HOLLINS COMES HOME
When Ryan Hollins left the Boston Celtics to sign with his hometown Clippers as a free agent in July, he immediately knew who to call first: The man who challenged him to one-on-one duels as a teen in their Pasadena backyard court, and who spent hours talking X’s and O’s with him as he got older.
Hollins dialed none other than his father, Denier Hollins, who had not been able to watch him play in person more than a few times a year since he graduated from UCLA in 2006.
“He almost lost his mind,” Hollins laughed. “He tried to get me here before I could hang up the phone. He was already making plans for all the games, just on cloud nine.”
Longing for stability, the 7-foot center is determined to find his niche with the Clippers, his sixth team in six years after being drafted in the second round by the Charlotte Bobcats and later playing for Dallas, Minnesota, Cleveland and the aforementioned Celtics.
Hollins sounds eager to show the Clippers coaching staff that he belongs in the rotation for good. “I’d love to stay home in L.A., so I have to take advantage of every minute I get and see where this year will take me,” he said. “This is an amazing opportunity. It just feels so good to be back.”
The big man adds depth in the frontcourt for the Clippers second unit after having established himself as a high-energy player off the bench in his career thus far.
He found himself on the Celtics’ roster towards the end of last year after playing 39 games with Cleveland in the lockout-shortened season. Boston was close to embarking on their run to the Eastern Conference Finals, so Hollins had to learn their system quickly.
His teacher turned out to be the toughest competition he’d ever faced: Kevin Garnett, who had ten years on him in the league. Garnett is known for his passion, bashing his head against the post of the hoop before games to pump himself up and pounding his chest after an and-one so hard that it seemed his fist would leave an imprint.
Enter Hollins’ life for those couple of months, guarding Garnett and simultaneously learning at a speed quicker than Boston teammate Rajon Rondo’s crossover.
“Man, what didn’t I learn?” Hollins said. “Kevin’s unreal. His intensity is everything you think it is. He’s a true mentor in the nuances of the game. I’m lucky to have gone against him on a daily basis.”
Garnett encouraged Hollins to stay focused on his role and to always be ready when the opportunity to contribute arose.
His mentor’s advice became a reality as Hollins shot 64.3% from the field in 15 regular season games. After that, he was a spark in 17 playoff games, getting his ball club a rebound here, a bucket there, a block—whatever was needed. With a veteran squad, Boston made it farther than most predicted, extending their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Miami Heat to seven games before losing to the eventual NBA champions.
Hollins never thought he would represent Boston in the playoffs since his Los Angeles childhood taught him to despise the green uniform. Watching the Celtics face off against the Lakers in the classic matchup, he used to dream of donning the Lakers purple and gold. But now when he puts on his red and blue Clippers uniform, Hollins feels the same sense of pride for his hometown.
“I’m a loyal guy, but once you become a professional, you lose becoming a fan,” he said. “So many of my friends from L.A. went crazy when I first went to Boston. They said to me: ‘How can I cheer for you when you play for the Celtics—the Celtics.’
“The experience was amazing and I’m forever indebted to the Celtics organization. But now being with the Clippers is like coming full circle—coming back to where I always wanted to be.”
Hollins fits in well with the drive and dish dynamic of the Clippers. Quick point guards Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe can break down the defense at will, make the opposing teams’ big man step up and guard them, which then allows them dish it off to centers like Hollins for the easy layup or dunk.
With many of the starters playing limited minutes in preseason either nursing injuries or simply resting up for the regular season, Hollins took advantage inside. In eight preseason games, he led the team in blocked shots with 19. This defensive tenacity off the bench has proven valuable to Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro so far.
“Ryan brings great energy, great length up front, runs the court well,” Del Negro said. “I like the way he dives, flattens the defense for us.”
For the first time in a while Hollins is spending fall in Southern California, enjoying the sun that had long disappeared by this time last year while he was in Cleveland.
Whether it is the sunshine or his minutes on the floor, Hollins doesn’t take anything for granted. He is just grateful to call Staples Center home.