What Chet Holmgren brings to the OKC Thunder: 'He just proves everybody wrong'

What Chet Holmgren brings to the OKC Thunder: ‘He just proves everybody wrong’

Pushover. That’s what so many people think or presume when they first look at Chet Holmgren; that he will be easy to move around, or manipulate. There’s good reason to suspect as much. Look at him. All elbows and knobby knees, long limbs hanging off a body that has about as much girth as a shirt blowing on a clothesline.

The skepticism dogged him as he embarked on his college career, and will follow him into the NBA, where he enters with all of the bells, whistles and expectations of the No. 2 draft pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder. But Sarah Harris, Holmgren’s mother, long has believed one of her son’s most powerful qualities has nothing to do with a basketball skill. “Strong willed, ” she says. “He knows who he is and what his north star is. People who want him to do things he’s not comfortable with will always have a hard time. He’s always going to keep an alignment with his ethics. ” That helped Holmgren stay level-headed through a Gonzaga season where his every move was dissected and projected for its professional value; and it will help him even more now, as he steps into the klieg lights of the NBA, where everyone will be looking to see if the “unicorn” can live up to his billing.

The thing about Holmgren is he’s the least impressed with himself. He arrived at Gonzaga as the highest-ranked recruit in program history, immediately upping the ante on the program’s expectations as well as his own. Yet he never played or acted as if he was better than anyone else. Most days, he showed up long before practice started and stayed after it ended to work with Zags assistant Roger Powell. He didn’t care about how many touches he got, or points he scored, content to work within the framework of the very potent Gonzaga offense. Despite all of the noise around him, he is exceptionally even-keeled, and has been raised to carry the load that comes with the attention of, at 7-foot-1, always standing out in a crowd. His parents did not fast track his development – his father, in fact, benched him in the eighth grade when he saw his son struggling with sore knees – and liked Gonzaga in part because despite his status as a hot recruit, he’d still have Drew Timme as a buffer.

Holmgren, consequently, is not one to preen or pose. Couple that with the presumption that he’s not going to be able to stand his ground, and people assume he’s too easy going. He is not. “There’s always going to be people who say you can’t, ” says former Ohio State big man Greg Oden, who dealt with his share of criticism and saw Holmgren at camps. “From what I saw, he’s going to take that as a challenge.”

Case in point: Back in October at an early Zags’ practice, Anton Watson, with 20 more pounds on his frame, took it at Holmgren under the bucket, rejecting the freshman’s layup attempt. In what seemed like maybe 10 strides, Holmgren raced down the other end of the court, going right back at Watson, who tried to drive baseline. That was as much about that strong will Harris discussed as it was his physical abilities.

There is no arguing that Holmgren has work to do physically, but if you look at his father, Dave, a hulking bear of a man who played at Minnesota, you see what can be. That’s also maybe the only area of ​​the game he needs to work on. His skill set requires no analysis. He does things that a person his size normally should not. He can dribble and shoot (39 percent from the arc) with ease, is comfortable leading a break as much as finishing one, has great hands, nimble feet and an incredibly high basketball IQ. He averaged a near double-double (14 points and 9.9 rebounds), shot 60 percent from the floor and blocked 3.7 shots per game.

“Everybody says the same thing about him – he’s not this or not that, ” Dave Holmgren says. “And he just proves everybody wrong. ”

(Photo: Kelley L Cox / USA Today)

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