UK Recruiting

Chet Holmgren continues to turn heads on recruiting trail. Will Kentucky get involved?

The summer of Chet Holmgren was clearly no fluke.

The 7-foot, 190-pound high school prospect who took the recruiting circuit by storm and rocketed up the 2021 rankings over the past few months was back at it again this past weekend at the USA Basketball minicamp in Colorado Springs.

His unique style of play left his peers (and their parents) shaking their heads and chuckling in disbelief.

During one scrimmage Saturday afternoon, Holmgren took a defender off the dribble from just inside the arc, and — seemingly in one quick motion — managed to spin around another opponent and glide through traffic for an easy bucket. Several people in the parents’ seating section laughed at the absurdity of a 7-footer pulling off such a move.

A few minutes after that, Holmgren grabbed a defensive rebound and set out on a fast break, barreling full speed down the court before unleashing a behind-the-back dribble to get past one opponent and then taking it right at a much bigger defender at the rim. Holmgren ended up on the floor, but he drew the foul call. He also drew more “aahs” from the parents’ section.

“He’s not afraid,” one of them said, matter-of-factly.

By the end of the USA minicamp, Holmgren had more than confirmed his status as one of the best young prospects in America.

247Sports, which ranked him No. 2 in the 2021 class going into the weekend, included the Minneapolis native in its rundown of the event’s top 10 players.

Rivals.com national analyst Eric Bossi, whose recruiting service ranks Holmgren at No. 4 in the class, wrote Tuesday that he was “real tempted” to move him into the No. 1 overall spot after watching him in Colorado Springs.

More praise for a 17-year-old recruit whose stock continues to soar.

“It’s been big,” Holmgren told the Herald-Leader of his summer. “It’s just all come down to the work I’ve put in to get where I am right now. And it’s just kind of like my coming out party, I guess. I was balling all summer — that’s a lot of props to my teammates and my coaches and my parents for putting me in the positions to be successful. And it’s been kind of crazy, going from being pretty much unranked to top five in the nation.”

Getting better

Holmgren said he tries not to pay attention to the recruiting rankings, but he acknowledged that’s tough to do, especially when people around him are constantly pointing them out. With two years of high school ball ahead of him, he’s concentrating primarily on improving his game.

“I feel my confidence level has risen a lot,” he said. “Now, I’m a lot more confident putting the ball on the floor. Pretty much whatever position my coach puts me in to help my team win, I’m a lot more comfortable in now.

“I’m working a lot on my ball handling. Reads and options coming off pick-and-rolls. And then I’m working hugely on my pull-up game. I feel that was one of my biggest weaknesses this season. Hopefully I can get better at that and use that to my advantage as a weapon next year.”

Holmgren averaged 4.9 blocked shots per game and made 49 percent of his three-point attempts on the Under Armour circuit this past summer, attracting increased attention from college coaches and recruiting analysts.

His list of early scholarship offers counts into the dozens and includes some of the biggest basketball programs in the country. Holmgren has taken official visits to Ohio State and Gonzaga this fall, but the high school junior doesn’t appear to be anywhere near a college decision.

Kentucky interest?

The Herald-Leader was told last month that Kentucky was starting to get involved in the recruitment, but that interest apparently hasn’t made it to Holmgren and his family yet. Both the star recruit and his father, David Holmgren, said that — as of Saturday night — they have not heard from anyone on UK’s coaching staff.

Holmgren did say that he was “pretty sure” his coaches have had some contact with the Kentucky staff, and he noted that a couple of official UK basketball accounts recently followed him on social media. Holmgren and his father both said they’d be open to hearing from the Wildcats and that they haven’t reached the narrowing-down stage of the recruiting process.

“They’ve almost had two undefeated years in a decade, which nobody does in college,” Holmgren said of UK. “They’re just great at what they do. How they funnel guys into the NBA, how they prepare people for the NBA and just make them overall professionals.”

That’s obviously the stage Holmgren aspires to reach a few years from now.

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His unique style of play would be unlike anything Kentucky fans have seen under John Calipari, who has typically taken a more traditional approach with his “bigs.”

Holmgren is anything but a “traditional” post player, and the buzz in recruiting circles is that he’s looking for a system that plays 4-out — or possibly even 5-out — and would allow him to be one of those offensive players on the perimeter.

His game certainly warrants that kind of treatment. And he’s only getting better.

“I love watching Kevin Durant and try to take whatever I can from him,” Holmgren said when asked about his influences. “I’m not trying to be Kevin Durant. There will never be another Kevin Durant, and I don’t want to be another Kevin Durant. I want to be the first Chet. And I love watching Giannis (Antetokounmpo) — how he gets downhill, how he uses his elbows to seal defenders. And just his overall strength. Hopefully, one day, I can get to that point.”

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Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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