Before Chet Holmgren was selected second-overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2022 NBA draft, he kicked off his college career as a freshman at Gonzaga. Here's what you need to know.
The term "unicorn," when used in a modern-day basketball context, is one of praise, describing players of rare physical attributes and skill sets — often a very tall player who operates on the court with skills that you might typically associate with a guard or wing. Former Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren, who once made headlines in the summer of 2019 as a high schooler for his ability to drive around Steph Curry — yeah, that Steph Curry — might warrant the label of unicorn, as a 7-footer who averaged 1.3 3-pointers and 3.7 blocks per game as a freshman in Spokane. He enters the 2022 NBA Draft as one of the top prospects, for the aforementioned physical tools and skill set.
Here's everything you need to know about Chet Holmgren's college career at Gonzaga.
The vitals for Chet Holmgren
Weight: 195 pounds
Years active: 2021-22
NCAA tournament record: 2-1
Career averages: 14.1 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game, 3.7 blocks per game, 60.7% shooting
How tall is Chet Holmgren?
Holmgren was listed at 7-feet tall as a freshman at Gonzaga.
What kind of player was Holmgren in high school?
According to his 247Sports recruiting profile, Holmgren was No. 1 across the board — the No. 1 prospect in Minnesota, the No. 1 center prospect in the country and the No. 1 prospect overall in the 2021 high school graduating class. Starting in Nov. 6, 2018, the fall of his sophomore year of high school, he had been ranked in the top 70 of his high school class, according to 247Sports, and from July 2019 on, he was ranked in the top 10.
For years it was clear: Chet Holmgren is one of the very best high school basketball players in the country. 247Sports recruiting analyst Brandon Jenkins compared him to Anthony Davis. The McDonald's All-American received reported scholarship offers from the likes of Auburn, Baylor, Florida, Florida State, Illinois, Kansas, LSU, Maryland, Memphis, Michigan, North Carolina, Southern California and Texas, among many other schools. He chose Gonzaga.
The Spokesman-Review noted in November 2021 that Holmgren was the program's highest-rated recruit since 2000, checking in one spot ahead of his former teammate Jalen Suggs, who had months earlier led the Bulldogs to the national championship game. Holmgren's classmates Hunter Sallis (No. 3) and Nolan Hickman (No. 5) weren't far behind, either.
What was Chet Holmgren's record in college?
During Holmgren's freshman season at Gonzaga, the Bulldogs went 28-4, including 13-1 in WCC regular-season play.
What was Chet Holmgren's offensive game like?
Holmgren was dangerous in the pick-and-roll, given his length that allows for a great catch radius. Standing at 7-feet tall, with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, it doesn't take much — in terms of dribbling or jumping — for Holmgren to be able to dunk, so he makes for a great target on lobs to the rim. While Holmgren's release on jump shots wasn't necessarily quick — and it didn't necessarily always have to be when you're 7-feet tall with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, because who is going to block that shot? — he averaged 3.3 3-point attempts per game and he made 1.3 of them, on average, for a 39-percent clip. In the heart of WCC play, he had six games in a row in which he made multiple 3-pointers each game.
He was comfortable playing on the perimeter at Gonzaga, not only as the screener (and roller) but while coming off of dribble hand-offs, where he might only need two dribbles to get to the rim after he turns the corner.
You can watch Holmgren's highlights from the 2022 NCAA Tournament below.
What were some of Chet Holmgren's best games?
Here are some of Holmgren's best performances in college.
Nov. 9, 2021 | Gonzaga 97, Dixie State 63
In Holmgren's college debut, he delivered with 14 points, 13 rebounds, seven blocks and six assists in 28 minutes, making all four of his shots inside the arc and attempting nine free throws, "becoming the first player in the last 25 seasons with at least 10 points, 10 boards, five assists and five blocks in his collegiate debut," wrote The Spokesman-Review's Jim Meehan. "Holmgren matched Przemek Karnowski, who swatted seven shots against Saint Mary's in 2014, for the single-game block record in coach Mark Few's 23 seasons as head coach."
Feb. 3, 2022 | Gonzaga 92, San Diego 62
Holmgren scored a season-high 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting as he went six for seven inside the arc and three for five from behind it. That performance tied the second-most 3-pointers he made in a game all season. He also had 12 rebounds and four blocks, as he logged the sixth of his 13 double-doubles on the season in a 30-point win.
Feb. 5, 2022 | Gonzaga 90, BYU 57
For the third game in a row, Holmgren posted a double-double, with 20 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and five blocks in a 33-point win over BYU. He made two of his five 3-point attempts, as part of a 10-game stretch in which he went 21 for 36 (.583) from deep.
March 17, 2022 (NCAA tournament) | No. 1 seed Gonzaga 93, No. 16 seed Georgia State 72
In Holmgren's first NCAA tournament game, he tied a program record with 17 rebounds against Georgia State as part of a 19-point, 17-rebound double-double with a program-record seven blocks and five assists. He made eight of his 11 shots from 2-point range.
What awards did Chet Holmgren win in college?
Here are some of the awards and distinctions that Holmgren earned at Gonzaga:
- WCC Newcomer of the Year
- WCC Defensive Player of the Year
- All-WCC First Team
- Sporting News All-America Third Team
- NABC All-American Third Team
- AP All-American Third Team
- John R. Wooden All-American Team
- Naismith Trophy semifinalist
- NABC Player of the Year watch list
- Wooden Award late season top 20 list
- Naismith Defensive Player of the Year finalist
- Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year finalist
- Lute Olson Award midseason watch list
- Nine-time WCC Freshman of the Week
What records did Chet Holmgren set in college and where does he rank among historical greats?
Chet Holmgren set the following records and ranks highly on numerous all-time lists:
- 1st in Gonzaga history in blocks in an NCAA tournament game: Seven blocks (vs. Georgia State)
- 1st in the WCC in blocks per game: 3.66 blocks per game
- 1st in the WCC in rebounds per game: 9.9 rebounds per game
- 1st in the WCC in field goal percentage: .610
- T-1st in Gonzaga history in blocks in a season: 117 blocks
- T-1st in Gonzaga history in rebounds in an NCAA tournament game: 17 rebounds (vs. Georgia State)
- 4th in Gonzaga history in blocks in an NCAA tournament: 13 blocks
- 4th in the country in blocks per game: 3.66 blocks per game
If you take Holmgren's season averages — 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game — and round down to 14 points per game, nine rebounds per game and three blocks per game, there have been just 51 individual seasons by men's basketball players since the 1992-93 season where a player has averaged those figures in a season, per Sports Reference. This search was obviously tailored to Holmgren — after all, no one talks about the "14/9/3 club" — but it's a pretty impressive list of names.
Tim Duncan, the 1997 consensus national player of the year and two-time first-team All-American at Wake Forest, is responsible for three of those 51 seasons. Emeka Okafor, who was named the Co-NABC Player of the Year and the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player while leading UConn to the 2004 national championship, is on there twice. Greg Oden, the centerpiece of Ohio State's national runner-up team in 2007, is there.
Holmgren's statistical averages as a freshman at Gonzaga compare favorably to some of the best power forwards and centers in men's college basketball in the last 30 years.
What did people say about Chet Holmgren?
The Spokesman-Review's Theo Lawson: "There aren't many instances in which a 7-foot-tall 18-year-old with 300,000 social media followers and boundless abilities on a basketball court can relate to the average American, but Chet Holmgren experienced the evening of April 3 the same way almost every other Gonzaga fan did. Holmgren and a group of friends who had a unique personal connection to Gonzaga's Final Four matchup with UCLA sat nervously in the basement of Holmgren's Minnesota home as the Bulldogs and Bruins went blow for blow in overtime at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis."
The Star Tribune's Marcus Fuller in early November of Holmgren's freshman season: "Holmgren will have more eyes on him than arguably any player in college hoops."
The Spokesman-Review's Theo Lawson, after Duke beat Gonzaga: "Chet Holmgren rebounded from a slow start to finish with 16 points, seven rebounds and three blocks – one of those coming on (Paolo) Banchero, the other player many NBA mock drafts anticipate will have a chance to be selected No. 1 in 2022."
The Detroit Free Press' Omari Sankofa II in December 2021, when asked to rank Holmgren, Duke's Paolo Banchero, Auburn's Jabari Smith and Purdue's Jaden Ivey: "Holmgren, a lanky 7-footer who has a chance to be a tremendous NBA defender, is second in my ranking. He's averaging 3.5 blocks per game, and has the length and mobility to considerably raise the defensive floor of whatever team he lands with from Day 1. He's a capable shooter and efficient scorer inside the arc. Holmgren doesn't take a lot of shots, but he makes the shots he takes."
The Spokesman-Review's Jim Meehan in mid-January of Holmgren's freshman season: "According to Bart Torvik's analytics website, Holmgren is the only player of 1,388 nationally with 25 or more shoots at the rim against Division I opponents shooting at least 90%. Holmgren converted one of his misses from close range Saturday into a putback basket. Holmgren is No. 2 and (Drew) Timme No. 3 in player rankings on Evan Miyakawa's analytics website."
Gonzaga coach Mark Few, in January 2022 (courtesy of The Spokesman-Review): "He's doing more of the things that he and I have talked about, he's a little quicker into his moves and a little quicker into his decisions. He's been pretty darn solid defensively for this first half of the season. He's such a willing learner and wants to get better. He's very conscientious, likes to watch film and likes to get coached a little bit."
The Spokesman-Review's Theo Lawson, after Gonzaga beat Loyola Marymount: "Holmgren, who had the top of his left eyebrow stitched after he was swiped in the first half, hit the 20-point marker for the third time in seven games and came one point shy of matching the career-high 21 points he set last week against San Francisco. The center's final scoring line, which came on 7 of 8 from the field and 3 of 3 from beyond the arc, may not have completely done his night justice, either."
Few, after Gonzaga beat Loyola Marymount (courtesy of The Spokesman-Review): "He's shooting the ball extremely well from 3, so obviously that's huge. I liked how he had the fortitude to take a hit, take a couple hits with guys collapsing down on him, he delivered a couple times inside, which he hadn't been doing prior to this."
Play-by-play broadcaster Rich Waltz after Gonzaga beat Loyola Marymount: "Chet Holmgren has owned the last 5 minutes of this game."
The Spokesman-Review's Theo Lawson, after Gonzaga beat San Diego: "From the perspective of NBA talent evaluators, Chet Holmgren's freshman season at Gonzaga may equate to nothing more than a series of data points. Thursday's game against San Diego was another major one for the 7-foot freshman, who put on a dazzling offensive display, scoring 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field while shooting 3 of 5 from 3-point range. The West Coast Conference's top rebounder was dominant on the glass, grabbing 12 boards, and added four blocked shots to his conference-leading total of 68."
Few, after Gonzaga beat San Francisco in the WCC tournament (courtesy of The Spokesman-Review): "Having Chet back there defensively is such a nice advantage. You can really crowd guys (outside) and funnel them into Chet and they always know he's there."
Few, in March 2022 (courtesy of The Spokesman-Review): "He's so coachable and he's such a hard worker. Probably my greatest highlight is to walk out there in the morning and he's already got a full sweat going that morning."
The Indianapolis Star's Joel Lorenzi, in late March 2022: "No prospect in this draft has generated such a wide spectrum of opinions. A wiry, unicorn of a big man, the 7-foot, 195-pound Holmgren is fascinating to witness. He's the perfect product of the new wave of big men. Holmgren's only question mark at this point is his functional strength — one that some defend with all their might. After averaging 14.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks while shooting 39.2% from 3, there isn't much left to point to. His jumpshot is just about as enticing as any big man prospect in recent memory."
San Diego coach Sam Scholl (courtesy of the Associated Press): "He is just very, very skilled. He has a tremendous feel. He is physical. He is not afraid to bang."
Chet Holmgren quotes
Holmgren, recalling watching Gonzaga play in the Final Four in 2021 (courtesy of The Spokesman-Review): "Me and all my buddies were watching it in the basement, and I've got video of it. One of my buddies said, as soon as we saw Jalen get the ball, he was just like, 'be legendary.' Then three seconds later he made the shot and everybody's running around like crazy, screaming. Nobody was really expecting that."
Holmgren, on waiting a few days to reach out to Jalen Suggs after his game-winning shot against UCLA in the Final Four (courtesy of The Spokesman-Review): "I already knew what was going to happen to his phone. I've been there, so I just kind of let it be. Couple days later, reached out and talked to him."
Holmgren, recalling talking with former Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs about playing in the Final Four someday, who was a former teammate of Holmgren (courtesy of the Star Tribune): "We talked about hopefully one day playing on that stage ... Watching [Suggs] do it last year and excel the way he did was definitely a lot of fun. I'm very excited about learning the ins and outs and working hard to have another successful season."