Chet Holmgren ready to bring unique skill set to the NBA

Sarah Holmgren said she isn’t an emotional person, but on the night of the NBA’s draft lottery, she found herself obsessing over pingpong balls and hanging on every envelope that was opened revealing the order of the teams.

That was understandable. Those pingpong balls and envelopes held the key to the future of her son — Chet Holmgren, the towering 7-foot Minnehaha Academy alum and potential No. 1 overall pick.

“You tell your kids from day one to study hard, work hard, be thoughtful about their future — and then it all comes down to four pingpong balls,” she said.

If she was getting worked up on the night of the lottery, Sarah has no idea how she’ll be when Thursday night comes and either the Orlando Magic, which has the first pick, or another team near the top decides her son’s fate.

“My No. 1 goal is to hold it together and not turn into a puddle of mud,” Sarah said.

Thursday is where one road ends for Holmgren and another begins. As tall as he is, Holmgren has lived up to expectations at every step of his young career. The national spotlight has been on him for several years already, from his first few years at Minnehaha Academy as the top-ranked recruit in his class through his one year at Gonzaga.

Despite that pressure on his lanky shoulders, he has made it to Thursday night, where Orlando or Oklahoma City likely will make him the first or second overall pick.

Of course, Thursday has an extra layer of suspense for Holmgren that not every top pick faces. Orlando could reunite Holmgren with his friend and Minnehaha teammate Jalen Suggs, in a combination that would give frigid Minnesotans an extra incentive to visit Florida in the middle of winter.

“It would be a delight. That’s all I’ll say,” Minnehaha Academy coach Lance Johnson said. “Orlando, Oklahoma City. Wherever he ends up. That’s so cool. But the fact both of them would be in the same city playing together again, it’d be something special.”

That possibility became more real when Orlando hit on its 14% odds of getting the top pick — and made lottery night all the more stressful and exciting for his family.

“Well, of course it would be lovely if he played with Jalen,” Sarah Holmgren said. “They’re good friends and they’ve been talking to each other since second or third grade about playing together in the league. … But we all recognize that’s not what’s going to drive this.”

Chet Holmgren has a conference call with media scheduled for Tuesday. In an interview with ESPN, he said he’d talked quite a bit with Suggs about the transition to the NBA.

“He said try to slow things down as fast as you can because everyone at that level plays slow, even when there’s seven seconds on the shot clock, nobody rushes,” Chet Holmgren said. “Everyone knows seven seconds is a lot of time — in the NBA, you can get almost two more actions in that [time]. Other pointers, tips like that, about the NBA style of play.”

Grassroots Sizzle reunion?

The Holmgrens are steeling themselves for the possibility that Chet won’t end up with Suggs. Those who are into the time drain of reading mock drafts know it might not happen, as several outlets predict Auburn’s Jabari Smith will end up with the Magic and Holmgren will slide to Oklahoma City.

Brian Sandifer, who runs the Grassroots Sizzle AAU program where Suggs and Holmgren played, was confident they’d end up together with the Magic. Their chemistry could easily translate to the next level.

“If you watch film of him and Jalen Suggs running a pick-and-roll, they run it at an elite level,” Sandifer said.

Holmgren’s offensive skill and defensive ability are tantalizing, with Holmgren’s father, Dave, saying Chet will showcase a lot more skill than he was able to with Gonzaga. The one obvious concern is something Holmgren has heard about for a while: his frame and strength.

“It doesn’t matter what the teams are saying or Twitter is saying or anybody else,” Dave Holmgren said. “… He’s working on his body and his body is going to develop over time. But in the meantime he’s just going to keep doing him and it’ll all work out.”

That’s because of Chet’s work ethic, which thrives when someone challenges him, Sarah Holmgren said.

“He’s not somebody who hears the word no,” Sarah Holmgren said. “People tell him he can’t do something, he’s going to put in the work to prove that he can. That’s been his personality.”

Tall and tough

His frame as it currently stands isn’t indicative of Holmgren’s toughness, Johnson said.

Johnson said he often worried Holmgren wasn’t telling the truth about being injured so he could keep playing, such as one time when he had a groin injury but stayed in a game.

“Even though his frame is slight, he was one of the toughest players I’ve ever had in terms of being able to withstand injury,” Johnson said. ” I was more worried that he wasn’t telling us when he was hurt. … He got smacked around a lot.”

The NBA will certainly do enough of that over the course of 82 games and more.

Holmgren told ESPN he was keeping his motivation goals “to himself” but said, “I see my potential being a very high-level basketball player. We’re striving for it, and I think I’m going to get there.”

At the draft lottery, he told the NBA Today panel, “I think I could be a 50-40-90 player,” meaning someone who shoots 50% from the field, 40% on three-pointers and 90% from the free-throw line.

The trying draft process is almost over. Teams have poked and prodded every inch of Holmgren and his game. Johnson said he has fielded questions from teams that even include what Holmgren’s favorite movie is.

“They ask every question under the sun about him,” Johnson said. “… I don’t know what his favorite movie is.”

After Thursday, there will be satisfaction in just being in the league, to be able to play basketball all the time.

“He is so driven, and for him to be in the gym, that’s where he’s at peace,” Sarah Holmgren said. “It’s a stress reliever. To get to the point where he’s able to do this full time, he’s enjoying every minute of it.”

No matter where he spends all those future minutes.

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