No longer starting, Holden appreciating Terps' finish

Junior forward enjoys 2nd Final Four trip

Final Four

Ncaa Tournament

March 27, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Tahj Holden wishes he had scored more points, grabbed more rebounds and been a more productive force this season for the Maryland Terrapins.

Holden wishes he had never taken that bad step in practice 15 months ago, which resulted in a broken foot that knocked him out of action for six weeks and was still giving him problems earlier this year. He would rather have retained his starting job instead of losing it to sophomore power forward Chris Wilcox.

But Holden is too busy enjoying another Final Four ride with the Terps to let a little personal disappointment cloud his day.

"There's a little bit of frustration, but not too much. This is fun. What's better than playing basketball this time of the year?" said the 6-foot-10, 247-pound Holden, who is averaging 5.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 18.3 minutes through 34 games.

"Chris was playing really good basketball at the time [Holden was benched], and I wasn't giving the team what it needed. It happens. But overall, it's been good. There are 300-some odd teams that want to be where we are right now."

Typical Tahj, say his teammates and coach Gary Williams. No pouting, no disruptive energy, just an embrace of a role that has helped shape Maryland into a 30-4 powerhouse with serious designs on the first national championship in school history. The Terps face Kansas on Saturday in the NCAA tournament semifinal round at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Holden is a combination of brains, brawn and a soft shooting touch that can spread an opposing defense.

That was Holden who hit the 25-foot shot at the end of the first half, giving the Terps a seven-point lead in Sunday's 90-82 thriller over Connecticut in the East Regional final. That was Holden who made a similar shot as the first half ended in the West Regional final against Stanford last year. He is a career 46.3 percent shooter from three-point range.

Holden admits he needs to work more on a low-post game and should hit the boards better. He has not scored in double figures since producing 11 points at Virginia on Jan. 31. He has not pulled down more than six rebounds this year. But Holden also takes pride in doing the things that never appear on stat sheets.

This junior power forward is no ball hog. He has no problem kicking the ball out to an open shooter on the wing, and he takes pleasure in freeing shooters by setting a nasty pick or by patrolling the paint with a push here, a shove there. Williams said no one plays better position defense among the big men at Maryland.

"I bring the toughness thing and a change of pace," Holden said. "Chris is an up-in-the-air, above-the-rim type of guy. I'm at the rim."

And being sent back to the bench has not affected his attitude or his day-to-day work ethic.

"He is the same old Tahj every day in practice," said senior forward Lonny Baxter. "He comes in and jokes around with us, then gets to work setting those screens, making those shots and doing all of the little things he does so well."

"All I know is I like playing on Tahj's side of the court when I'm in there," added backup guard Drew Nicholas. "We tend to get free when [defenders] run into that."

Holden, 21, a native of Red Bank, N.J. - which produced jazz star Count Basie - is about much more than basketball. He is a communications major who fancies himself as a broadcaster one day, and he can talk the talk.

He also likes to mix it up with more than reporters. Holden is the president of Maryland's Student-Athlete Advisory Council and the vice chairman of the Atlantic Coast Conference SAAC committee. It meets twice a year at the league headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., where conference leaders hear the student-athletes' view on pending legislation.

Williams calls Holden the team ambassador, and it shows in the way Holden shakes the hand of every player before each Maryland game. It showed yesterday in the way Holden continued chatting up the media, while the rest of his mates were beginning to shoot around before beginning practice at Cole Field House.

"I'll talk to anybody. If guys don't walk to talk to the media, just ask Tahj; he'll do it," Holden said.

Williams said he expects a more well-rounded game from Holden next year. With Baxter gone, and with Wilcox possibly taking an early exit to the NBA, Holden's development will be crucial.

"He's going to be very important to us next year," Williams said. "He's going to have a chance to really put it together."

NOTES: Maryland students, faculty and staff with valid identification and Terrapin Club and Alumni Association members with valid membership cards are invited to view Saturday's game on a jumbo TV screen at Cole Field House. Admission is free, concession stands will be open, and doors will open at 5 p.m. Should the Terps advance to the championship game on Monday, doors will open at 8 p.m. ... Senior guard Juan Dixon leads the NCAA tournament field with 104 points.

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