2021 NBA Draft: Getting to Know Jalen Suggs
Prospect research associate Grant Aqui took a deep dive into learning about Jalen Suggs of the Gonzaga Bulldogs. He shared what he learned about Suggs' story of growing up in a family of accomplished athletes, his success as a high school football and basketball player, and ultimately becoming a college basketball star and top NBA prospect.
In the Gonzaga Bulldogs’ opening game of the 2020-2021 college season versus the Kansas Jayhawks, freshman point guard Jalen Suggs did not waste any time making his presence felt, as he scored 28 points and dished out 8 assists. Since then, he has kept up his high-level play and has steadily moved up draft boards across the media. At this point, there is little doubt that Suggs has established himself as a surefire pro and one of the top NBA prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft. Although his talent has been on full display for the country’s viewing pleasure, who is this kid, where did he come from, and what’s his story? Well, I went searching for answers…
Once I began gathering information on Jalen Suggs’ background, it became very apparent that he was destined for success as an athlete. However, during his childhood, the bigger question was: which sport would he find that success in — basketball or football? With blood ties to former All-NFL linebacker Terrell Suggs, and NBA All-Star guard Eddie Jones, there is no denying that Jalen has good genes. Usually when we discuss football and basketball crossover athletes the demographic is former collegiate basketball players converting to NFL players, most notably with players like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, and most recently, Mo Alie-Cox — all of whom were powerful, big-bodied low post players in basketball and tight ends in football. Contrarily, Suggs is listed at 6’4” and 205 pounds, and played quarterback in football and point guard in basketball. Suggs is perhaps the most talented dual-threat athlete to roam both the gridiron and hardwood since Charlie Ward brought home the Heisman Trophy to Florida State in 1993. Ward went on to be the 26th pick in the 1994 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks and played in the NBA for more than a decade. After being named Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball in the state of Minnesota, Suggs decided to take his talents to Spokane, Washington to master his craft as a hooper for the Gonzaga Bulldogs, a decision that has proven to be a smart one thus far.
Jalen Suggs was born in St. Paul, Minnesota to parents Larry and Molly on June 3, 2001. Right from the jump, athletics were thrust to the forefront of Jalen’s life, as he was next in a long line of Suggs kin that has dominated Minnesota amateur athletics over multiple decades. He took to sports like a duck to water, even competing against 10-year-old kids at the young age of 4, in both football and basketball. In the 4th grade, Suggs led the Wisconsin Playground Elite to an Under-10 national championship on the Nike EYBL circuit. The following year, he was the centerpiece of his father’s newly founded Team Sizzle, named after Terrell Suggs’ nickname T-Sizzle. By 6th grade, he landed his first Division-I scholarship offer from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After proving himself amongst his peers, Larry had his son return to his prodigious ways, as he put Jalen back to playing against older competition, competing at the Under-17 level as a 7th grader on the Under Armour Association circuit. Suggs also played for the Minnehaha Academy varsity team after proving to be too precocious for junior varsity. He was in the starting lineup the whole season and helped Minnehaha Academy to a 19-9 record before they were upset in the state quarterfinals. After his 7th grade year, he drew interest from high major schools, including Minnesota, Iowa, and Memphis. Jalen’s dad, Larry, refused to let the attention inflate Jalen’s ego. “My dad doesn’t really tell me about them (the interest letters). He tells me to stay focused,” Jalen said in a 2016 interview with the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. The following year, his responsibilities would expand even further, becoming a prominent player for the Redhawks as a 6’2” 8th grader. Jalen averaged over 17 points per game while actively looking to guard the other team’s best player night in and night out. “Take him (the other team’s best player) out of the game so that our team doesn’t have to worry about him. They don’t want to lose to an eighth-grader but I like that kind of stuff. I don’t want to have it easy,” Suggs said in an interview about his approach to the game. Suggs would thrive playing alongside his close friends Kaden Johnson (now a linebacker at Wisconsin) and Terry Lockett (now a wide receiver at Michigan State), who were also in 8th grade, as well as sophomore JaVonni Beckham (now a wing at the University of Denver). Jalen entered his freshman year as a 3rd-year starter and one of the most experienced 15-year-olds in the country. At that point, Suggs was a grizzled veteran and the unquestioned leader on the Minnehaha team, despite not being able to drive a car without supervision. Minnehaha would have an extremely successful season, as their youth movement would lead the team to a 26-5 record and an appearance in the state championship game — which was a rock fight. They faced an upstart Crosby-Ironton High School seeking their first state championship. Both teams shot below 40% from the field and 20% from three-point range, as it was a half-court affair that fed right into Suggs’ wheelhouse as a floor general. Suggs was a calming presence for the team, pouring in 22 of the team's 47 points as the Redhawks brought in their second state championship in school history. Following his successful freshman campaign, Suggs was named a MaxPreps First-Team Freshman All-American. He also debuted as the #3 recruit on the initial iteration of the ESPN 25, the #3 recruit according to 247 Sports, and #5 on Rivals.
The recognition didn’t stop there, as Suggs was tabbed by USA Basketball to play for Team USA at the 2017 FIBA U16 Americas Championship. At the USA training camp, Suggs registered at 6’3”, 183 pounds with a 6’5” wingspan. He made the star-studded 12-man roster, headlined by 2020 #2 overall pick James Wiseman. In his first taste of action with Team USA, Suggs started two games, playing 15 minutes per game and pitching in 7.5 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal per game. Team USA posted a perfect 5-0 record, capped off by a 51 point drubbing of Canada in the gold medal game in which Suggs played 14 minutes.
Suggs returned for a sophomore season armed with a counterpart, Chet Holmgren, a rare player that could match Suggs’ pedigree, as he is currently the #1 ranked player in the class of 2021. Holmgren grew eight inches that summer, currently checking in at 6’11”. Although not as prodigious as Jalen at the same stage, Holmgren provided size that was missing in the Minnehaha locker room. They also had another running mate who was very advanced for his age, Prince Aligbe, a 4-star wing in the class of 2022, who was only in 8th grade at the time. Unfortunately, tragedy struck the program, after an errant gas leak caused an explosion in the gym during a girl’s basketball practice, killing two school workers and injuring nine other people. As a result, Minnehaha was forced to compete away from their home gym in what was an emotionally charged season. Suggs was the galvanizing force for the Redhawks as they posted another successful year at 28-4 and returned to the Minnesota 2A state title game to face Caledonia High School, led by future South Dakota State guard Owen King. That game was different from the 2017 iteration of the championship game, as Minnehaha would win 73-60, nearly outscoring the 2017 output in the first half with 43 points. Suggs propelled the team back to safety after Caledonia cut the lead to two points in the second half. He ended up scoring 27 points and dishing out 8 assists in the victory. “We had t-shirts made that, on the back, said ‘No gym, No problem.’ That’s what we went by. It’s been a huge motivating factor. Every game we’ve gone to, we’ve been grateful for. It all led up to this point and we were finally able to let it all out. This is just basketball. There were people in the building who went through far worse” Suggs said after the championship game.
Following his sophomore year, Suggs returned to USA basketball for a far more competitive FIBA U17 World Cup. In that camp, he weighed-in ten pounds heavier, at 195, with similar length dimensions. Suggs joined a similarly loaded roster filled with 5-star recruits from the 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes. He was slotted into a comparable role in which he played about 15 minutes a game. Team USA met a talented France team headlined by future 2020 NBA Draft picks Killian Hayes and Theo Maledon. Suggs logged 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists as the USA demolished the outmatched French team 95-52. Jalen then entered his junior year with a second gold medal on his resume to compliment his back-to-back high school state championships. The once precocious up and coming Minnehaha Academy had now evolved from a team fueled by kids playing against opponents four years their senior to being a dynastic juggernaut. Suggs led a crusade against the top programs in Minnesota. Early in that season, the Redhawks clashed twice against the eventual 4A state champions Hopkins High School led by future Arizona Wildcat and Denver Nugget, Zeke Nnaji. Suggs averaged 32 points per game across the two matchups with the 10x Minnesota state champions. February 23rd, 2019 marked an extremely important matchup for Suggs and his team as they came across DeLaSalle high school — a 12x state champion in their own right. DeLaSalle was led by Stanford-bound senior Tyrell Terry, with whom the Suggs family has a special relationship. Larry Suggs was college friends with Tyrell’s mother, Carrie Grise. When Carrie and Tyrell moved to Minnesota from their native North Dakota, Larry Suggs offered to teach Tyrell basketball, essentially making him one of his own. Jalen and Tyrell grew up together, honing their skills in after-school training sessions with Larry. “We were doing two-ball dribbling at age 7. I definitely owe him a lot of credit for my development as a player. We used to practice interviews because he said that would happen at some point. At the moment, I was like, what the heck? Now I look back and it’s pretty funny,” Tyrell said in an interview. In a duel with his adopted basketball brother, Suggs registered 30 points, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds in a 79-71 victory to counter Terry’s 26 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds. Minnehaha then cruised to the 2A state final game, where they played #2 seed Minneapolis North High School. Suggs turned in a 20, 4, and 4 stat line punctuated by an incredible no-look lob to Chet Holmgren in a victory that was never in jeopardy as Minnehaha sailed to a 17-point win.
The summer following Sugg’s junior year was a special one. It began with him leading his grassroots Sizzle team to their best season in the Under Armour Association. Then in July, he was called upon to represent Team USA at the most prestigious junior national event, the FIBA U19 World Cup. There, Suggs had the best tournament of his national team career, averaging 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists per game, while playing as an underaged player. In the final game against Mali, he earned himself a starting spot and registered 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. Heading into Suggs’ long-awaited senior season, Minnehaha opted to move up to the 3A level. Minnehaha dominated, posting a 22-3 record before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the season to shut down early. In his final season, Suggs averaged over 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals per game. Perhaps the most impressive victory of the season came in a nationally televised game against BJ Boston’s Sierra Canyon, which was held at the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Target Center. Suggs recorded 23 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals one day after announcing his commitment to Gonzaga on ESPN. As a result of his outstanding play, Suggs was named Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball, in addition to being named the state’s Mr. Football, which makes him the only athlete in Minnesota history to be awarded both in the same year. He was selected to play in the triumvirate of All-American games in the McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic, and Nike Hoop Summit — which were all canceled.
The story of Jalen Suggs is one of destiny, the intersection of natural talent, and an unrelenting work ethic. Suggs has been off to an outstanding start at Gonzaga for what might be the best team in the country. Winning seems to follow Suggs everywhere he goes -- his tenure with Gonzaga should be no different. Look for Suggs to leave an indelible mark on college basketball this year before being one of the first names called at the 2021 NBA Draft.