NBA Hoops

‘He wasn’t scared’: How Chet Holmgren became a perfect fit for SGA and an OKC team built for a dynasty

'He wasn't scared': How Chet Holmgren became a perfect fit for SGA and an OKC team built for a dynasty

THE DRIVEWAY INTO the small private high school on Fairfax Boulevard in Los Angeles is purposely nondescript. A security guard is stationed out front. A name must be on a list to get beyond the retractable metal gate.

The luxury cars in the parking lot are the only tip-off to the caliber of basketball players who come to train at the gym here.

Two summers ago, on a blisteringly hot day in August, it was Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid, Trae Young, DeMar DeRozan and Victor Oladipo — all regulars at the runs organized by longtime NBA trainer Drew Hanlen.

They also were joined by a tantalizing but mysterious talent who’d just been drafted second overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

At 7-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Chet Holmgren stands out in every gym. To see him standing next to the 7-foot, 280-pound Embiid was almost worrisome, like one powerful post-up by Embiid — or a strong gust of wind — would level him.

Inside the gym, the run began — All-Stars competing against All-Stars, the familiar squeaks of basketball shoes echoing off the walls. Then there was the slim rookie in a blue Thunder T-shirt and white shorts, undaunted by anyone.

As play began, Holmgren didn’t act or play like a rookie going up against All-Stars.

“No,” Holmgren, 22, told ESPN before a recent playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks. “I was just like, ‘I’m going to play basketball, work on my stuff.’ That’s what the summer is for. That’s what I always try to do when I step on the court.”

He ran into the post to defend Embiid and blocked his shot. Then Holmgren got DeRozan and Tatum too. He blocked shots from behind, from the side. He closed out hard on the perimeter, tipping 3-pointers that were hoisted without enough respect for his long arms.

It was unlike anything the longtime NBA vets had ever seen. Whatever questions the pros in attendance might’ve had about the rookie’s ability to compete in the NBA had been answered — and fast.

“I remember telling Drew I liked him because he wasn’t scared,” Tatum told ESPN. “Yeah, he was skinny. But he was going right back at dudes. I respected that.”

Holmgren remembers that summer and those runs fondly too. But not for the…

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