Two Determined Stars Meet

Holmes is on the rise, and he's lifting Morgan State with him

March 05, 2009|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,

In the closing seconds of Morgan State's upset victory over Maryland this season, everyone at Comcast Center - including both coaches - knew Reggie Holmes was going to have the basketball in his hands. Maryland fans feared the prospect of it happening, and Greivis Vasquez, defending Holmes, pounded the floor to ready himself.

And yet even with that burden of great expectations, Holmes smoothly pump-faked after catching a pass outside the three-point line, grinned as Vasquez flew by him, then made his fifth three-pointer to give Morgan State its biggest win in school history. Holmes had truly arrived on the big stage. And in some respects, so had Morgan State.

"Sometimes, when I shoot, I can feel when certain shots are just good," says Holmes, who is averaging 16.2 points for the 19-11 Bears, who play their final regular-season game tonight against rival Coppin State. "Other times, you get that feeling when it comes off your hand, you don't think it's going in, and you're surprised. But that shot against Maryland? I really felt that shot. Once I got him off his feet and had a clear look? I thought: 'Yup.' "

As Holmes, who scored 25 against the Terps, backpedaled up the court, listening to the silence of Maryland's home crowd, he stuck his tongue out and waggled it in glee.

Although third-year Bears coach Todd Bozeman is quick to stress that a team effort is responsible for Morgan's rebirth - which includes a second consecutive Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title this year after posting 18 losing seasons in a row - he acknowledges that as Holmes goes this year, so go the Bears. In losses this season, Holmes is averaging 11.4 points. In victories, he's averaging 19.0.

"He's definitely made an impact on our program," Bozeman says. "I always thought he could potentially be the leading scorer in the history of the school. His first two years, everything he did was kind of icing on the cake. But now that he's a junior, a lot more has been expected of him. His first two years, he had only two options: shoot the three or go to the hole. We've worked real hard to get him to develop a midrange game."

Still, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard's ability to get open and fire from deep has been such an effective weapon he is already the school's all-time leader in three-pointers made. It's not a distinction Holmes envisioned when he was playing at Southern High and then St. Frances, where he was a teammate of Terps freshman Sean Mosley's.

"I ain't even going to lie. I never wanted to come to Morgan, just because of the history [of losing]," Holmes says. "I used to always see myself playing for a big school like Maryland, especially because I was from here. But when that didn't happen, my father just told me: 'Be the quiet, sleeping giant. Just come out and show everyone what you can do.' "

Holmes - an honor roll student majoring in business administration - grew up in Cherry Hill and was just 2 years old when his father, Mark Holmes, put a tiny Fisher-Price basketball in his hand. What happened next was not much of a surprise to either of his parents: The pint-sized player never wanted to put it down.

"I used to run into the room when he was sleeping and I'd wake him up," Holmes says of his father. "I'd yell, 'Daddy, Daddy, come watch me shoot!' "

Holmes' father and his mother - Tijuana Hall - still watch, though they've learned to do it from different parts of Morgan State's Hill Field House. Holmes says their cheering styles are simply too different to watch games together in harmony.

"If you hear a loud lady [behind the Morgan bench], that's my mother. If you see a man who is calm for a while, then he does this," Holmes says, throwing his hands up in mock exasperation, "that's my father. They sit on the opposite sides of the court."

Although he could always shoot, Holmes wasn't projected to be much of a player beyond high school simply because he was no bigger than 5-7 as a freshman. But the summer before his sophomore year, he says he slept close to 10 hours a day.

"My AAU coaches would say 'Why you keep sleeping?' " Holmes says. "I said, 'I don't know. I'm just tired.' I just started to grow. ... By the time school started, I was 6-1."

Although Holmes is typically lighthearted and playful, when the subject of last season's MEAC tournament comes up, his mood becomes more serious. He and his teammates believe they have unfinished business after missing out on the NCAA tournament when Morgan State was upset by Coppin State in the conference championship game. Holmes missed a half-court shot at the buzzer that would have won the game, and it still bugs him to this day.

"I didn't want to talk to anybody that night," Holmes says. "I couldn't even sleep. I just kept thinking about that last shot, if I had hit that last half-court shot. ... I had the whole summer to work out and think about it."

Memories of that disappointment drove him to develop the move that finished off Maryland this year: the pump-fake, step-in jumper.

"That's all Bozeman kept talking about, once I get the one-dribble clear or the one-dribble pull-up, I'm going to be deadly," Holmes says. "I've been working all summer on that, but in the beginning of the year, I never used it. Boze would get mad. He'd say, 'Why you not using it? You say you been working on it.' So I started showing him. He just didn't have the proof."

MORGAN STATE (19-11, 12-3)

@ COPPIN STATE (12-17, 9-6) Tonight, 7:30

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