Jalen Suggs repeatedly experiences football withdrawals, but the Gonzaga star guard occasionally finds the perfect outlet to make the pangs subside.
Suggs made the college basketball pass of the season in the top-ranked Bulldogs’ most-recent game and will again have his right arm ready when Gonzaga visits Portland in West Coast Conference play on Saturday night.
Suggs became the first high school athlete in Minnesota history to win both the Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball awards in the same school year. He received approximately a dozen offers to play college football but was a highly-sought national recruit in basketball.
He chose the Bulldogs and his array of basketball skills has him forecasted to be a top-five selection — and possibly No. 1 overall — in the 2021 NBA Draft.
But his football abilities remain ready to be unleashed at any time on the basketball court.
During Thursday night’s 86-69 home win over BYU, Suggs grabbed a rebound under his own basket, turned and unleashed an 80-foot right-on-the-mark pass to teammate Joel Ayayi, who converted the layup as part of a game-opening 23-2 spurt.
“I love throwing passes,” said Suggs, who put his arms up in the air like a referee after Ayayi’s basket. “Being able to make that kind of play and throw my hands up like a touchdown, it makes not playing football a little bit easier.”
Bulldogs coach Mark Few was amazed with what he witnessed.
“He has so many gifts and one of his greatest gifts is his vision,” Few said. “You have to be very confident to be able to execute passes like that.”
Suggs ranks third on Gonzaga (11-0, 2-0 WCC) in scoring at 14.1 points per game and leads in assists per game (5.3) and steals per game (2.6).
He joined holdovers Corey Kispert (21.7 points per game, 33 of 66 3-point shooting), Drew Timme (17.8 points, 6.8 rebounds) and Ayayi (11.8 points, team-leading 7.6 rebounds) to form a powerful quartet.
The Bulldogs encountered few issues versus BYU thanks to that opening blitz. Kispert led the Zags with 23 points while Suggs contributed 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Gonzaga shouldn’t receive much of a test from Portland (6-4, 0-1), which was trounced 88-64 by host San Francisco on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs have won the past 12 meetings, 32 of the last 33 and 46 of 48.
Furthermore, the Pilots have lost 41 of their past 42 WCC contests — including three conference tournament losses — since beating Loyola Marymount on Feb. 3, 2018.
But earlier this season, the Pilots were showing signs of progress with a five-game winning streak that included an 87-86 overtime road win over Oregon State.
But now, Portland is in a stretch in which it has dropped three of four games with the setbacks coming by an average of 26.3 points.
Ahmed Ali has been the Pilots’ top player and is averaging 18.4 points per game. Eddie Davis averages 11.2 points and a team-leading 5.2 rebounds for Portland, which is coached by former NBA star Terry Porter.
Despite facing long odds against the Bulldogs, the Pilots possess a don’t-give-up mentality.
“We try to get after it every day,” Portland’s Michael Henn (7.8 ppg) recently said. “Nobody here is scared of anybody else. We’re going to go at people and not back down to anybody.”
–Field Level Media