Holmes gets one more chance at home to score big for Bears

He was coach's first recruit for overhauled program

March 04, 2010|By Ken Murray | ken.murray@baltsun.com

Ever quick with the needle but always on the mark, Todd Bozeman called down to Reggie Holmes from an upper-deck seat in a virtually empty Hill Field House this week.

"Hey, Reggie, he wants to know if I recruited you at Home Depot," the Morgan State coach cackles.

As usual, there is some truth - but more exaggeration - to Bozeman's jibe. Holmes shrugs and smiles, knowing his Morgan State coach is having fun.

These are, indeed, fun times at Morgan State, where the unlikely tandem of Bozeman and Holmes has highlighted a four-year overhaul of the men's basketball program. Bozeman's blueprint and Holmes' spot-on shooting have earned the Bears three straight regular-season titles in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and one - for now - berth in the NCAA tournament.

The Reggie Show will play one final time at Hill Field House in tonight's 7:30 home finale against Coppin State. Holmes is the first recruit to play a full four seasons for Bozeman at either Morgan or California. More importantly, he is one of the headliners who brought Morgan's destitute program back from the brink.

"Him coming to Morgan and putting Morgan on the map was his challenge," Bozeman said. "He's got three banners [MEAC championships] in here. He's going to go to the postseason in three of his four years. There's not a lot of Division I players who can say that. He's 34-6 at home."

Holmes is also one of the most prolific scorers in Morgan history. He trails the school's all-time men's leader, Marvin Webster, by just 32 points. And he ranks second this season in the NCAA with 703.

Which makes his arrival on campus four years ago all the more remarkable.

A Baltimore native, Holmes grew up in the rough Cherry Hill neighborhood, played for two high schools (Southern and St. Frances) and at least three Amateur Athletic Union teams. Needing to improve his SAT scores to play Division I, he attended Eldon Academy, an SAT-prep school in Petoskey, Mich. But halfway through the basketball season, the school closed for lack of funds.

Holmes returned to Baltimore, got a job at Home Depot, and mulled offers from Wichita State and Kent State.

Then Morgan, coming off a 4-26 season, hired Bozeman, who had been out of college coaching for 10 years with NCAA sanctions. Holmes bought into the restoration project and signed with the Bears.

"It was important," Bozeman said of his first Morgan recruit, "because I knew he could score the ball and he came from two of the most established programs in the city. So it said a lot for the program to get off the ground like that."

Holmes, 6 feet 4, weighed just 173 pounds as a freshman, which earned him the nickname "Noodles" from Bozeman. Before long, the young recruit and the demanding coach were at odds on any number of subjects.

In time, though, Holmes saw the wisdom of Bozeman's methods, and so did his father, Mark Holmes, who was originally opposed to Reggie attending Morgan. The father's opinion changed as he watched his son develop.

"Todd right now could be the next person to God [as the best thing] that happened to Reggie," the elder Holmes said. "He brought the best out of Reggie. He challenged him. Reggie owes a lot to Todd. ... It came together like a jigsaw puzzle."

Holmes adapted to the Bozeman style. He muscled up to 197 pounds with weight training, developed a mid-range game and learned to play defense.

Now he holds school career records for 3-pointers made (294), free throws made (488) and games played (128). Averaging 22 points this season, Holmes needs just five more to pass Webster's single-season record of 707.

"I said from Day One, I thought he'd leave here as the all-time leading scorer," Bozeman said.

Holmes, 22, sees the bigger picture now, like Bozeman.

"I think about it every day that it was a special career at Morgan State to see that nothing changes to something," he said.

The Bears (23-9) go into next week's MEAC tournament as the favorite. Beyond that, Holmes will take a crack at the NBA with a more likely destination in Europe.

"He's going to make a living playing basketball," Bozeman said. "The reality of it is, it'll probably be overseas, but he'll have a chance [at the NBA]."

As for tonight, Bozeman anticipates an emotional farewell.

"Reggie says he's not going to cry, but it's going to be emotional," the coach said. "He's a great kid. I would be surprised if they don't give him a standing ovation."

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