“The competitor in me can’t wait to play all those guys,” the Gonzaga star tells Boardroom of his NBA leap.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Suggs was selected No. 5 overall by the Orlando Magic at the 2021 NBA Draft on July 29.
The NBA Draft returns tonight at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. And while Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham is a generous favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Detroit Pistons, we might just look back at the 2021 draft class and acknowledge that it was all about the Jalens.
That’s Jalen Green, the top prospect who famously sidestepped college to become the face of the G League Ignite program, and Jalen Suggs, the super athlete who got it done on both ends in an unforgettable freshman year at Gonzaga that saw his Bulldogs race all the way to the Final Four.
On Wednesday, Boardroom had a chance to speak with Suggs at the peak of his ascent toward the NBA dream — literally. We caught up with him at the top of the Empire State Building in an event co-hosted by Wilson to discuss his thoughts on the NBA’s new official ball, crashing the gates of the next level, his past as a football quarterback, and what fans can expect to see from him at the highest level of the game.
The following is Boardroom’s conversation with Suggs lightly edited for clarity.
SHLOMO SPRUNG: You grew up as a QB, and a successful one at that. When you were growing up and developing as a point guard, how did those skills and experiences help you?
JALEN SUGGS: Just the vision and seeing the floor at all times and then finding passing lanes. I think that’s the biggest thing to know, passing guys to the open area, not just passing to guys and putting them in positions to score and succeed. That’s the biggest piece that’s carried over.
SS: If you had gone that route, which NFL quarterback would you compare yourself to?
JS: I think it’s the same as basketball. I love a ton of different quarterbacks. Of course, Lamar Jackson, the athleticism, the excitement that he plays with, makes things happen outside the pocket. Guys like [Patrick] Mahomes, [Tom] Brady. [Peyton] Manning is someone I watched a ton of, but [Aaron] Rodgers is my favorite quarterback. It’s picking a bunch of different things from those guys.
SS: Do you ever think about what your life would have been like had you gone that route?
JS: Of course. I think about it all the time, honestly, especially during football season. And when I’m laid back on a Sunday watching all the games, [I’m] trying to imagine that this could’ve been me in a couple of years. But no regrets with any of the decisions that I’ve made or things that I’ve done up to this point.
SS: It seems to be working so far. Back to basketball, which areas do you think you need to improve on or grow in the most?
JS: I think getting better is something that anybody and everybody can do. Becoming more consistent is definitely something I’m focusing on. I’m a full-time basketball player now, so I have the time and ability to lock in on some of the little things that I wasn’t able to, like things in my jump shot and handle.
So I’m good; I don’t think I have too many weaknesses. It’s just perfecting the things I’m already good at.
SS: Who do you try to model your game after?
JS: There’s a lot of people I watch. Me and my dad watched a ton of Michael Jordan. Some point guards that I like: Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday. I watch a ton of guys, pick little things from their games, try to emulate [them] in mine, so I don’t think I can put one name to it.
SS: You obviously used Wilson basketballs in college. Now, you get to use the Wilson ball in the NBA. Why do you think Wilson can make it to the next level just as you are right now?
JS: It’s funny, because Wilson is taking the exact same journey and process to the next level as I am. It’s just a great basketball. It has a great feel to it, a great grip, better when it gets wet, you get your hands even stickier while you’re playing towards the end of games.
It’s an amazing basketball and an even better brand. I couldn’t be more excited for them and our partnership.
SS: Obviously NIL has been dominating the news over the past months. Had that opportunity been around when you were playing, how do you think you would’ve handled it?
JS: I would’ve handled it with my family and gotten somebody to help me out just as I’m doing right now, because now, they’re our brand. And I think and hope that they all go about it the right way, handle it with class. But I’m really glad and excited to have these opportunities.
SS: Do you ever think about how much money you could have earned with your 2020-21 Gonzaga team that went 31-1 and made it all the way to the national championship game?
JS: [Laughs] I’m here, so I’m being present in the moment. I think we can leave that to the what-ifs along with football.
SS: But it would’ve been a lot though, right?
JS: Yeah, hopefully.
SS: What do you think people get wrong about you the most?
JS: I think you look at me on the court, my persona, really competitive, really fiery, kind of do anything to win. But off the court, it’s like I flip a switch.
As soon as I step outside the lines, I’m an easygoing, fun-loving, genuine person who loves to laugh, have a good time. That’s what I tell people all the time: Don’t get “Basketball Jalen” or “Sports Jalen” confused with me off the court. Because they’re two different people.
SS: So what does off the court Jalen like to do with his time?
JS: Kick back, spend time with family and friends. Me, my dad, my sisters, and my mom, we love watching movies. We watched a ton of them growing up. We always had movie nights. And then just playing video games with my friends and just kind of laugh and have a good time. Just enjoying my free time for what it is.
SS: What are your favorite video games?
JS: Call of Duty, Madden, been playing a lot of MLB [The Show]. But I’ll really play anything.
SS: What’s the best movie you’ve seen lately?
JS: A good one I watched was The Gentlemen. I watched that on the flight here, actually. Really good movie. Some of my favorites, I like Rush Hour, love the Kingsmen movies, and I’m a big Marvel fan.
SS: Besides Wilson, what are some companies you’ve aligned with?
JS: I think we’ve got multiple different ones. I think we’re at around 13, 14. So it’s been fun just to talk to a lot of people, getting to pick people’s brains and see what the business side of things is like and grow my brand.
SS: How do you describe yourself to brands?
JS: I’m an open book. You see my competitiveness and fiery nature on the basketball court, the confidence. But off the court, again, I’m easy to work with, fun-loving, [and an] easygoing person who loves to laugh and have a good time. Just open to anything.
SS: What’s your dream brand, if you could choose just one?
JS: I don’t think I can put my name on one. There’s a ton of things I’ve used growing up that have been essential for me, so just to continue to enjoy the process and build and getting to know different people, I’m looking forward to it.
SS: When you go into bed and close your eyes and you imagine which NBA players you go up against in the pros, what comes to mind?
JS: I mean, tons of guys. Night in and night out, no matter what team it is or what city I’m playing in, those are the best players in the world. So really, I can’t wait. The competitor in me can’t wait to play all those guys.