ASU guard Tra Holder looking to take next step

Tra Holder had a solid initial season for Arizona State that resulted in a Pac-12 all-freshman selection. Now, he's ready for more.

One shot after another, Tra Holder proved during Arizona State's first practice of the year Friday that he spent the off-season productively. 

Several high volume shooting drills involved all players getting up dozens of shots on the rim, and Holder made as many if not more than any of this teammates. 

That wasn't the case in practices a year ago, when Holder shot just .317 from the field and .240 from 3-point range on the season as a freshman, with opponents frequently choosing to sag underneath ball screens set for him in order to force him to put the ball up himself from 15-feet and out. 

Sure, there were no defenders on the court Friday, but Holder rarely missed. 

"This summer, getting in the gym multiple times a day and not necessarily going for a long time but going hard when I'm there and really working on every rep," Holder said of his offseason shooting work. "I kind of changed my technique on catch-and-shoots because I've got to get it off quicker. Instead of keeping one foot on the ground or hopping into it, coach (Bobby) Hurley gave me advice of stepping into it, like one-two. I think it gives me more rhythm and easier to shoot the ball. I think it's less steps."

Holder had a goal of making 400 shots a day, including taking 10 three-pointers from 10 spots on the floor as well as shooting off pick and rolls. He's hoping it will broaden out his skill set following a freshman campaign in which he averaged 7.0 points and 3.6 assists. 

Late in the season, Holder really started to get into the flow of the whole college thing and secured his spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team, only the 14th Sun Devil to do so since they joined the Pac-12 in 1978. He scored double digit points seven times from Jan. 28 through the end of the season, wihch was half of ASU's games. 

Now he's trying to take the next step in his game, not only working to improve his shot, but also his body. Holder has tried to get leaner, quicker, and stronger. It will help him finish around the basket, exploit defenses off the dribble even more, and lead to a better on ball defensive capability. 

"I'm feeling great," he said. "I'm actually not still where I want to be. I want to get in even better shape but I've been eating right, training hard and the coaching staff has done a great job with me.

"I feel like last season I wasn't quite as quick or fast as I was at some points in my high school career but I'm feeling quicker and more agile now and am excited about that and want to keep working on it."

In ASU's 76-64 loss to USC in the Pac-12 Tournament earlier this year, Holder and his teammates struggled to defend in isolation sets on the perimeter down the stretch as the Trojans got one basket after another from guards Julian Jacobs and Elijah Stewart. Improvement in that area will also be of critical importance for the Sun Devils this year under Hurley. 

"I think it's all hard work and your mentality," Holder said. "Defense is all heart and wanting to shut the offensive player down. It's just going to make it easier on us because we'll have more fast break opportunities if we're really keying on defense."

With Buffalo transfer Shannon Evans -- who has to sit out this seaosn post-transfer -- working a lot off the ball in practices alongside Holder, it appears Hurley is interested in seeing if the two can play together in the 2016-17 season in what would be a very quick, impressive ball handling backcourt. In order to make that happen though, Holder knows he has to first be successful this season holding down the point guard position. Early on at least, he's encouraged. 

"The culture is really good," Holder said. "I think we have a championship mindset here. We're not aiming for anything less than success. I have a good relationship with the coaches and am sure we'll grow throughout the season."

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