The 2020 basketball recruits won’t walk into their college classrooms for at least another 18 months and the early signing period isn’t until November, but that doesn’t slow down the top recruits in the country from taking their official visits.
Late in Gonzaga’s 94-46 dominating result over Saint Mary’s on Saturday, the Kennel Club started chanting two names: Jalen and Julian. To everyone in the stands and to those who may have heard it on the TV broadcast, those two names wouldn’t have sparked anything more than confusion.
But to the two high school juniors on their official recruiting visit, sitting in the front row behind the basket closest to the Zags’ bench, it meant more than any official visit could offer.
For combo guard Jalen Suggs from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and forward Julian Strawther from Henderson, Nevada, the chants were a special feeling.
“It was mad cool, it just shows the amount of love and fan support that they have here,” Suggs said. “For them to chant mine and Julian’s name, we aren’t even on the team. It shows a lot about the culture of this place.”
“It makes you feel different, it makes you feel wanted,” Strawther said. “That is a big factor because if the fans are with me at my school, then obviously I will perform better.”
Suggs is the seventh-ranked prospect and Strawther is No 34. GU’s highest signee was Zach Collins at No. 20 in 2016.
Zach Norvell Jr., who was recruited with Collins, knew how unique of an experience it must have been to be recognized like that.
“That is amazing,” Norvell Jr. said. “I am pretty sure those guys put a lot of hard work in to get here, so anytime they can show some appreciation is big time. I hope they enjoyed themselves tonight.”
Each recruit spent a couple of days in Spokane, getting acclimated with GU’s culture, its facilities and its people.
“Oh man, this was a great time,” Suggs said. “From the moment that I stepped in here just on campus I could tell the vibes were amazing. I talked to the coaching staff, I talked to a lot of the people here, I got to be with the students. I can’t wait to continue building relationships and continuing this process.”
And of course, front-row seats to the Bulldogs’ most important conference game is a nice cherry on top.
“It was just good to see and the atmosphere here is insane, there is nothing like it that I have been to so far,” Strawther said. “Just watching the guys and how they play, I mean it really fits my play style, so it was good to come out here.”
Assistant coach Donny Daniels has been the link between the recruits and the program and both players felt a strong connection with him as well as the rest of the staff.
“Excellent guy, he and along with the rest of the coaching staff, they are real, genuine and you can tell that they care,” Suggs said. “They are not doing it just to recruit, but they want to build a relationship, which I respect a lot.”
Strawther concurred: “He is just a great guy, really genuine and he always keeps it (real) with me and lets me know what I need to work on and that is what I am looking for … I want to be coached and I want to be great.”
Both recruits outlined their strengths and what they could offer a powerful program like GU.
“I think I fit in really well just because I can do whatever they need me to,” Suggs said. “I can play defense, I can come score, I can play off the pick-and-roll and I can get the bigs looks which is what their point guards Geno (Crandall) and Josh (Perkins) do really well.”
“Just a lot of versatility and an ability to score at all three levels, play multiple positions, defend and just be a great teammate,” Strawther said.
ESPN’s recruiting page had its own takes last month on the two Zag recruits, presenting a strength and a weakness.
On Suggs (ranked No. 12 by ESPN): “He plays hard, dives on the floor, and more than holds his own against older players. He has good use of both hands – he can drive both sides and pass off the dribble with both hands. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Suggs is that there is no glaring weakness in his game just yet.”
On Strawther (ranked No. 36 by ESPN): “(He) is a skilled wing that is very gifted offensively. He is a good shooter that can stretch a defense out to 22 feet. He is skilled off the dribble and can create offense for himself and others. (He) is currently very slim and needs to add some girth and muscle. (He) is an elite-level prospect.”
The official early signing day in November is a while off, but verbal (unofficial) commitments can happen at any time.
The Zags already have one verbal commitment for their 2020 class, 6-foot-4 combo guard Dominick Harris from Temecula, California. Harris is ranked as the No. 51 recruit in the country and fifth-best player at his position.
“He is just a team player, he is an elite guard, he gets to the bucket and he finds his teammates,” Strawther said of Harris. “He is really fun to play with, high energy and me and him get along really well.”
As for Suggs and Strawther, GU fans will have to wait and see what they decide, but both players felt welcome and energized during their visit to Spokane.
“The energy was actually crazy, just the fans and the players and all the fun they were having and the way they were playing and just how into the game they were,” Suggs said. “It’s a special environment here.”
Editor’s note: All rankings are from 24/7 Sports, unless otherwise noted.
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