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. Multiple players from the land of 10,000 ballers could hear their names called on draft night Thursday for the third year in a row.
Seven-footer Chet Holmgren could not only become the highest drafted Minnesotan ever, he also can reunite with former high school teammate Jalen Suggs, if the Orlando Magic select Holmgren with the No. 1 overall pick.
Suggs, who played at Minnehaha Academy and Gonzaga like Holmgren, was picked No. 5 by Orlando in the 2021 NBA draft, which also included former Cristo Rey and Texas big man Jericho Sims.
“The list is pretty long at this point of great basketball players who have come out of Minnesota,” Holmgren said. “It’s great to see Minnesota so well represented. So I want to carry that on.”
Holmgren’s joined this year by Baylor’s Kendall Brown and Colorado State’s David Roddy as locals showing up on countless mock drafts.
The Suggs-Holmgren tandem had been widely known on the Twin Cities hoops scene well before they won state titles at Minnehaha Academy and dominated the national AAU circuit together with Grassroots Sizzle.
“I’m a super competitive person and I’d do anything for the win while I’m playing,” Suggs said last year. “Chet developed that mindset as we were growing up together and playing.”
Brown and Roddy did much of their development into NBA prospects away from the spotlight.
Following his sophomore year at East Ridge, Brown left his home state to attend Sunrise Christian Academy. Following two seasons at the Wichita, Kan., prep school, he turned into a McDonald’s All-America and arrived at Baylor as one of the top freshmen in college hoops.
“My teammates at East Ridge, I loved those guys,” Brown said earlier. “Those are relationships I’m always going to have. But I had to think about myself and what was going to help take me to the next level.”
Brown’s draft projections range from as high as a lottery pick to possibly going in the second round. But his high-wire athleticism, defensive potential, and versatility at 6-7 make him seemingly a lock to be drafted.
“I would best describe my game as a point forward,” Brown told media at the NBA draft combine in Chicago last month. “I have a really high IQ. I’m able to make plays with the ball. I’m a great cutter. So I also don’t need the ball in my hands to make plays. That would help me fit into an NBA team right away.”
Roddy seemed even further off the NBA’s radar two years ago, but his productive career at Colorado State was hard for scouts to ignore. The former Breck two-sport standout thrust himself into 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 boosted his stock at the NBA draft combine. The predraft buzz has been so encouraging for the powerfully built and skilled 6-6, 255-pound Roddy that he made a surprising decision to forgo his college eligibility.
“I think my versatility and physicality are two things everybody sees from me,” Roddy said at the combine. “Knock down threes, guard multiple positions. Make the right play with the ball in my hands and without. There are certain key things needed in the NBA. And I understand that.”
NBA draft workouts this year have included other Minnesotans, including Duke’s Theo John (Chammplin Park) and Utah’s Both Gach (Austin). Former Gophers guard Payton Willis also worked out for multiple NBA teams.
For the second year in a row, the Gophers are not likely to have a player drafted. But former All-America Daniel Oturu broke the program’s 16-year draft drought in 2020 when he joined three other Minnesotans (Zeke Nnaji, Tyrell Terry and Tre Jones) being selected.
A year ago, ex-Prior Lake star Dawson Garcia was involved in the draft process before returning to school and going from Marquette to North Carolina. The gifted 6-11 forward transferred home to play for the Gophers and is on 2023 mock draft boards.
Roddy likely would’ve been a solid prospect for next year, but he chose not to wait to pursue his NBA dreams. Along with Brown and Holmgren, he will get the opportunity to keep the trend of drafted Minnesotans going strong Thursday night.
“It’ll be a dream come true,” Roddy said if he’s drafted. “All the hard work that I’ve put in, as well as my family around me, supporting me. It’ll be just an amazing feeling.”