———

NEW WRITER ALERT:

Connor Gilbert (@ConnorJGilbert) hails from the great state of Minnesota and is currently a Senior at Gonzaga University, where he has worked his way up to Sports Editor for the Gonzaga School Newspaper, The Gonzaga Bulletin.

This is his first contribution to MinnesotaSportsFan.com, but hopefully far from the last! 

———

— UPDATE (2:15 PM) — Any updated content has been labeled with an *. Everything else was written before this update.

*Jalen has just announced that he will be committing to his future TOMORROW, Friday, January 3 live on ESPN. This piece was posted about 45 minutes before this decision was made.

There’s been no official word yet, but on Jan. 4, it’s rumored that Jalen Suggs will break months of waiting and speculation and announce his decision for where he will continue his athletic career. It’s no small decision, both for him and for the dozens of programs that have been pursuing him over the past couple of years.

The Minnehaha Academy senior has been heavily recruited by big-name programs for both football and basketball as the No. 10 dual-threat quarterback and No. 12 basketball player in the country per 247Sports. He’s probably the best point guard in the nation, not to mention arguably the best multi-sport high school athlete to come out of the state of Minnesota since Joe Mauer.

Last year, Suggs averaged 23.3 points, 6.3 assists and 4.7 assists per game as a point guard in the winter after accumulating 2,821 yards and 20 touchdowns as quarterback in the fall. Since winning state championships in both sports, the spotlight at the forefront of the national scene has only gotten brighter.

But at this point, it would surprise almost everyone paying attention, if he decided to do anything but play basketball at Gonzaga University — a school of 7,000 that has not had a football program since before WWII.

Recruiting analysts are almost unanimously pointing towards Suggs attending GU in the fall, as they have been for quite some time now.  247Sports.com has 7 of their recruiting experts who have committed their “crystal ball predictions” to Gonzaga.

*According to his announcement today Suggs is down to Gonzaga, Florida, Florida State, Iowa State, and Minnesota. However, he has also suggested multiple times that he was considering some less conventional options, namely playing both sports at a BCS school or going the international professional route. Almost every team in the Big 10 has at least done its due diligence for football, so there’s no shortage of options there. 

The variety of options — combined with the fact that committing to basketball during football season would’ve barred him from competing in football all-star games — prolonged the recruitment considerably more than other 2020 prospects, who’ve mostly all committed by now. Admittedly, if the assessment of Suggs-to-GU has been correct all along, it may have led some coaches and fans on for much longer than they anticipated, particularly those at Minnesota and Marquette. 

“The Europe thing is why we haven’t totally committed to making a college decision right away,” Brian Sandifer, the director of Suggs’ Grassroots Sizzle AAU team, told 247sports.

But he hasn’t exactly made his affection for the GU program a secret in the past few months, either. When asked what schools have prioritized him the most, his immediate answer was the Zags. 

“I would say Gonzaga has really prioritized me a lot,” he said. “They’re definitely at the top of the charts, I talk to the coaching staff almost every day.”

“It’s still the same impression from when I first started talking to them and when I took my visit,” he also said when discussing the colleges that he is considering the most. “You don’t like Gonzaga; you love it. From meeting all the alumni and talking to the coaching staff, it’s just nothing but positivity on my side.”

At this point, it’s become clear that there’s a few significant variables putting the Zags ahead of the rest of the field.

The on-court fit makes the most sense, at least on paper. The Zags are losing two one-year rentals in the backcourt in Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder, Jr., with no immediate heirs apparent beyond redshirt sophomore Joel Ayayi, who’s more of a combo guard that would likely defer to Suggs and play off the ball. This years’ Bulldogs are also currently the No. 1 most efficient offense in the country per KenPom, and they will be returning much of their scoring next year. The chance to immediately step in and be an orchestrator and playmaker in that offense is difficult to turn down.

In 2019, coach Mark Few’s staff seems like it’s finally getting recognized for its player development. Four of last year’s top scorers left (with three of them currently enjoying decent success in the NBA), yet they’re back at No. 1 nationally for the second year in a row, with six players averaging double digit scoring. Steve Wojciechowski and Richard Pitino are solid coaches with stable programs, but it’s not for sure whether they can offer a transition that seamless  — especially if Suggs’ plan by the end of the 2020-’21 season, is to bolt early for the draft. 

Suggs is also friends with 2020 GU commits Dominick Harris and Julian Strawther, collectively referring to themselves as the “tricky trio” — he’s stated that he talks to the two of them every day. Harris and Strawther have openly lobbied for him to join them in Spokane, since their commitments, and he visited the Zags’, “Kraziness in the Kennel” preseason event with the two of them, alongside Minnehaha teammate Chet Holmgren (No. 4 in the nation for 2021). 

Football seems to have faded as a priority for Jalen, as well. It’s likely the risks of playing football alongside basketball — injuries, a lack of a true offseason — outweigh the benefits. Suggs hasn’t stated whether he intends to stay in college for one year or four, but it’s become apparent by the flirtation with Europe, that the NBA is the ultimate endgame for him. College football is a risk that just doesn’t seem to make playing in the league any more achievable.

International ball can’t be ruled out, even with the R.J. Hampton/Lamelo Ball experiment currently having mixed results in the NBL. Sandifer stated that multiple clubs were calling with interest, specifically in Melbourne and China, but added that they’re only considering them if they make financial sense. Playing abroad also fits with the timetable of the decision Jan. 4, but the international professional route is largely an unproven commodity in terms of NBA success. It has worked for some players, but not for others. Until more of an international pipeline develops, college still feels safer.

If a Jan. 4 decision happens, it will coincide with a huge game against California’s Sierra Canyon and Lebron James, Jr. at Target Center, on ESPN — the significance of that matchup probably doesn’t need to be explained. MSF will be in attendance as credentialed media, along with an estimated crowd of upward of over 8,500. That’s the amount of tickets that have reportedly already been sold, a number that forced a venue change from Minnehaha’s gym over to Target Center where the Timberwolves play. 

As we know by now, a media caravan follows Bronny everywhere he goes, but he’s just one of nine (!) players with D-I offers that will be playing in this game, assuming Holmgren will be healthy. Could the increased exposure of that game influence Suggs’ to make his announcement on that day? After all, if you’re going to hold out, might as well make it big.

It is true that Suggs could surprise everyone and go with the Gophers, Eagles, or another Big 10 program like Juwan Howard’s Michigan, but Minnesota sports fans will most likely be disappointed (again) by this outcome. At least they’ll have Holmgren’s forthcoming college decision to look forward to….

Connor Gilbert | Minnesota Sports Fan