Several hours before he saw his NBA dreams realized in Thursday's NBA draft, Jalen Suggs celebrated as fellow St. Paul-raised superstar Suni Lee shocked the world with her Olympic women's gymnastics all-around gold medal in Tokyo.
"I'm so proud of her," said Suggs, who sent his friend congratulatory texts. "To see her do that and now I get to come out and do this, it's amazing."
Thursday night was Suggs' time to be in the spotlight. He became the highest NBA draft pick from Minnesota since Kevin McHale in 1980 by being taken fifth overall by the Orlando Magic.
The 6-4, 205-pound former Gonzaga and Minnehaha Academy point guard secured his place with Lee among the state's top historical sports figures.
Ex-Gopher and Hibbing star Kevin McHale, who went No. 3 to the Boston Celtics four decades ago, was the only Minnesota-born player ever drafted into the NBA higher than Suggs, who hopes to inspire a younger generation of ballers in his home state.
"Just showing them that it's possible," Suggs said Thursday. "Showing them that through the hard work, the dedication, the faithfulness to perfect your craft that you can get here at the highest level. I'm a perfect example of it, coming from not much and just a hardworking, dedicated family."
The 20-year-old Suggs was joined by his parents, Larry and Molly, and younger sisters, Jennica and Jaelle, at Thursday's draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Hearing his name called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, then walking across the stage in his sparkly silver suit, was another highlight in a sports career that has had many, many bright moments — from becoming a household name in high school hoops as a seventh-grader on Minnehaha Academy's varsity to piling up state titles in basketball and football as an elite floor leader and quarterback.
And, of course, Suggs will always be remembered for his iconic half-court buzzer-beater to lead the Zags over UCLA 93-90 in overtime in the Final Four semifinals in Indianapolis last season. He averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals in his last five NCAA tournament games, including 22 points in the 86-70 loss to Baylor in the national championship game.
The scary part, Suggs said himself, was that he only recently has focused solely on basketball. He had been a two-sport star athlete until his freshman year in college.
The Magic drafted former North Carolina guard Cole Anthony with the 15th pick in the 2020 draft. Orlando also acquired R.J. Hampton, Milwaukee's No. 24 pick in 2020, in a trade in March. Suggs, though, could have more immediate star potential in the backcourt.
"The first thing you want to do is go get the head of the snake," NBA analyst and former center Kendrick Perkins said on Thursday's ESPN telecast. "This guy is a born leader. His mental toughness is obvious. What he did as a football player, that football mentality. You go back to guys like Allen Iverson who played it and carried it over … When I look at this kid, sky's the limit."
UConn star Paige Bueckers, who played high school basketball at Hopkins, had a video congratulating her childhood friend played when ESPN interviewed Suggs. "Words can't describe how proud I am!" Bueckers (@paigebueckers1) tweeted. "Since the beginning we had big dreams and this is what we both knew he was capable of from the start. All love forever J."
Jericho Sims, the former Cristo Rey standout, was taken in the second round by the New York Knicks. McKinley Wright of Colorado, who went to Champlin Park, wasn't drafted but signed a two-way deal with the Wolves.
The No. 1 overall pick, by Detroit, was Oklahoma State's 6-8 guard Cade Cunningham. Jalen Green, a 6-5 guard for the G League's Ignite, went second to Houston.
Cleveland took USC's 7-footer Evan Mobley with the third pick, but the first surprise was Toronto nabbing Scottie Barnes, a 6-9 forward from Florida State, at No. 4. Suggs had been a consensus projected pick for the Raptors, who won the NBA title in 2019.
The Magic, 21-51 last season, are in a rebuilding situation with new coach Jamahl Mosley. Suggs has high expectations for himself to help lead Orlando to another level. Winning is all he's known from a young age growing up in Minnesota.
"Whatever is needed," Suggs said on his role. "I feel like my versatility I'm going to bring in will allow us to do a lot of different things as a team and succeed. At the end of the day, I just want to win. I want to win for myself, for the city, for the franchise and for everybody else on the team."
A year ago, the highest drafted player from Minnesota was former Hopkins and Arizona big man Zeke Nnaji, who was selected No. 22 overall by Denver. Nnaji was one of a record four players from the state to be drafted, including Gophers star Daniel Oturu.
Just like Suggs was inspired watching Lee's heroics in gymnastics, he wants youngsters following him to learn from his rise to basketball stardom.
"I'm just hoping that every kid back home sees it, recognizes that it's possible and goes and works for it," he said.