Minnesota’s own Jalen Suggs has played basketball all across the country and around the world during his illustrious career to this point. Still, he’s experiencing two firsts this week.
He flew to Gonzaga’s season opener in Florida for the first time on a private jet with the team.
“That was fun,” the former Minnehaha Academy All-America said.
Another first for Suggs will be on Thanksgiving: His first college basketball game.
“It’s kind of hard to describe right now the emotions I’m feeling,” Suggs said. “I’m excited.”
The bright lights will be shining on the No. 1-ranked Zags and their high-profile freshman guard when he makes his debut Thursday afternoon against No. 6 Kansas in the Fort Myers Tip-Off.
Leading up to the biggest game of his career so far, Suggs spoke to the Star Tribune in a Q&A discussing a range of topics, from his key role with the Zags, to his national title hopes and thoughts on the NBA and his former high school teammate Chet Holmgren’s rise to stardom.
Q: Can you believe you will be playing your first college basketball game vs. Kansas?
A: [Soon] I’ll be getting to the stage of being serious and locked in. But I’ve been excited and anxious just thinking about the game, plays to make and things of that nature. At the end of the day, once Thanksgiving comes and it’s time to warm up and get ready to play, I’m going to have the same mind-set I’ve always had: It’s just a basketball game. I’ve been playing basketball for a while. I’m going to go out and have fun and play to the best of my ability.
Q: You always seemed to play your best in the big games in high school. Does this type of matchup help to take your game to the next level?
A: Yeah. I think that’s just part of my competitive nature and my competitive spirit. 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. On this stage right now, being my first college basketball game on Thanksgiving Day right before the Dallas Cowboys game, I don’t think it can get much bigger than that. Unless you’re talking championships. I’m happy and excited. Kansas has a great team. They’ve got some great players. First you talk about their [preseason All-America guard] Marcus Garrett. So, I’m really excited to get going and just play basketball. It’s been awhile.
Q: What type of leader is preseason All-America senior forward Corey Kispert?
A: Corey has been really helpful since I’ve been here. He’s just a really smart basketball mind. He’s been in the system now for three years and going on his fourth. He’s really helped me learn the offense, learn little tidbits and tricks on how to run the offense to find ways to score within the system. … He’s a great leader. He definitely knows when to be serious with everybody and then when to calm it down to let it be fun. When we’re laughing on the court, having fun, and smiling that’s when we play our best basketball. He deserves all the preseason accolades he gets so far. He’s a great player.
Q: How do you stay focused on your freshman year in college when 2021 NBA mock drafts already list you as a lottery pick?
A: That’s something I’ve been working on is just being present. Being present in this moment and I’ve gotten a lot better at it. Since I’ve done that, I have a lot clearer mind. I’ve been a lot more focused and locked in on what we’re doing here. And I think the biggest key for me is to just play basketball and have fun with it. It’s not a job yet. In college, I’m going to enjoy my time here, learn and become a better basketball player and person. God willing if I get that opportunity [to play in the NBA] it will be great. Of course, it’s great to be mentioned early with all the names right now. But right now, I’m here mentally at Gonzaga University ready to do everything I can to bring this school a national championship.
Q: This year has been different from any other with the pandemic. How have you dealt with it?
A: It’s definitely been different. This college basketball season is like no other. It’s extremely unique. But one thing we’ve really done is come together as a team. Throughout the season there is not going to be much going out and hanging with a bunch of other people. We have to be safe and precautions. Nobody wants to miss games, and we don’t want to have to cancel [the season]. We’re not going to be the ones to complain. There are a lot worse things going on than missing basketball games. People are losing loved ones, their jobs, and things of that sort. We’re grateful during these times to go out there and play in front of the nation. Although [friends, family, and fans] won’t be there in person, they are still going to be watching. We’re locked in and staying focused in the present and on whatever situation is thrown at us.
Q: How proud are you of what your former Minnehaha Academy teammate Chet Holmgren has done becoming the No. 1-ranked senior recruit in high school?
A: It’s been amazing to see how far he’s come. I’ve been there since Day 1 when he walked into the gym in his khaki shorts, really gangly and real awkward. To see his progression on the court and off the court has been great. It’s been great to see him get the No. 1 spot. But he’s really matured off the court. One of the things I’m most proud of this year is seeing him be a leader with the young guys. Everyone is looking up to him, not only on the team but in the country. I think he does a great job of using his voice and the platform he has. He has a big following. He always speaks his mind the right way. And he’s become a lot better leader on the team guiding these guys, keeping them focused and on the right path. Seeing his growth has been great. The rest of the guys are playing great basketball. I’ve been tuned into all their games on ESPN. If they’re not I check them out on FaceTime. As far as Chet goes, I’m extremely proud of him and happy. I can’t wait to see what his future holds. He’s special.