Chet Holmgren isn’t atypical of most high school basketball players that have been annoyed by the impact the pandemic year has had as it pertains to the hardwood.
It’s the reason he’s felt drained mentally at times that makes him a rare breed.
While most players point to the lack of overall exposure and attention caused by limiting and prohibiting fans and media in gyms, Holmgren’s sole focus is on its impact in people’s lives.
“I don’t care about less people seeing me at all,” Holmgren said. “I’m not the type that wants the spotlight at all. I care about people being impacted all over the world by the pandemic. Of course, the attention is down, but, for me, it’s a blessing to not have all the extra stuff. I prefer it that way.”
Holmgren thrived in the “head down and grind” mental space, posting 20.7 points, including shooting 80% from the field, 12.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 5.1 blocks a game for Minnehaha Academy (Minneapolis, Minn.), who will play for a state title next week.
That production and his consistence dominance, whether playing against a fellow elite prospect or an unknown player looking to come up, culminated in him being named SI All-American Player of the Year.
“That’s just a major honor to be the Player of the Year at Sports Illustrated,” Holmgren said. “More than anything it shows me that the hard work is paying off. It makes me want to go out and work even harder. I work to be the best, whether people see it or not, that’s how I prepare. It feels good to be rewarded for that, but, again, it makes me want to get back to work.”
Holmgren entered his senior season with all the hype that accompanies the No. 1 overall player in the SI99.
Though it has become trendy to throw out the “position-less” label, 7-foot-1, Holmgren legitimately can’t be boxed into one position. He dominates the paint on both ends of the floor then slides over and dominates in the point-forward role. After that he’ll drain three-pointers like a marksman before breaking his defender down on the wing and finishing with an emphatic dunk.
Makes sense that he’d earn the nickname “Unicorn” on the court.
Off the court, Minnehaha Academy coach Lance Johnson said Holmgren is just as impactful, describing him as “humble, gracious and academically gifted.”
“He’s the No. 1 player in the country for good reason,” Johnson said. “We enter every game knowing that without scoring he gives us 20-30-plus points defensively. Then he adds 20-plus points offensively. He changes every team’s style of play. Needless to say, his future is bright both on and off the court.”
Just don’t tell that to Holmgren; though it would be a tough sell to convince him that he’s arrived. Holmgren doesn’t buy into his own hype. So not his style.
He does, however, fully embrace the role of being his own worst critic.
“I’m never complacent; I always think about things that I can improve on my game,” Holmgren said. “This year I’ve gotten a lot stronger, I have better balance, more explosiveness and my ball handling and decision making is better too. I have a long way to go to get them to where I want them.”
Holmgren has never forgotten the journey.
He can still vividly recall everything from being unknown to watching highlight clips of elite high school prospects wishing it could be him to his 7-inch growth spurt in the eighth grade to the viral moment when Holmgren crossed-up two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry at his own camp.
“It’s crazy to see where I’ve come from,” Holmgren said. “I’ve come a long way as a person and as a basketball player.”
Perhaps it’s fitting that the most wanted National Letter of Intent signature would be from the country’s top player as the NCAA’s spring signing period looms next week.
As it stands, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Memphis, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and North Carolina all remain in contention to land Holmgren.
“I definitely see myself figuring out a date that works for me and the people helping me out with it pretty soon,” Holmgren said of his timeline for a decision. “It’s one of the biggest decisions of my life to this point, so it’ll definitely be a huge chunk of food off my plate when I figure it out.”
For now, Holmgren’s sole focus is on daily growth as a player, fine tuning the kinks that only he knows can grow by leaps and bounds.
“I just want to become the best version of myself,” Holmgren said. “The thing that I always think about is looking back and saying, ‘Man I could’ve done more, I could’ve worked harder.’ That’s something I never want to be able to say. That’s what drives me, honestly. That’s what makes me who I am.”