After a season with little to cheer about, the Toronto Raptors are looking for all-star power wherever they can get it. Enter Bulldogs guard Gonzaga and top draft prospect Jalen Suggs.
With the Raptors holding the fourth overall selection in this year’s draft, future NBA stars shouldn’t be missing.
NBA greats come in many shapes and sizes these days, but one thing defines the NBA’s best of all ages: their ability to score. the big blow in the last moments of the match.
In overtime of last year’s Final Four semifinal for Gonzaga de Suggs against UCLA, there were 3.3 seconds left with a 90-90 score flashing on the screen.
Suggs’ shooting scene is one that has played out on playgrounds around the world since the invention of basketball: with no downtime, Gonzaga had to run the length of the floor to win it.
Suggs surged as the clock expired well past the three-point arc, and produced a climax for the ages as the ball took off from the back panel to send his Bulldogs to the Championship game of the NCAA.
Even though the top-ranked Gonzaga hadn’t lost a game all year until then, anyone watching Suggs throw a Hail Mary while running couldn’t believe he had entered.
Well, maybe not Minnehaha Academy head coach Lance Johnson, the Suggs High School team based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Johnson said he first saw Suggs play at an elementary school tournament in ‘first or second grade’ and was immediately drawn to his shooting ability.
“He was just ahead of everyone else,” Johnson told Daily Hive. “He was shooting at three points at the time. “
Suggs won three 2A State High School Championships, with a chance for a fourth cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his senior season at Minnehaha, Suggs averaged 23.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, five assists and 3.9 steals per game. Suggs has garnered all the accolades you would expect from his high school career, being named McDonalds All-American and receiving the “Mr. Basketball ”as the best player in the state.
– Overtime (@ overtime) December 12, 2019
In his first year at Gonzaga, Suggs was among the leaders of a Bulldogs team that ended up going 31-1, their only loss being in the National Championship game against Baylor. Suggs amassed 22 points in the game, tied for a high between the two teams.
Suggs has been named to the All-Tournament Squad and finished averaging 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game in his debut season.
Johnson can see Suggs making an instant impact on the NBA, whether in Toronto or elsewhere.
“He’s going to instantly be part of a rotation somewhere,” he said. “I think he has a body ready for the NBA, and he has the advantage of being able to hold several positions.”
If the Raptors select him, Suggs could succeed point guard Kyle Lowry, who has yet to sign for next season.
Mingled with veteran guard Fred Van Vleet and last year’s first-round selection Malachi Flynn, Suggs could just slip into head coach Nick Nurse’s system.
Off the pitch, Johnson sees Suggs’ potential as a one-on-one type player.
“He’s going to be a marketing magnet to someone, just because of his charisma,” Johnson said.
“We are very proud of the way he projects himself,” Johnson added. “But there were absolutely no surprises, because he’s been like this since he was young.”
But despite his accomplishments, it wasn’t even a guarantee that he would continue to play basketball at the college level.
An athlete of two sports, Suggs also won Minnesota “Mr. Football” in 2019, serving as a quarterback for SMB Wolfpack, a football team made up of Minnehaha and three other private schools in the area.
SMB won the Class 4A state title in 2018 with Suggs behind center, and his QB talents have seen him pull scholarship offers from schools such as Ohio State and Nebraska.
“I think until the last minute he was still considering football,” Johnson said. “Obviously he made the right decision.”
Suggs isn’t the only eventual college star Johnson has coached in Minnehaha, however.
Chet Holmgren, who won last year’s Naismith Player of the Year as the nation’s top high school basketball player and was ranked number one in the 2021 recruiting class, was listed alongside Suggs in the school team. The duo achieved national recognition, including being featured on ESPN for a number of game shows nationwide.
“It’s an incredible opportunity and privilege to be essentially in the national spotlight,” Johnson said.
Holmgren is expected to follow in Suggs’ footsteps, playing for Gonzaga this coming year.
A crowd of about 17,300 came to one of the Suggs and Holmgren games held at the Target Center in Minnesota against the California School Sierra Canyon, featuring Lebron James Jr. and Zaire Wade, sons of the NBA legend Dwyane.
“When we got out on the floor it was like, oh my Lord, this is, this is amazing,” Johnson said.
Minnehaha won the game 78-58.
Johnson believes such opportunities have helped prepare Suggs to compete at the next level.
“As soon as the game starts, you kind of have to block that out,” Johnson said. “But then you would pinch yourself and ask if it was a dream.”
For Johnson, he relished the experience he has had coaching star players over the past few seasons. But with the NBA Draft and an upcoming professional career approaching, Johnson said he was taking a hands-off approach with Suggs after a reunion last spring.
“He trained here every day in May so it was fun to reconnect with him there,” Johnson said. “But I don’t want him to feel, you know, that he needs to contact me or keep in touch with me.” At this point, I’m sure he’s getting 100 texts a day, so I’ll leave him alone for now.