POSTED: Jun 4, 2015 10:20 AM ET
Draft Combine: Richaun Holmes Highlights
Watch some of the highlights from Richaun Holmes during the Draft Combine 5-on-5 scrimmage.
Imagine the plight of Richaun Holmes as he sprouted from a 6-foot-2 guard when he started his high school basketball career to a 6-9 power forward before it was over. As the young man grew into his body, mistakes were bound to happen, and they did, mistakes that robbed him of his confidence, made him second-guess his talent.
It didn't help that Holmes had three older brothers, all of whom had played high school basketball, and none of whom showed their youngest sibling the slightest bit of mercy in backyard pickup games. A lesser person might have taken the easy way out and retreated to a more solitary sport, golf maybe, or tennis, or worse, holed up in his room with a video game console.
Not Richaun Holmes. Because as familiar as Holmes' story is—growth spurt turns guard into post player—it's also unique. In a world where positive role models can sometimes be lacking, Holmes' life was full of them, starting with his parents, both Doctors of Divinity who run a church in Chicago. From Richard and Lydecia Holmes, young Richaun learned the value of hard work and character. Those pickup game poundings administered by his well-intentioned brothers toughened him, inside and out, until, by age 15, he began beating them. And then there were the coaches that came into Holmes' life, beginning in his early teens.
David Dortch (no relation), who runs the Illinois Raptors AAU program, remembers the first day he saw Holmes as a gangly 13-year-old.
"I saw a shy kid who wanted to be successful," Dortch said. "He was open to learning, and he wanted to be the best. So we tried things, and he made mistakes. But that's the only way I know how to coach. Try to reach higher, learn from your mistakes and become a better player.
"One day, it just blossomed for Richaun. And it was a beautiful thing when he was able to go out there, and through hard work, was able to be the kind of player he and I both knew he could become."
The only problem with the rapid evolution of Holmes' game was that few people had paid attention. Despite the fact he was an athletic, long-limbed rebounder and shot blocker, Holmes went overlooked by NCAA Division I colleges. He had zero offers during his senior year at Lockport Township High School.
"But I knew in my heart I could play at that level," Holmes said. "The growth spurt was a big adjustment at first. I had to learn how to use my body, to score in the post, to defend the post. But at 6-9, I was still able to move the way I did when I was a wing player. It was like combining the best of both worlds."
It remains a mystery why Division I coaches didn't notice that, at least not until it was far too late.
"I just don't think [D-I] schools did their homework," said Dedrick Shannon, Holmes' coach at Moraine Valley Community College, his first post-high school destination. "If I were a Division I coach, I'd have stashed him away at a prep school. We were blessed to get him. He could play at a much higher level [than junior college]. But he just hadn't gotten in front of the right people."
Late in the recruiting process—and the NBA general managers who will decide whether to draft Holmes later this month should take note of this—Holmes finally got a couple of looks from D-I schools. Cal Poly came in with a solid offer, but not until August 2011, only days before school was to begin.
"He committed to us at the end of July ," Shannon said. "And even though, finally, he had some Division I interest, his dad said, 'we're coming. We made a commitment to you, and we're coming for at least a year.' That's the kind of person they raised their son to be. When he gave his word, he stuck by it."
Shannon became another mentor for young Holmes, who was still learning that, with his size, mobility and 7-2 wingspan, he had the potential to dominate opponents.
"Coach Shannon told me if I came to his school and trusted him, worked hard, he would help me realize my dream of playing Division I basketball," Holmes said. "He taught me how to use my body to my advantage, and that if I did nothing but run the floor and offensive rebound, I could average 10-12 points."
A year of junior college basketball was all it took to make a bunch of Division I coaches realize they'd made a serious error of omission. Actually, it took just one tournament, at the beginning of Holmes' freshman season. The host was Southeastern Community College in Iowa. Also included in the field was Marshalltown, another strong Iowa junior college program.
"One of the schools had a 6-10 kid who had already committed to Nebraska," Shannon said. "Another one had a 6-11 kid that had committed to North Texas. Richaun had a triple-double against Marshalltown, and missed another one by one or two blocks against Southeastern.
"After a while, those two big guys were going out and shooting jumpers; they couldn't get a shot off in the paint. Richaun's timing was so incredible. He wouldn't buy a ball fake. When you shot it, he was going to block it."
Suffice it to say, Shannon's phone began ringing. Yet upper-level Division I schools still weren't seeing what Holmes had to offer, even though he wound up his only season in junior college averaging 19.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.2 blocks and earning junior college All-America honors. Former Bowling Green coach Louis Orr was the only head coach to watch him play in person. That impressed Holmes, so he signed with the Falcons in the fall of 2011.
"If he'd waited until [the spring signing period], he could have gone to a power conference school," Shannon said. "But I was big on him playing early. He needed to be a need, not a want."
As a sophomore at Bowling Green, Holmes averaged 6.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks and shot .633 from the field. A year later he doubled his scoring average, increased his rebounding to 7.7 a game, his blocks to 2.5 and added a 3-point shot to his arsenal. But for all Holmes' contributions, he couldn't prevent a 12-20 season, or alter Orr's fate. Orr was fired and replaced by Chris Jans, a protégé of Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. If Holmes thought he had worked hard to get to where he was, he soon found out that was only a warm-up.
Holmes was about to be pushed to the limits of his endurance.
"Coach Jans demanded perfection every day," Holmes said. "There was no taking plays off. He wouldn't take anything less than my best, and he really pushed me to become even better. He instilled in me that consistency I needed to play hard every time I stepped on the court. He elevated me to that next level."
Jeff Clapacs, who served as Jans' director of basketball operations and is now in the same capacity at East Tennessee State, recalls that Holmes was a willing pupil.
"It was a huge culture change," Clapacs said. "He had never been pushed that hard in his life, or worked that hard in his life. But coach Jans didn't have to ride him. Once Richaun bought in, he was bringing it hard every day. When he broke through those barriers, that's when he took off."
Holmes' senior-year numbers—14.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks—weren't drastically different than the season before. But his field-goal percentage jumped from .507 to .563, and his 3-point percentage, a barely acceptable .300 as a junior, soared to .419.
"When coach Jans arrived, he let it be known that if I wanted to keep shooting the 3, that I would have to shoot it a lot better," Holmes said. "So that became a focus. I took hundreds, sometimes more than 1,000 shots a day. And it paid off."
Holmes helped lead Bowling Green to a 21-12 record and into a postseason tournament, the CIT, where the Falcons won a first-round game. In just three seasons, he became the only Bowling Green player to rack up more than 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 200 blocks in a career. Yet despite his improvement and all his accomplishments, Holmes finds himself in a familiar position with the NBA Draft just weeks away. He's still trying to convince people he can play at a higher level.
Undaunted, Holmes is taking the blue-collar approach. He played at theholem Portsmouth Invitational and was impressive enough to get invited to the Chicago pre-draft combine. His efforts there intrigued several NBA teams. As of this writing, he's worked out for seven teams, with more to come. There's talk that as Holmes continues to impress with his uncanny shot blocking, his face-up four man potential and the intelligence and humility with which he conducts interviews, his stock is rising, from what some analysts thought was mid second round to late in the first.
"Richaun put in a lot of effort in the spring and added 10-15 pounds, all good weight, all muscle [to 242]," Clapacs said. "And with whatever team he ends up with, he can put on a little more. And he's young, just 21 after his senior year in college. From an NBA standpoint, that excites scouts and GMs."
It speaks volumes that, like Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton, Holmes is preparing for the draft with the help of his old AAU coach. Holmes could have hired any of the top skills coaches in the country, but he chose to stay with a trusted friend. Dortch has high hopes that Holmes' best basketball is still ahead.
"His game has so much upside," Dortch said. "He's still kind of a sleeper, but he's got an all-around package [of skills], and he's not afraid to compete. He doesn't function off being scared. He functions off of wanting to be successful."
Clapacs has kept in touch with NBA scouts, and the feedback he's gotten has been positive.
"They think his shot blocking and rebounding abilities can translate right away to the next level," Clapacs said. "Especially his shot blocking. His timing, and his length, the ability to get his hands on so many balls ... that's hard to teach. It's kind of an instinct. He's got that quick-jump ability. He's an elite shot blocker."
Shot blocking might be Holmes' ticket to the NBA, but he doesn't want to be typecast as a designated defender. One of his influences is Golden State's Swiss army knife Draymond Green, a stat sheet stuffer with the whole package of skills. Holmes is working on his own package.
"I've put in a lot of time on my ball handling," Holmes said. "I need to be able to make a move to create my own shot if needed. I need to be able to knock down that midrange jump shot. I can do it pretty well now, but in the NBA, it has to be automatic.
"But I'm not afraid to put in the work. I'm still taking hundreds of shots a day, working hard, like all my coaches have taught me. This [making an NBA roster] is very important to me."
Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.