The legend of Jalen Suggs' clutch performances began well before his late-game heroics and buzzer-beating 30-foot three-pointer against UCLA in the waning seconds at Saturday's Final Four in Indianapolis.
Suggs could add to his historic NCAA tournament run Monday if he leads Gonzaga to the national title over Baylor, securing the first undefeated season since 1976.
The biggest game in his mind, though, before Saturday's now epic shot heard around the sports world and beyond wasn't even on the hardwood.
"I've always said a football game, section championship against Benilde-St. Margaret's my senior year, was my greatest sports moment I've been a part of," the All-American freshman guard said Saturday. "[The UCLA win] skyrockets above that. I mean, it was nuts … I just can't believe that happened."
The high school football game Suggs was referring to was one in which he tossed three of his four touchdowns to erase a 13-point second-half deficit in SMB (St. Paul Academy, Minnehaha Academy and Blake) Wolfpack's 36-30 win over BSM to get to the state tournament. He accounted for nearly 400 yards passing and rushing.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound highly recruited dual-threat quarterback showed why he was the only athlete in Minnesota history to win Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball, putting together a game-deciding drive. First came a 61-yard scramble that led to a scintillating 17-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left. To seal the comeback, he ended the game with an interception on defense.
Gonzaga's pursuit of perfection was on the ropes Saturday, trailing UCLA by two points with just under three minutes left, when Suggs showed he's one of the nation's top two-way players. After tying the game with a pull-up jumper, he blocked a dunk attempt by 6-9 UCLA center Cody Riley's and used his quarterback vision to needle a pass to Drew Timme for a slam in stride.
That was a critical sequence to send the game into overtime. And with the score tied 90-90 with three seconds left in the extra period, Suggs received the inbounds pass, took three dribbles to get past half-court and pulled up for a jump shot near the Final Four logo at midcourt.
The rest was history — and heartache for Bruins fans.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few called Suggs' presence a "magical aura" when the Bulldogs needed to make a play to keep the season alive.
"I knew we were good because it was in Jalen's hands," Few said.
The Zags believe in Suggs with the ball in his hands in big moments because he has delivered over and over again. It started with his 24 points vs. Kansas in the season opener in Fort Myers, Fla. He came through again with 27 points vs. Iowa in Sioux Falls, S.D., and wouldn't allow his team to fall to league foe BYU with 24 and 23 points in two wins over the Cougars. The latter helped Gonzaga avoid its first loss after overcoming a 12-point halftime deficit.
At a young age, it was clear Suggs had another gear to take his game up a notch when the stakes were higher.
"I think that's just part of my competitive nature and my competitive spirit," Suggs told the Star Tribune before his first game with Gonzaga in November vs. Kansas. "That's something that I've had since I was a little kid. When the stage is big and the opponent is even bigger, I'm ready to go out and play. Just to make a statement."
Look back at the first of three Class 2A state basketball titles for Minnehaha Academy. Then a slender high school freshman, Suggs showed maturity beyond his years with 15 second-half points, including 10 straight, to pull away vs. Crosby-Ironton. It was a sign of things to come.
Even on the international scene, Suggs shined bright in three Team USA junior national team gold medal victories, which included leading his team in scoring in the championship game in Greece in 2019. By the way, that U.S. team also had Jalen Green, Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley, three players competing with Suggs to be the No. 1 pick in this summer's NBA draft.
What separates Suggs from his peers isn't just that he's been able to help lead the Zags to the national title game in his first college season. It is how Suggs seems so comfortable and confident in the biggest moments — making such spectacular players when it counts the most — and that's been at any level and in any sport.