Spokane, Washington (AP) – Every summer they meet in Seattle at some point, a mix of occasional pros, some college players with connections to the area and even some high schools.
The destination is pro summer run by former NBA star Jamal Crawford. And after Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren made his first visit last summer, Crawford was quick to get some huge praise.
“It was unrealistic to see a unicorn in real life!” Crawford tweeted in August. “Chit Holmgren Distinctive.”
Fast forward three months and as much as the top-rated Gonzaga might underestimate every “unicorn” talk, Holmgren is clearly a special talent like no other through Bulldogs.
Holmgren is a 7-foot rookie with ball-grip on one of the flanks, the court’s feel for a base guard and the length of dominant inner strength and athletic style.
And the biggest stage of his young career is this week as the Bulldogs travel to Las Vegas for three games, most notably Tuesday’s final fourth rematch against UCLA runners-up and Friday’s match against 7th seed Duke.
The matches in Las Vegas will feature some of the best players in the country. But the most unique talent on the court will be Gonzaga’s new star.
“We’re at the top of the summit. We’ll see what we’ve made of it,” Holmgren said.
While the Gonzaga profile has grown rapidly over the past decade, the past few years have changed its scope nationally due to the caliber of recruits that Zags have landed. It started a year ago when Galen Suggs played college ball for a year with Gonzaga and continued when his best friend followed him to Spokane.
But Holmgren’s coming to Gonzaga was a step forward even from Suggs – the No. 1 recruit in the country who had chosen the school 1,400 miles to the west.
“Their desire to work and be a part of what we are all here for is very important to us,” said Gonzaga assistant coach Brian Michaelson. “And that’s why we’re selective with those kinds of guys who have that kind of talent for one year because they have to fit in with what we’re doing.”
While Holmgren’s unique size stands out immediately, his new teammates see other aspects of his game that are just as important as his success.
“I think just his IQ and his versatility. He sees the game really well. He sees the whole court, not just part of it,” Gonzaga striker Drew Temi said. “The way he deals with his actions and what he sees on the field and finding teammates of his size is something he doesn’t We really see it.”
“He’s really invested in getting better, and he’s not just one of those guys who lives so high,” his colleague Andrew Nimbard added. “He wants to constantly improve and has something to prove. That’s what I love about him.”
Among the people who would like to dampen the hype – and the “unicorn” comments – is Gonzaga coach Mark Vue. Few would have cautioned against being patient with the new student knowing the level of expectations that would follow.
“I think everyone just needs to be patient with Chet,” Little said. “He’s very skilled, really smart, and a worker. He’s still in the process, and he has to adapt because of his body. It’s very unique and he’s in the process of adapting to how physical this game is and how to achieve success with that physical strength that is.”
“I think everyone is vomiting some kind of thing and they probably haven’t really seen it much. That’s what I would say.”
But few also understand that talents like Holmgren don’t come along often and with the understanding that his time at Gonzaga will likely only last one season. It’s a matter of using his skills in the best way possible in a team full of talent.
So far, Holmgren seems to be finding his way around just fine. The competition for Gonzaga has been fairly tame so far except for her convincing win over the Texans when Holmgren found himself in bad trouble and only played nine minutes.
“He is talented once in a generation. I mean, the things he can do of his size are unrealistic,” Timmy said. “It was so much fun to play with him and do different moves. I think we complement each other well.”
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