(Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
Of the many lessons Tahj Holden learned during his time at Maryland, perhaps the most applicable one in his post-college life has been this:
Always have a contingency plan.
Holden, an integral member of Maryland’s 2002 national championship team, finished his college career in 2003 and immediately began preparations for what he assumed would be a lengthy professional basketball career. But nearly a year later, injuries prematurely derailed those overseas hoop dreams.
Seven years later, Holden completed his first season as an assistant coach at Monmouth following two years as the Hawks’ director of basketball operations. Despite Monmouth laboring through an 11-18 season in 2010-11, Holden expressed an undeniable enthusiasm for college coaching. But excitement over his Division I future was unceremoniously halted last spring when the MU athletic department dismissed the basketball coaching staff.
“… I'm now wondering what else I can do to earn a paycheck,” Holden wrote on his blog last June. “I'm not exactly sure what I want to do, or can do considering that I haven't really done much else besides basketball.”
The situation may have seemed dire at the time. Staying involved with basketball was Holden’s No. 1 priority after finishing his Terps career, and the abrupt end to his coaching career was a definite shock to his system. But armed with his Maryland degree -- and a connection from his basketball past -- Holden rebounded in a hurry. Ten years after winning a national title, Holden has embarked on a new career as an analyst for a global financial services company in Jersey City, not far from where he grew up. And Holden has stayed involved with the game he loves as a coach for his former youth team.
What Holden now does with his life wasn’t meticulously mapped out in a College Park classroom. The introspective former athlete could never have predicted that this would be his life. But how he has responded to uncertainty and adversity in his professional life can be traced back to his time at Maryland – specifically his unforgettable junior season.
“It doesn’t feel like 10 years ago when we won,” Holden said. “But you get busy with life and you kind of forget that it’s been so long. Steve Blake has three kids now. Life happens. It’s incredible to think about.”
A 6-foot-10, 270-pound forward/center out of Red Bank (N.J.) Regional High, Holden came to College Park in 1999 as a Top 50 recruit with enormous potential. He left with a reputation on the court as a physical defender seemingly unconcerned with personal glory, and a reputation off the court for being a well-spoken, passionate leader in student government.
His basketball career with the Terps got off to a solid start. Holden appeared in all 35 of Maryland’s games as a freshman, and saw action in 27 matchups the following year – missing just nine with a broken bone in his foot.
As a junior, Holden started 11 games and appeared in all 36. In the Terps’ Final Four matchup with Kansas, Holden stepped in for a foul-troubled Lonny Baxter and contributed 13 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes.
“There was no drop-off in our play when he came off the bench,” Gary Williams later said of Holden’s 2001-02 contributions. “He was like having a sixth starter, and was very important to our success. His play against Kansas certainly was a key factor in our winning that game in the semifinals of the Final Four.”
Against Indiana in the NCAA championship game -- a 64-52 Terps victory -- Holden provided his typically tough defense and added two points, four assists and three rebounds. On the season, Holden finished with averages of 5.6 points and 2.7 rebounds. While he doesn’t live in the past, Holden can’t help but occasionally reminisce about that 2001-02 season.
“Every time in the past couple months they’ve been replaying the championship game, my mom and my aunt are telling me the championship’s on,” Holden said. “It gives me the opportunity to think about it. I was at an alumni event [last weekend], and we talked about the 2002 team. The guys at the alumni event bring it up. I talk to Steve [Blake] and Drew [Nicholas], telling old Gary Williams stories to each other. I think back on all four of my years there, not just the national championship team. That’s obviously special.”
After a senior year in which he averaged career highs in points (8.7), rebounds (4.4) and assists (1.8), Holden headed overseas. He landed a deal with Aras I.T.U. in Turkey, but a series of Achilles’ injuries prematurely ended his playing career. One year after helping Maryland to the Sweet 16, Holden’s playing days were done.