“I want to win another state championship. We didn’t get that chance last year. That’s all I’m thinking about right now.” -- Chet Holmgren, the nation's most sought-after senior recruit.
Photos: Carlos Gonzalez * firstname.lastname@example.org
(Venue courtesy Minnehaha Academy)
Chet Holmgren is in high demand these days.
As the most sought-after high school basketball player in the country, Minnehaha Academy’s 7-1 physical freak of nature defines the term “stretch four,” applied to traditional power forwards with better-than-average range. Zoom calls are frequent as college recruiting websites speculate often about his future. Everyone, it seems, wants to know his plans. It’s a query he anticipates before it’s asked.
Does he get tired of the constant questioning?
“You could say that,” he said. “I’m not sure why where I’m going makes a difference in somebody’s life, but it’s all a part of it.”
Pictures of him are not as misleading as they once were. He may appear long and ridiculously lean, with an unheard-of 7-foot-6 wingspan. But Holmgren’s game has much more to it than meets the eye.
He’s not just tall, he’s talented beyond expectations. And a shot-blocker extraordinaire. Local basketball authority Ryan James, perhaps the most knowledgeable source of hoops info in the state, calls him “the best shot-blocker I’ve ever seen,” high praise for a player still in high school.
Holmgren transforms easily into a shooting guard, able to put the ball on the floor and create offense or rise above defenders with a smooth, nearly unblockable shot. And, of course, the occasional resounding, defense-dominating dunk is always a threat.
Awards and honors are starting to pile up: The Naismith Award, the Wootten Award, McDonald’s All-American, Nike Hoops Summit team. “I’m probably going to need to build a trophy case,” he said.
Add to that, 2021 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.
Yes, it’s a Chet Holmgren world right now. He’s the latest Minnesota-bred talent to catch the fancy of the nation, doing things for a mostly local audience that will someday wax nostalgic, and maybe even embellish just a bit, things they witnessed him do.
As recently as four years ago, this frenzy of attention didn’t seem possible. Not until eighth grade did Holmgren begin his journey from being just another hopeful basketball player to superstar status.
“I had a pretty crazy growth spurt,” he said. “Until about ninth grade, everybody was pretty much my height.”
It wasn’t unexpected. His father, David, is a 7-footer who played basketball at Minneapolis Central and then the University of Minnesota, where his career was derailed by injuries. His son’s spurt just came a little later than expected.
Despite his father’s obvious connection to the sport, being a basketball player wasn’t a forgone conclusion for Holmgren. Dad was just dad. It wasn’t about basketball.
“At first, I didn’t want to play,” Holmgren said. “After awhile, I kind of fell in love with [basketball]. But, no, it wasn’t preordained.”
David Holmgren said it was by design that Chet had a more normal childhood, not running from basketball camp to basketball camp.
“I would pick and choose the ones we went to,” he said. “There were times when (teammate) Jalen Suggs would be at a camp and we’d be up north fishing.”
Chet said that wasn’t always by plan, however.
“It wasn’t always picking and choosing,” he said. “I didn’t always have the opportunity to go to those camps.”
That family time, however, was important to him. “I don’t have any regrets spending time with my family,” he said.
As he grew, his reputation followed. No longer did he blend in with others his age. And the basketball basics he learned came in handy. He had a guard’s skill-set in a low-post body.
“I thank my dad for getting me hooked up with the right coaches, Coach Larry [Suggs, Jalen’s father] and Coach Brian [Sandifer],” Holmgren said of his youth coaches who helped develop him. “Coach Larry is more qualified to coach basketball than any coach I know.”
Since Holmgren’s star has rocketed through the basketball stratosphere, there is little time left for anything else. The family cabin near Aitkin was sold three years ago, although they held onto the boat, which is in storage.
For the near future, the focus on two things: Confirming his future basketball home, which many believe will be Gonzaga University, and winning a state championship, something the pandemic rendered impossible last season.
The latter, Holmgren said, is his biggest concern.
“I want to win another state championship,” he said. “We didn’t get that chance last year. That’s all I’m thinking about right now.”
Minnehaha Academy's Chet Holmgren goes up for a first half dunk against Totino-Grace in the section final game on March 26. Photo by Jeff Lawler, SportsEngine