you anymore, so that’s a positive at least.
No Aaron Donalds running after me [Laughs].