For the second time in as many years, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are likely to have a player picked in the top-five in the NBA Draft. As mind boggling as that can seem, the type of player that Chet Holmgren is may be even more insane. Holmgren has yet to officially declare for the draft, but it is nothing more than a formality at this point that we’ve seen the last of him in a Zags uniform. It’s an expected disappointment, but it doesn’t take away from the 32 games of magnificence we witnessed from #34.
The phrase “unicorn” is thrown around a lot these days when talking about a big man who can pass, handle, shoot, etc. That breed of player is gradually becoming less rare, but there was still something about Holmgren that made him stand out. The buzz surrounding the #1 recruit was bigger than any in the Zags’ history, and he lived up to expectations. Regardless of the opponent, 14 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, and seven blocks in your collegiate debut is purely exceptional. If those numbers against Dixie State didn’t prove something, a 15 point, four block game against UCLA just two weeks later certainly should have. But that was only the beginning for Chet, as he continued to put up ludicrous stat lines and dominate both ends of the court throughout the season.
Perhaps the only things crazier than his numbers were the ways in which he achieved them. There should be no world where a seven-foot, 190- pound man can make anything look less than awkward, yet Holmgren always found ways to do the unthinkable. Seeing him handle the ball looked like something out of a video game create-a-player. His ability to play tough in the paint and take contact belied someone so horizontally challenged, not to mention being able to run the break, pass and shoot like a guard. It also allowed him to do stuff like this:
Still thinking about this. @ChetHolmgren pic.twitter.com/vpFiKh8lXW— Gonzaga Basketball (@ZagMBB) November 24, 2021
Absolute cheat code. pic.twitter.com/VxOa3Kf8kr— Slipper Still Fits (@slipperstillfit) February 25, 2022
But the most noticeable aspect of his game, where his athleticism and size combined to create the biggest impact, was on rim protection. His quickness, defensive smarts, and Mrs. Incredible-esque extendo arms made him a blocking threat from pretty much anywhere remotely close to the paint, and allowed him to break Brandon Clarke’s single season block record in the final game of the season. Just the threat of a Chet rejection altered opposing offenses’ game plans, and contributed to the Zags having one of the best defenses in the country throughout the season.
Despite the saddening and, honestly, maddening, way the season ended for both Chet and the Zags, I still count myself as thankful I was able to witness him in college for one season. And as amazing as that season was, and as much potential as he has, Chet Holmgren still has his doubters. There are people who look at his size and don’t think he’s cut out for the next level, or that he won’t live up to the hype, or that, shockingly, think he got away with playing in a weak conference. I, for one, disagree. Whatever the future holds for him, I’m sure it will be special. Hopefully Mr. Holmgren has his camera ready.