When Eli King was in eighth grade, his Caledonia basketball team reached the Class 2A championship game against Minnehaha Academy, leaving him with a daunting challenge: guarding two-sport sensation Jalen Suggs.
That was 2018, when Suggs was a five-star basketball recruit drawing a pile of Division I scholarship offers for football, too. But King didn’t blink. Growing up, he was used to being challenged.
“His mentality was there already having to compete against his two older brothers,” said Brad King, his father and basketball coach. “Getting knocked around.”
Eli’s brothers, Owen and Noah, set the bar high. They were stars in basketball and football in Caledonia, a few hours south of the Twin Cities.
Now a 6-3, 185-pound highly recruited two-sport athlete, King has the potential to surpass his brothers. His eye-popping athleticism is even reminiscent of a certain gridiron and hardcourt star he faced early in his career.
Like Suggs once before, King now has Gophers basketball and football offers from Richard Pitino and P.J. Fleck. King’s other offers include Stanford and Iowa in hoops, and Notre Dame and Iowa in football.
“I’m still weighing my options,” King said. “I definitely say my brothers pushed me to be the best basketball player I can be. Not necessarily that I’m going to play that in college for sure. But it definitely made me want to have the ability to play [both sports] in college if I wanted to.”
As the state’s No. 1-ranked Class of 2022 football recruit, King caught 21 touchdown passes as a sophomore receiver during the Warriors’ fifth straight state title run last season. His 18 points per game as a playmaking point guard paced a 28-1 Caledonia basketball team favored to win the Class 2A state crown before the pandemic hit.
“His knowledge of the game and size has improved in a couple of years,” King’s father said. “It’s also the leadership part of it. He’s had great leaders in front of him at Caledonia to set an example. Whether it’s his brothers or others in the basketball and football programs.”
King’s family ties are strong in both basketball and football. His oldest brother, Owen, went 41-0 as Caledonia’s quarterback in three years. He went on to play basketball at South Dakota State before transferring closer to home to Winona State.
His other brother, Noah, was 27-0 as a quarterback and a Minnesota Mr. Basketball finalist last season. He’s committed to play basketball at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa.
Their father, Brad, is Caledonia’s basketball head coach and an assistant in football. And the uncle of the King brothers is Caledonia football coaching legend Carl Fruechte, the father of former Gophers receiver Isaac Fruechte. Everyone, though, says Eli is the most talented athlete in the family. Eli insists that he still has to prove it.
“They’ve done a lot,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Eli King was one of the leading scorers for D1 Minnesota’s powerhouse AAU team that beat the Minnesota Heat on Sunday in the 17U championship game of the D1 Summer Classic in Shakopee. His performance the previous weekend in Ames, Iowa, led to Pitino’s offer and pitch for him to stay home.
“He’s a super explosive athlete. He has amazing change of pace. He has amazing body control,” D1 Minnesota coach Jay Fuhrmann said. “He’ll do something above the rim that’s special, and the whole gym wants to come over and see what’s going on … He’s got the ‘it’ factor.”
Many have said the same about Suggs, who scored 27 points with eight assists and five rebounds in that 2018 state championship victory. Suggs eventually signed with Gonzaga to play basketball.
Now, Minnesotans will wait to see what the state’s next two-sport phenom will do. Eli King will have plenty of choices.