SAN FRANCIS Florida vs. Georgia Rivalry Gear CO – For someone involved in describing the basketball player that is Chet Holmgren, the first conundrum involves whether to call him “unique FSU vs. Miami Rivalry shirt .” That’s a word that is properly misunderstood and misapplied, to the point it’s common to hear someone or something described with a misplaced modifier: so unique, very unique, kind of unique.
Is Holmgren unique? Well, how many other 7-1, 190-pound ballhandlers are there in college basketball with a .392 percentage on long-distance shots and 3.7 blocked shots per game? How many guys have a longer wingspan than Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kevin Durant? How many are there who are threats to pull down a rebound, dribble the length of the court and reach above the defense to throw down a slam dunk?
Unique probably fits.
Coaching him is a shade more involved.
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“What happens is, you see the No. 1 prospect – or 2 or 3 or 4 or whatever – and the expectations are just he’s going to come in from the jump and dominate,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told The Sporting News. “That’s just not how it goes, especially when you’re a high-level team like us, or you’re playing against other experienced, high-level teams.
“I think it’s been exacerbated with Chet. It took me a while the first week, two weeks, month to just really, truly understand: His game’s not about scoring. He impacts the ga Alabama vs. Auburn Rivalry Jerseys me in so many ways – it’s almost, you can probably make an argument, that he impacts the game more on the defensive end than the offensive end.
“Especially the way these games have been officiated or called, college basketball has sort of morphed into this, it’s pretty rugby-like in a lot of instances off the ball, or on the ball, what you’re allowed to do. And so that’s been hard.”
As Few prepared for his seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Thursday night at 7:09 ET against No. 4 seed Arkansas at the Chase Center, he spoke at great length about what attracting the No. 1 prospect in the prep basketball class of 2021 has meant to the 28-3 Zags.
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Few has coached so many different – not just in identity, but in style – big men during the course of Gonzaga’s two-decade reign as a college basketball power, from energetic Casey Calvary at the start to punishing J.P. Batista in the mid-2000s to slick-passing Kelly Olynyk of the first-ever No. 1 Zags team in 2013 to current All-American Drew Timme. One of the reasons for Gonzaga’s consistent success has been the flexibility within the coaches’ system, to draw the absolute best out of a 7-1 widebody like Przemek Karnowski and a dynamic 6-8 power player like Brandon Clarke.
Holmgren isn’t like any of them, because he isn’t like anyone. He’s been compared by some to Durant because of that length and the ability to make outside shots, but Durant plays with elite guard skills Florida State Seminoles shirt in the body of a 7-footer. I’ve tried out Kevin Garnett as a frame of reference because of a similar degree of dynamism around the baseline, but Garnett’s energy was College Cold Weather shirt so overpowering his lean frame never became an issue, and he had to develop the ball skills over time that Holmgren has mastered now.
That’s his greatest weapon against the difference in physical power, but it’s not going to disarm everyone.
“You get guys who outweigh him by 50-60 pounds, are physical. Sometimes it’s hard to truly manifest all that skill that’s in there,” Few told SN. “But at the same time, he still gives you the ability to stretch the floor. He’s very adept when we are able to find him around the rim. He can take the ball off the glass and lead a break and all the while he’s given us an entity we’ve never had on the defense end.”
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Few explained that Gonzaga never before had used “drop coverage” when defending pick-and-roll plays, but Holmgren is such a weapon in that scheme that it’s become a common tactic for the Zags this season. In drop coverage, the player guarding the screener will step back in the lane, inside the circle or even below the foul line, which helps cut off any rolls to the rim by the opposing big man as well as discouraging the ballhandler from turning driving the ball off the screen toward the rim. This is of particular note given the ability of Arkansas to create plays going to the rim from ball screens involving All-American guard J.D. Notae and gifted young big man Jaylin Williams. With Holmgren as the drop defender, also, he is so quick and so long he often can close out and bother the ballhandler if he attempts to fire a 3-pointer after ducking behind the screen.
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Holmgren was not an immediate sensation. As Gonzaga tried to figure out how properly to deploy him, Holmgren tried to adjust to the physical demands of Division I basketball. And he did this against a series of elite opponents – UCLA, Texas, Duke and, indeed, Texas Tech. As a member of the West Coast Conference, which is not a highly ranked power league, Gonzaga cannot earn Binghamton Bearcats Jerseys high tournament seeds without playing an extremely challenging non-conference schedule in November and December. So Holmgren immediately faced the full force of college basketball.
Timme said Holmgren “really figured out what it means to be a Zag and, I think you see it in the way he plays, especially of late: He’s Ashland Eagles clothes hooping out there. He’s not thinking as much. The game is coming natural to him. He’s making his own interpretations within the offense and defense, which is stuff that you can’t coach. It just takes time to get a proper feel for that.”
Few said members of the Gonzaga staff are helping him with taking deeper, analytical looks at how the Zags perform when Holmgren is on the court, and the team is “off the charts” better when he’s on the court.
“He’s got an impact on the game, and it’s hard to measure sometimes,” Few said. “Maybe they don’t even post up because he’s in there. Or they drive in and last year the would have shot a layup on us, they ‘hockey’ it and have to kick out or something. It’s hard to maybe track that with traditional statistics.”
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Holmgren is averaging 14.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks in 27 minutes per game. With three more blocked shots, he will be Gonzaga's single-season leader. He is shooting 39.2 percent from long distance, but that includes a 50 percent run from Jan. 20 to Feb. 24 and a 1-for-14 stretch that began with the team’s most recent loss, at Saint Mary’s on Feb. 26.
“It doesn’t matter how great of a shooter you are, you’re goin Antelope Valley College shirt g to miss shots,” Holmgren told TSN. “You just can’t lose confidence. I get in the gym every day, work on my shot so the next time I shoot that shot, I know it’s going in. That’s the mindset I have. That’s the mindset I’m going to have going into these next couple games. It’s going up, for sure.”