Richaun Holmes Learned Toughness, Resilience from Family

Influenced by brotherly competitions and his parents’ guidance, No. 22 is making his mark in Sacramento with unbridled energy and contagious passion.
by Alex Kramers

The nightly games of ‘hack,’ a mashup of tackle football and isolation basketball, would last for hours, and the scrapes, the bruises and even the occasional black eyes would resonate for days.

And the effects? Richaun Holmes, the tenacious Kings center whose energy made him an instant fan favorite and exclamation-point dunks have punished rims across the country, is still benefiting from them nearly two decades later.

As early as age 8, Holmes, the youngest of four boys, would follow his brothers to the basement of their home in Broadview, Ill., a small village 12 miles outside of downtown Chicago, where the crew would alternate dribbling a basketball the length of the cement floor.

Sounds easy enough. Except that with no rim or referee in sight, the winner was the one who could successfully weave through the triple-team, while absorbing countless unnecessary-roughness penalties. Sometimes, they’d inadvertently shatter a window; one time, a battle for the loose ball resulted in a broken pool table.

“It was a tough game, but I always enjoyed it,” Holmes recalled with a chuckle. “No rules, no fouls; just try to make it.”

Pickup games – this time, equipped with a hoop at a park down the street – were more of the same. His siblings, all high school basketball standouts, never took it easy on Richaun, relentlessly overpowering him on the blacktop, from the early morning until the streetlamps illuminated the playground.

“They’d beat up on me a lot, but they're part of the reason why I play the way I do now,” he said. “I started playing angry, just to beat them, and I kind of kept that throughout my career.”

At home, Richaun, the son of Richard and Lydecia Holmes, both Doctors of Divinity, learned the virtues of hard work and integrity. When it came to sports, whether it was basketball or bowling, his other passion, Richard, the senior pastor at Chicago’s Morning View “Word” Church, was just as fiercely competitive.

“My toughness all comes from my brothers and my parents,” Richaun said. “They’re a big influence on who I am today.”

The dynamic of the family competitions changed when Holmes, a self-proclaimed “super, super late bloomer,” sprouted from a lanky, 6-foot-2 jack-of-all-trades to a bruising, 6-foot-9 power forward in his early teens.

Once he adjusted to his newfound size and strength, he was the one showing no mercy on the court – against his siblings and opposing high-school big men alike. He still fondly remembers finally defeating Ray, his most vocal brother, one-on-one for the first time at age 16.

“I was always this in-between player who kind of just did everything,” Holmes said. “I was just so raw. I just loved playing. I think when I grew, that just helped me solidify a skill set, and (allowed me to) try to become something and try to make it … I think my senior year, it started coming together a little bit more.”

Mild-mannered and soft-spoken outside of the gym, Holmes, an admirer of Kevin Garnett growing up, unleashed an intense on-court demeanor his role model would be proud of, screaming after his ferocious slams and swats that sent the basketball spiraling into the stands.

But sporadic varsity playing time until that breakthrough year, coupled with relative obscurity in Lockport Township High School, culminated in only a single scholarship offer from a Division I program, Bradley, and only if he’d redshirt as a freshman. So, the Windy City native chose a less traditional route by enrolling at Moraine Valley Community College, a half-hour drive from his home.

Holmes finished his lone season in junior college with averages of 19.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.2 blocks per game and All-American honors, before transferring to mid-major Bowling Green. In three years, he became the first player in school history to exceed 1,000 points (1,089), 600 rebounds (652) and 200 blocked shots (244 – the Falcons’ all-time record).

As a junior, Holmes, long overlooked by virtually every scout, recognized he had the talent, and more importantly, the drive and motivation, to make it to the NBA.

“That was when I kind of had an idea that I could make something of myself and play this game (professionally) somewhere,” he said. “I just wanted to go out there and play as hard as I could to make that happen.”

If NBA teams were still not sure if his biggest strengths – elite athleticism, a sound outside jump shot (41.9 percent from three as a senior) and exceptional rim protection – would translate to the pros, the lively big man put those doubts to rest with impressive performances at the Portsmouth Invitational and NBA combine. In the coming weeks, he flew from city to city for pre-Draft team workouts, rising from a late-round flier to a potential Lottery pick.

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Holmes, selected 37th overall by the Sixers in 2015, split his time between the NBA and G-League to begin his career, before muscling his way into the regular rotation in the second half of the 2016-17 campaign. In 26 games following the All-Star break, he impressed with averages of 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per outing, racking up five double-doubles and three games with over 20 points.

Battling for playing time with the likes of All-Star Joel Embiid and high-Lottery picks Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor in a crowded frontcourt rotation, Holmes said, sped up his learning curve.

“Being able to practice every day against guys like that, and Joel, the great center that he is, was a big-time move for me in my career,” he said. “I learned a lot, for sure.”

His verticality on highlight-reel dunks and vicious blocks delighted crowds in Philadelphia and later Phoenix, where he was always ready to finish in the pick-and-roll and defend it on the other end.

No. 22 ranked in the 88th percentile (1.23 points per possession) as a roll man in 2018-19, according to Synergy Sports – sixth among players with at least 150 possessions – and has been even more effective this season. Through eight games with the Kings, No. 22 has, at times, been virtually unstoppable in such opportunities – just ask any Nuggets big man – notching 1.27 PPP.

“That’s kind of what I do,” he said. “I’m a big-time roll man. I want to finish on the rim and put as much pressure on the rim as I can.”

So far, so good: Holmes ranks sixth in dunks (18), per CBS Sports, despite averaging fewer minutes than all but one player ahead of him.

Constantly moving without the ball, he’s continued to score as a cutter and in transition opportunities at an elite level, while battling for contested rebounds (a team-high 2.9 per game) and setting multiple effective screens for teammates.

“Running an offense, you have to set screens, and I hang my hat on being a guy who gets my teammates open and gets my teammates some good looks,” he said. “And in turn, a lot of times when you screen, you’re the one that’s open, because your guy has to help. It just makes the offense flow better and I try to lock in on that.”

Those contributions are unmistakable when zeroing in on the advanced team metrics. With Holmes on the floor, the Kings have outscored opponents by a whopping 26.3 points per 100 possessions, according to Sacramento’s defensive rating stands at 105.5 in his 196 minutes of court time; in the 188 minutes he’s sat, that number skyrockets to 114.6, the biggest differential (9.1) among rotation players.

“I always let the defense dictate the game,” Holmes said. “That’s something you can always control with your effort and things of that sort.”

Early in training camp, his teammates recognized the explosive big man’s ability to run the length of the floor and dominate in the paint would add a missing dimension to a team in need of a low-post presence. It didn’t take long for Holmes to develop chemistry with De’Aaron Fox, who grew familiar with the Kings signee’s motor and know-how after facing him four times last season.

“I think his basketball IQ is a lot better than people know about,” Fox said. “He’s able to catch the ball in the middle and actually make a play for others and for himself … He brings that energy, he brings a shot-blocking presence, and he’s someone who can rebound the ball with the best of them. He’s done it since he’s been in the starting lineup, so it’s been great for us.”

It took even less time for Sacramento’s newest addition to win over Kings fans, who’ve chanted his name at home games and flooded his Twitter mentions with flattering words and clips of his posterizing alley-oops.

“The love they’ve shown, the way they’ve embraced me, it’s very special,” Holmes said. “I love playing here. I’m happy to be a part of this culture.”

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Could Holmes, back when he was being pushed and tackled by his older brothers in their parents’ basement, have ever envisioned being showered with ovations of “M-V-P!” in the NBA?

“Things like that, you can’t take for granted,” he said. “You have to take that moment in, especially for a guy like me, who never really had too much growing up like that. I was definitely able to enjoy that moment, and it’s only going to keep getting better.”

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