Gonzaga is back on a winning streak.
Its loss to Baylor in the 2021 March Madness championship game always will rank as a disappointment for the Bulldogs, who won their first 31 games of the 2020-21 season but fell to the more powerful Bears in the April 5 final. Some of the disappointment was eased Monday afternoon with the announcement by center Chet Holmgren regarding his college choice for 2021-22.
“Next fall, I will be a Gonzaga Bulldog,” Holmgren told ESPN “SportsCenter.”
Landing Holmgren, the No. 1 prospect in the 2021 recruiting class, could carry the Zags back toward the summit in 2022. Holmgren announced his choice of Gonzaga over Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Georgetown, Ohio State and Memphis on Monday afternoon during “SportsCenter.” Minnehaha Academy, where Holmgren played, sent All-American Jalen Suggs to the Zags last year.
Holmgren’s decision surprised few. At 247 Sports, five recruiting experts all predicted he would choose Gonzaga. It’s the latest step in Gonzaga’s ascent from modest mid-major to mid-major power to national powerhouse, all accomplished within the past 25 years. The Zags have appeared in two of the past four NCAA championship games and lost both, meaning the one final step is to finish as national champion.
When Sporting News presented its “way-too-early” top 25 for the 2021-22 season, Gonzaga was ranked No. 1 with the expectation that Holmgren would choose to join the Zags.
Holmgren obviously would have had the opportunity to join the G League Ignite in its “pathway” program, playing in the NBA’s minor league for a six-figure salary, but he always had maintained that he preferred to play college basketball.
According to MaxPreps, Holmgren averaged 20.8 points, 12.6 rebounds, 4.7 blocks and 4.5 assists — and converted 80 percent of his field goal attempts.
Holmgren is an unusual prospect who might best be compared, at least in terms of style, with future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett.
Holmgren is 7-0, 190 pounds, not far from Garnett’s listed 215 as a high school prospect. Holmgren does not have Garnett’s next-level ferocity, but that is not a criticism. That was the quality that separated KG from just about every other prospect who has left high school basketball in the past four decades.
But Holmgren does move like Garnett. He handles the basketball, is comfortable facing the basket and attacking off the bounce and firing jumpshots. His height, length and leaping ability help him to protect the rim.
“Most likely he’s going to play as a big man in college, but he’s not like many centers that have ever come around. Still skinny — and he needs to get stronger but doesn’t lack for toughness — Holmgren is a fluid athlete and has a level of ball skills that is unfair for a seven-footer to have,” Eric Bossi of 247 Sports wrote. “He legitimately handles, shoots and passes the ball like a guard but rebounds at an elite clip and is among the best rim protectors in the history of 247Sports.”
Garnett began his NBA career in Minnesota, where he played a dozen years for the Timberwolves. Where Holmgren will play as a pro will wait until next June. But he ended his high school career with a Minnesota state championship. Minnehaha Academy won its fourth consecutive title with Holmgren scoring 18 points in the title game — an 80-29 victory over runner-up Alexandria at the Target Center.