There have been several markers in recent years that evidenced Gonzaga’s ascendance as one of college basketball’s elite programs. The Final Four run ticked off a major milestone for a program that has continued an incredible streak of NCAA tournament appearances which underscores the high caliber of basketball that has been played in Spokane over the last 20+ years. In Zach Collins, the coaching staff snagged its first McDonalds All-American straight out of school who then became the program’s first “1-and-done” en route to a Top-10 pick in the NBA Draft. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke teamed up to give Gonzaga a pair of first round picks in the NBA Draft before earning NBA All-Rookie team honors. And now, in Jalen Suggs, Mark Few and the Zags have their highest rated recruit in program history.
Regardless of the recruiting rankings that you place your faith in, it is undisputed that Suggs is a blue-chipper (ranked 6th in the ESPN100) with serious talent and massive potential. Now that he’s no longer a preps prospect, Suggs must harness that potential into production as he takes over the reigns of Gonzaga’s offense and lead a team that should be at the top of the college basketball rankings when the season tips off.
So what does Suggs bring to the table and what can be reasonably expected of him?
The first thing that stands out about Suggs when you watch his film is the tenacity with which he plays on both ends of the floor. He’s a big, strong guard that will stress opposing defenses when he gets downhill who can elevate and play above the rim. At this stage, Suggs can be a streaky shooter, but he can score from anywhere on the floor and is more than capable of a big scoring performance on any given night. Simply put, he has all the tools to be a star.
He’s not simply a single-minded battering ram, however, as he combines his athleticism and strength with high level vision and the basketball IQ to adeptly run Mark Few’s ball-screen heavy offense. Suggs is also a willing passer that knows how to set up his teammates in threatening positions. As a high schooler Suggs already exhibited great feel and understanding for how to set up defenders with the screen game, and I would expect him to get even better under the tutelage of the Gonzaga staff. Suggs expects that too, as his skillset fits perfectly within the Gonzaga offense. With the amount of talent around him and the skill wielded not just by his backcourt mates but the frontcourt as well, Suggs should thrive with the opportunities available to him and help Gonzaga become one of the country’s best offenses.
Suggs’ attacking mindset isn’t reserved for only the offensive side of the ball, as his quick hands and good instincts allow him to be disruptive in the passing lanes and generate turnovers and transition opportunities. The key for him will be managing that aggression without compromising the team defensive scheme. Every freshman has to earn the trust of the coaches in executing their defensive assignments if they want to stay on the floor in all situations, even if they are a freshman of the caliber and hype like Suggs.
Early in the season it will be very interesting to watch how much (or little) Suggs communicates at the defensive end and how he handles in-game scheme adjustments. Thanks to the significant changes in Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule as a result of COVID-19, Suggs (and each of the freshmen) will be thrown into the deep end early without the benefit of buy games to get his feet wet.
Gonzaga tips off its season on November 25 and will play Auburn, Texas Tech/Houston, Tennessee, Baylor, and Iowa in the first 25 days of the campaign. There are no cupcakes on the menu to work out the kinks.
Suggs has played in big games and on big stages, and he will relish the fast and furious start to Gonzaga’s campaign. However, those are big time matchups that feature some top level talent in the opposing backcourts who will test him early and see what the hype is all about. It isn’t fair to expect a string of A+ performances from Suggs in the first three and a half weeks of his collegiate career against some of the best teams in the country. However, you can expect to see some moments from the new #1 that will remind you that we are living in the golden age of Gonzaga basketball.
Let’s get this season rolling.