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Why Gophers & Chet Holmgren Can Fit

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February 15, 2021

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There was speculation on social media and elsewhere last week that Minnehaha Academy 7-footer Chet Holmgren, the nation’s most coveted prep player in the class of 2021, will announce his college choice within days. However, a source close to Holmgren texted this message yesterday, “No announcement.”

Holmgren’s list of seven schools he is considering hasn’t publicly changed for months but Gonzaga is thought to be the favorite as the college destination for the versatile superstar. The Zags are the nation’s No. 1 team and a pedigree program with star power including point guard Jalen Suggs, a former teammate of Holmgren’s at the Academy. Suggs, though, won’t be in Spokane next season after becoming one of the early selections in the NBA Draft.

The schools on Holmgren’s list of seven announced last year are Georgetown, Gonzaga, Memphis, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio State.

The Gophers? Their chances are probably similar to a Minnesota snowman not melting in April. Decades of mediocrity, troubled coaching tenures, inability to attract the state’s best prep players and fan apathy are “warts” on the maroon and gold sales pitch.

But that’s not to say it makes no sense for Holmgren not to play for the hometown team. Signing on with the Gophers could push several of the right buttons for the program and the player.

Watching Holmgren on the court makes an observer think twice about what he is seeing. Holmgren is so graceful and fluid he moves like a player six inches shorter. He dribbles with the skill of a guard, able to smoothly slash toward the basket and dunk the ball. He makes three-point shots but can also score inside using efficient footwork and moves. An unselfish talent, he is quick to find teammates with his passes, including outlet passes to start the fast break. His height, long arms and athleticism make him a frequent and intimidating shot blocker.

NBA mock drafts for 2022 project Holmgren as the first player to be chosen in a class of talented prospects. Partially for the similarity in mobility and versatility, Holmgren is compared with Los Angeles Lakers superstar Anthony Davis. He was the NBA’s first overall draft choice out of Kentucky in 2012.

Attributes the teenage Holmgren doesn’t have yet are bulk and exceptional strength. At maybe 200 pounds, his frame is thin. Time and a college weight room will make a difference. Next season he could benefit from playing with Minnesota center Liam Robbins.

Robbins, a 7-foot, 235-pound transfer from Drake, is established now as one of the Big Ten’s better bigs. Holmgren, probably playing at power forward, needs a physical sidekick like Robbins who already has three seasons of college experience. Robbins can lessen some of the stress and pounding on Holmgren from opponents by using his size and strength, while helping with rebounding, shot blocking and scoring. A versatile scorer, Robbins can move outside the lane on occasion and allow Holmgren to post up.

Holmgren wants a college program that will enhance his readiness for the NBA. With the Gophers, the offense figures to run through him. Even if junior point guard Marcus Carr doesn’t pursue the pros, Holmgren’s presence, skills and versatility dictate him dominating the ball to run the offense. Holmgren will have constant opportunities in all kinds of situations to advance his game.

No collegiate league is more physical than the Big Ten and Holmgren needs that experience as he preps for the pros. That’s certainly a selling point for the Gophers when compared with Gonzaga. The Zags play in the ho-hum West Coast Conference that can’t come close to matching the Big Ten in physicality and quality teams.

There’s been talk of Holmgren playing after high school in the NBA’s developmental league. The G League, with older and more physical players, might be more of a jump than is prudent for him. While considering the pay-for-play G League, word is Holmgren is leaning toward college for next season.

Richard Pitino

A decision to become a Gopher changes both the reality and perception of basketball at the University of Minnesota. Coach Richard Pitino’s job status becomes more secure, the team is labeled at least a dark horse favorite to win the Big Ten next winter, and (pandemic allowing) Williams Arena is jumping with frenzied fans and sellout crowds.

Holmgren could play on the same floor as his dad, former Gopher David Holmgren who was a reserve in the 1980s. Dad and other family and friends could easily drive to Chet’s games, not having to constantly arrange out of state travel like they would if he chooses Gonzaga or other programs on his list.

If Holmgren takes up residency near Dinkytown, he will in one season establish himself as one of the program’s more revered players ever. Playing the loyalty card and choosing the hometown team will be remembered in a better way by Minnesotans than if he joins the parade of local prep stars that have opted for other places. Relationships count for a lot and if Holmgren unfortunately saw his pro earnings cut short by injury or illness, he might one day be more than grateful he played for the Gophers.

National Signing Day is April 14 and Holmgren can make his college choice official then if he wants. Just about that time in April three years ago Minneapolis received over a foot of snow—and snowmen were “alive and well!”

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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