ST. PAUL -- Jalen Suggs and his father, Larry, had Thursday night in mind when they discussed Jalen’s future a couple of years ago.
Suggs starred in both basketball and football for years growing up, and he often was the best player on the court or the field — usually even when playing up multiple age levels.
It wasn’t until his senior year of high school at Minnehaha Academy when the St. Paul native knew it was time to make a choice between the two sports he loved dearly. Jalen dreaded having that conversation with his dad — that was the only person he wanted to have it with, but it wasn’t a decision he ever truly wanted to tackle.
Football or basketball?
“Hardest decision of my life,” Suggs said this week.
And while there were many factors that went into the decision, the future certainly weighed heavily on the ultimate choice — hoops.
“We knew that this year was a real and high possibility,” Suggs said. “Obviously, being in this spot with these opportunities.”
The opportunities he’s speaking of are the NBA Draft on Thursday night, where Suggs is a near lock to be selected within the first five picks. Opportunities like the shoe endorsement deal Suggs signed with Adidas this week as he embarks on his professional career. Basketball opened so many doors so early in the 20-year-old’s life.
“I have no regrets, at all,” Suggs said.
The sky’s the limit
Why would he? He’s one of the best guards in this draft class, and Suggs only sees himself getting better.
“The sky is the limit,” Suggs said. “It’s funny, I haven’t been a full-time basketball player yet. I’ve always had to split the time between football, and during football season, I never touched a basketball. For that five months, I was always carrying around a football. All the basketballs were put in a closet and weren’t touched until I was done.”
Not that there is currently a weakness in his game. Growing up playing against a bunch of older kids, Suggs was forced to fine-tune his skills and discover the tricks of the trade at a young age. He can shoot, handle and create. He’s a strong, lengthy defender.
Jalen Suggs is the total package.
But he’s still adding.
He’s worked more on his floater this offseason, hoping to take advantage of the space NBA defenses give guards in the mid-range game. He’s also worked on his flexibility, as well as strengthening his chest and shoulders.
“You see in the league now, people are taking and giving bumps,” Suggs said. “The better you can take and give them, the easier it makes things on the floor.”
Suggs said it’s “scary” to think how good of a player he can become, which makes it a scary proposition for teams to pass on the 6-foot-4, athletic guard. He doesn’t have a weakness in his game and has won at every level, from the youth to Minnehaha Academy and Grassroots Sizzle to Gonzaga. Suggs has the look of a can’t-miss prospect. How can’t a team take him?
“The ones that do pass up on me to take another prospect, it’ll come back. It’ll be to their detriment, honestly, because you can look at my track record and what I’ve done and where I’ve been and it’s always win at the highest level, and my play has been at the highest level,” he said. “As far as that goes, if somebody makes a decision that’s not me, that’s their opinion and I can never be angry at them for that. But I don’t forget those kinds of things. That’s just the kind of competitor I am.”
While teams passing on him will only fuel his fire moving forward, Suggs did note he’ll be happy wherever he lands. He has thrived in every situation thus far, and doesn’t see a reason to think that will change now.
“I’m going to embrace wherever I go,” he said. “I know that I have an extremely positive impact, be able to bring a winning culture, winning mindset and just a great player to that locker room.”
If Suggs sounds confident, it’s because he is. That confidence is born out of the competitive drive he has had since he was a little kid, always striving to be the best. Now, the moment to play with the best is finally here.
Suggs noted how well his last name is known in East St. Paul, and how much he’s looking forward to carrying that on. In this area, folks have been predicting a night like Thursday would come for Jalen for years. He credits his family and close friends with always keeping him grounded and on the right path toward his ultimate goals.
The moment has arrived.
“My mind has never really been ‘NBA Draft, NBA Draft, this has all just been to get to the NBA draft.’ Of course, it’s the end goal. It was the dream,” Suggs said. “But I think I’ve taken it step by step and have gotten to be in the moment of AAU, high school basketball, college basketball, and now this step. Now, where I’ve gotten to take these three months to become better and really improve and I’ve taken strides. But I think it’s taking it step by step and being present in all those moments that have led up to this is what’s made that even sweeter, getting to this position. I really couldn’t be more excited.”