Who does OKC Thunder's Chet Holmgren credit for helping put Minnesota hoops on the map?

The population of Apple Valley, Minnesota, is only about 55,000.

It's a charming suburban community located in the heart of the Minneapolis–Saint Paul metropolitan area. But when Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren attended Apple Valley boys basketball games as a kid, it felt like anything but a small-town atmosphere.

The Minneapolis native remembers waiting in a massive line just to get into the sold-out event. Everyone was there to see Tyus Jones, a five-star guard who ESPN rated as the No. 4 player in the Class of 2014.

Minnesota wasn't known for producing elite basketball players at the time, but Jones changed that narrative.

"He was like the one who kind of started it off," Holmgren said of Jones. "I remember going to some of (Apple Valley's) games and watching them play. ... It was huge for Minnesota and the game of basketball up there."

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Thunder forward Chet Holmgren dunks beside Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma during Friday's game at Paycom Center.
Thunder forward Chet Holmgren dunks beside Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma during Friday's game at Paycom Center.

Jones got selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 24 overall pick in 2015, and 10 other Minnesotans have been drafted since then.

One of the latest examples is Holmgren, a former five-star prospect who was drafted No. 2 overall in 2022. And, in what marked a battle between two of Minnesota's finest, Holmgren played against Jones on Friday during OKC's 147-106 win over the Washington Wizards.

"I've just kind of seen his progression," Jones said. "I wanted to blaze the trail and get Minnesota noticed for basketball. ... Seeing guys like Chet come up and have the success, the recognition and the notoriety, that was the whole goal in the first place."

Jones had a few Minnesotans to look up to during his childhood.

Atop that list was Khalid El-Amin, a Minneapolis native who won a national championship with UConn in 1999. The standout guard then got selected by the Chicago Bulls in the second round (No. 34 overall) of the 2000 NBA Draft.

El-Amin only played one season in the NBA. Still, Jones looked up to him along with other Minnesotans such as Kris Humphries and Blake Hoffarber.

"For me, Khalid El-Amin was always the threshold and the bar," Jones said. "I like the say the basketball world is small, especially in Minnesota. I was just always in the gym, at the high school game or at an AAU tournament as a young guy. I was always striving to be in their shoes."

It was at an AAU tournament in around 2016 when Jones first saw Holmgren.

Holmgren was in the eighth grade at the time, and he wasn't just playing basketball. The lanky big man was playing catchup as he tried to adjust to his ever-changing body, which grew from 6-foot-2 to 6-10 that year.

"He wasn't even playing that much," Jones said. "He was just extremely tall, obviously. Super skinny. I just kind of followed him."

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Jones watched as Holmgren rose to national stardom during his time at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis.

Sellout crowds showed up to watch the 7-foot phenom, who helped the Red Hawks win four state championships from 2017-21.

Holmgren averaged 21 points and 12.3 rebounds as a senior, making him the consensus top player in the 2021 recruiting class. He outranked future NBA players such as Orlando's Paolo Banchero and Houston's Jabari Smith Jr.

Holmgren spent one season at Gonzaga before he got selected by OKC in 2022. He became the highest-drafted Minnesotan of all time, topping Kevin McHale, who went third overall to the Boston Celtics in 1980.

Holmgren and Jones are two of biggest success stories to come out of Minnesota in the past decade. And with six home-grown prospects in the 2024 recruiting class already committed to a Power Five program, the state is finally getting national recognition.

"Hopefully it continues," Holmgren said. "It's great to see that kind of (happen) over and over, just one guy to the next. ... That's big time."

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This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OKC Thunder's Chet Holmgren credits Minnesota preps legend Tyus Jones