Chet Holmgren was in eighth grade when he went through the growth spurt that transformed a 6-foot-4 middle-schooler into the 7-foot lob threat who’d go on to win four consecutive state championships at Minnehaha Academy in Minnesota and claim the No. 1 ranking among high school prospects.
It was the same year he learned how to dunk a basketball, although watching Holmgren these days, you’d think it’s something he’s been doing far longer than five years.
Holmgren is stretching college opponents the same way he did with his high school foes and the Gonzaga freshman used his unparalleled ability to give Bellarmine constant fits at the rim and score 18 points in a routine 92-50 victory at McCarthey Athletic Center.
A strong 3-point shooter who’s also proven he can knock down mid-ranger jumpers with some proficiency, Holmgren didn’t need to do much of either against the Knights, dunking seven times – on eight total field goals – to reach his highest point total of the 2021-22 season.
Unable to recall his single-game high for dunks, Holmgren told reporters he’s “sure it happened here or there but I don’t know. It’s not something I pay too much attention to.”
Had Bellarmine spent more time paying attention to Holmgren on Friday, it still might not have mattered much as the five-star freshman with a 7-foot-6 wingspan constantly received passes over the top of the Knights’ defense and, in typical Holmgren fashion, flushed the ball through the net after jumping only an inch or two off the ground.
Holmgren finished 8 of 10 from the field and made both of his free throw attempts. He also had five rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals.
“Obviously it’s nice to get those point-blankers, but I think you’ve probably got to look to the guys who provided those opportunities for him, when you’re playing with Andrew (Nembhard) and you’re playing with Drew (Timme) and Drew draws a lot of attention,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I think those are probably the guys that end up spoon-feeding him into those. But I think he’s understanding that he can really benefit because he’s a really excellent 3-point shooter but if he dives to the rim, he’s a real force. He’s such a big target that I think our guys are getting real comfortable throwing it up to him.”
With Holmgren’s length and a variety of 3-point options around him, the Bulldogs are able to stretch their opponents both vertically and horizontally – the same way they did when the school’s last prolific dunker, Brandon Clarke, was in Spokane.
Holmgren caught a high lob from Andrew Nembhard for an alley-oop on one of his dunks. Other times, Nembhard and GU’s other guards slipped inside bounce passes to the freshman center. On one occasion, Holmgren caught the ball outside the paint, spun around his defender and took one long stride before finishing at the hoop.
“It’s just like having shooters on the floor,” Holmgren said. “If you can space the floor horizontally, it’s the same way spacing the floor vertically. They have to respect it and it kind of opens things up for our guards and if they don’t respect it, then obviously the lobs and drop-offs will work.”
Gonzaga’s guards haven’t been reluctant to throw the ball in Holmgren’s general vicinity through the first four games of the season.
“It’s easy,” Hickman said. “Just go get it.”
Added Holmgren: “Yeah, pretty much. Just throw it up there.”