Chet Holmgren Wants to Go Where Jalen Suggs Has Gone Before
When USA Basketball announced 17 finalists for the 2021 USA U19 World Cup Team on Monday, there was little doubt that Chet Holmgren’s name would be on the list.
With the final 12-man roster announced last night — Holmgren wasn't a surprise to many to be on that list, too.
In fact, you can expect to see Holmgren’s name on a lot of lists over the next decade or two. Holmgren, the No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2021, is a 7-footer with guard skills. He is committed to play for Gonzaga University this upcoming season, but first and foremost are Holmgren’s opportunities with USA Basketball. He is working to try and to be a key piece of the U19 team that travels to Latvia next month.
“Camp’s been great so far,” Holmgren said Monday shortly before USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team Committee announced the finalists from its training camp in Fort Worth, Texas. “It’s been great competition. Everybody’s working hard. It’s been high-level basketball and fun all around.”
Holmgren was selected to play for the U.S. at the 2021 Nike Hoop Summit, but that event was canceled due to the pandemic, forcing the Minnesota native to wait until this summer for a chance to compete for USA Basketball on the international stage.
“I’m definitely very excited,” Holmgren said. “To play for the country, to put that USA on your chest, it’s always an honor. It’s a step up. It’s not just a minicamp. It’s a special heightened experience.”
To this point, a significant part of Holmgren’s basketball career has mirrored that of Jalen Suggs. The two began playing together in third grade and competed on the same AAU team for years, plus three years in high school at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis. Suggs spent last season at Gonzaga before declaring for the NBA Draft, where he is expected to be a top-10 selection later this summer.
Suggs and Holmgren have talked basketball on virtually every level over the years. Those conversations have included Suggs’ tales of winning gold medals as part of USA Basketball’s U16, U17 and U19 teams in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively.
“I’ve asked him about it all the time,” Holmgren said. “He said it’s very special, but that it’s definitely a grind. These tryouts are hard. There’s a week straight of two-a-days and then a 20-hour flight to the other side of the world, where you’re playing against guys you’ve never seen before. And they’ve been playing together for a whole year. It’s definitely a hell of a challenge, Jalen said, but there’s nothing quite like it.”
After hopefully playing in the U19 event, Holmgren will turn his full-time attention to playing for Gonzaga. Suggs and the Bulldogs advanced to the NCAA Tournament title game last season, falling just short of winning the school’s first national championship as their prized recruit followed along closely.
“I love to watch basketball, but it’s even more cool when a close friend and close teammate was out there playing and representing where you came from, what you stand for — and representing it really well,” Holmgren said.
Suggs earned a place in NCAA Tournament lore when he banked in a 35-footer at the buzzer to defeat UCLA in a Final Four thriller.
“Me and a bunch of my friends just started running around screaming,” Holmgren recalled. “It was crazy. As soon as I saw him get the ball downhill with speed and time, I knew he was going to make it.”
Things did not go as well for Gonzaga in the championship game, but Holmgren took that 16-point defeat in stride.
“I always appreciate great basketball,” he said. “Credit to Baylor and what they did in the title game.”
This summer represents Gonzaga’s unofficial passing of the torch from Suggs to Holmgren — at least from a freshman standpoint — and the Bulldogs’ newest phenom is embracing the role.
“I’m definitely very excited. I see us being a great team. I’m going to put in the hard work to help us be the best team we can be. I think we’ll win a lot of games,” said Holmgren, who averaged 20.7 points, 12.4 rebounds, 5.1 blocks and 4.4 assists as a high school senior while helping Minnehaha win its fourth consecutive state championship (the 2020 state tournament was canceled). He also was named 2021 Naismith Prep Player of the Year among a long list of impressive accolades.
Holmgren, who is listed at 7-foot-1, 195 pounds, adds: “I’ve put on a few pounds. I’ve been working a lot on my body — getting stronger, more explosive, better balance, getting to my spots on the floor more efficiently and effectively.”
Holmgren hopes his hard work will pay off in next month’s tournament, which features 16 nations from around the world, including Spain, France and Argentina. The U.S. is in Group D alongside Australia, Turkey and Mali — the country it beat in the gold medal round to win the 2019 title.
Holmgren wasn’t on that team, of course, but Suggs was. And through his friend and former teammate, Holmgren knows what’s in store if he’s able to help this year’s squad capture another U19 gold medal.
“Hearing that anthem? There’d be nothing like it,” Holmgren said. “Ever since I watched Jalen do it the first time, it’s something I’ve always wanted to accomplish. It’d be a great milestone. It’d be great to see my hard work is paying off.”