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ZAGS TRACKER: One-and-done might not be best for Suggs

by STEVE CAMERON / Zags Tracker
| January 26, 2021 1:00 AM

Let’s start our chat with some basketball heresy, shall we?

OK, here we go…

I think Jalen Suggs would be better off spending another year at Gonzaga, rather than stepping directly into the NBA.

Just so we’re clear, I’m NOT suggesting that Jalen won’t make it at the next level – no, nothing of the sort.

I do believe, however, that despite immense physical gifts and years of hard work to prepare for the toughest possible competition, Suggs would enjoy a far smoother entry into the NBA if he stays in Mark Few’s nest for one more season.

Disclaimer: My opinion has nothing to do with the fact that Gonzaga would have a better shot at a national championship to finish up the 2021-22 season.

Cross my heart!

YES, THE Zags surely would look awfully good if Suggs hung around to play with many of his current teammates – plus one more top-notch recruiting class (a group that may include Jalen’s former high school teammate, No. 1-ranked prospect Chet Holmgren).

So, yes again…

All those side benefits would be swell, but they’re not part of the logic I’m asking you to consider today.

Really, they’re not.

This is just an honest look at Suggs’ world if he tosses himself into the NBA draft following the coming NCAA tournament, and whether things would change for better or worse if he shocked the basketball universe by holding out for one more year.

A decision like that would be a stunner, clearly.

The rule of thumb for truly gifted players like Suggs is to get into the league as soon as they’re eligible – making a boatload of money in an instant, obviously, but also to train and develop with the best players and coaches in the world.

Seems like a no-brainer.

FOR MOST players coming from a year of college ball, or perhaps from the G-League elite training squad, a jump into the draft makes perfect sense.

There are exceptions, though, and Suggs could be one of them.

The starting point when you consider the big picture has to do with Jalen’s position.

He’s a pure point guard, and not just because that’s where he’s needed at Gonzaga.

The young man’s combination of vision, passing skills and improved on-ball defending make him a cinch to play the position that can have the most impact during a long-term pro career.

Point guard, though, is also the toughest to master as you make the leap into the NBA.

It’s odd, since we’re talking about a player who has a football player’s strength and mentality, but the most critical skills at the point involve finesse.

It’s all about mastering the most subtle parts of the sport.

NOW, IT’S a cinch that Suggs could make himself available in this year’s draft and be a lottery pick.

He’d become an instant millionaire.

That sort of move seems to make obvious sense, and no one would argue with it.

I’m only suggesting that Jalen and his family might – just might – want to look long-term, and perhaps gamble that he’d hit the NBA as a ready-made star if he spent another year at Gonzaga.

Why?

OK, start with Few’s decades of magic as something of a “guard whisperer.”

Suggs is a long way from being the finished article – he’s no Ja Morant, for instance, a born point guard the moment he leaves college – but every day Jalen spends with Few and the staff in Spokane closes that gap toward world-class guards.

Jalen is already one of the best players in college hoops, but this next jump is a big one.

The difference between on-the-job training in the NBA after one year in college and turning pro after a second season of preparation (especially at Gonzaga) would be immense.

BESIDES the nitty-gritty of learning to play the point – it’s a universe removed from the catch-and-shoot game needed to play the No. 2 guard spot – all that time as the star of a great college team allows you to build a brand.

Seriously.

Would we know as much about Zion Williamson (or bought his specialty shoes) if he’d opted to spend a year with the G-League Elites instead of going to Duke?

Performing on ESPN twice a week – then possibly in the Final Four -- can turn a bundle of excitement like Jalen Suggs into a national icon.

It’s quite possible that, just from a marketing perspective, playing a second year of college can make the right kind of player MORE money than he’d get with that normal first-year contract.

No, it’s not the same as seeing a Brinks truck full of cash pull up to the front door almost immediately after you finish that last day of classes as a college freshman.

But to start a couple of decades as an athlete admired by millions?

It’s worth a thought.

I HOPE that Jalen gets all the best possible advice, even if he’s going to take the normal route and wind up selected as the No. 4 pick in this year’s NBA draft.

I’m not just talking about sessions with a financial consultant, either.

Sitting down with John Stockton – one of the few to master the point guard role – would be a brilliant idea.

Please don’t get me wrong.

Hearing about the nuances of point guard play from the Gonzaga staff is terrific, of course, and they’re among the very best at the college level.

But picking the brain of a Hall of Famer right down the road…

That’s not available to most budding pros.

What’s more, I suspect that anyone with real knowledge of Suggs’ situation might understand the value of entering the NBA as more of a nicely polished diamond.

Sure, Gonzaga would benefit if Suggs startled the hoops world and decided to stay another year in the Kennel.

Maybe he could talk Corey Kispert into doing a year of grad school while hanging around for one more season – you know, that freebie year that the NCAA has offered everyone because of Covid-19.

OK, OK, I’m kidding about Corey.

Although …

“Once a Zag, always a Zag!”

He said it himself.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com

Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball which is published each Tuesday.