The NBA draft has given Minnesota basketball a chance to showcase its impressive depth of talent in recent years.
Nine Minnesotans have been drafted since 2015, including six in the past two years. Many players from a nation of 10,000 players can hear their name on draft night for the third year in a row.
The seven-foot-tall Chet Holmgren not only could become the highest ranked Minnesota ever, he could also reunite with his former classmate Jalen Suggs if the Orlando Magic drafted Holmgren with the No. 1 overall.
Suggs, who played at the Minnehaha Academy and Gonzaga, like Holmgren, was selected by the Orlando No. 5 in the 2021 NBA draft, which also included former Cristo Rey and Texan big man Jericho Sims.
“Right now, the list of Minnesota basketball greats is quite long,” Holmgren said. “It’s great to see Minnesota so well represented. So I want to continue it.”
This year Holmgren was joined by Baylor’s Kendall Brown and Colorado’s David Roddy as the locals appeared in countless tryout drafts.
The Suggs-Holmgren duo were big names in the Twin Cities scene long before they won state titles at the Minnehaha Academy and dominated the AAU national race with Grassroots Sizzle.
“I’m a very competitive person and I’ll do anything to win as long as I’m playing,” Suggs said last year. “Chet developed that mindset as we grew up and played together.”
Brown and Roddy have done most of their development in NBA prospects away from the limelight.
After his second year at East Ridge, Brown left his home state to attend Sunrise Christian Academy. After two seasons at Wichita, Kansas preparatory school, he turned McDonald’s All-America and arrived at Baylor as one of the college’s top freshmen.
“My teammates at East Ridge, I loved those guys,” Brown said earlier. “This is a relationship that I will always have. But I needed to think about myself and what would take me to the next level.”
Brown’s draft picks range from a lottery pick to a possible second-round pick. But his incredible athleticism, defensive potential, and 6-7 versatility make him an ideal draft pick.
“I would best describe my game as a forward,” Brown told reporters at the NBA draft in Chicago last month. “I have a very high IQ. I can play ball. I am a great cutter. team at once.
Two years ago, Roddy seemed even further off the NBA radar, but it was hard for scouts to ignore his prolific career at Colorado State. Former two-sport standout Breck found himself in the national spotlight after he was named Mountain West Player of the Year and led the Rams to their first NCAA Tournament since 2013.
Roddy also increased his shares in the NBA draft. The pre-draft hype was so reassuring for the powerfully built and experienced 6-6-pound, 255-pound Roddy that he made the unexpected decision to forego college eligibility.
“I think my versatility and fitness are two things that everyone sees in me,” Roddy said at the combine. “Shoot down threes, defend several positions. It is correct to play with the ball in the hands and without it. The NBA needs certain key things. And I understand that.”
Other Minnesotans also participated in the NBA draft this year, including Theo John from Duke (Champlin Park) and Bot Gatch from Utah (Austin). Former Gophers defenseman Payton Willis has also worked for several NBA teams.
For the second year in a row, the Gophers are unlikely to pick a player in the draft. But former All-America Daniel Oturu broke the program’s 16-year drought in 2020 when he joined three other Minnesotans (Zeke Nnaji, Tyrell Terry and Tre Jones) who were selected.
A year ago, former Prior Lake star Dawson Garcia participated in the draft process before returning to high school and heading from Marquette to North Carolina. The 6-11 gifted forward moved home to play for the Gophers and is on the 2023 trial boards.
Roddy would probably be a prospect next year, but he decided not to wait to make his NBA dreams come true. Along with Brown and Holmgren, he will have the opportunity to keep the Minnesotans’ strong pick trend Thursday night.
“It’s going to be a dream,” Roddy said if he was drafted. “All the hard work that I have done and also my family around me support me. It will be just an amazing feeling.”