'Sensational' Possibilities

(Photo by Matt Brown)Ralphy Holmes is ready for the professional ranks after two stellar years at Cal State Fullerton.

Fans of Titans' men's basketball have simply come to know him as "Sensational." The nickname was given to Ralphy Holmes at the age of 16 while playing in the Hank Gathers League in his hometown of Philadelphia, Penn. It's a nickname that has echoed through the Titan Gym and has described his brilliant play during his two seasons at Cal State Fullerton. And now as he gets set to test his abilities and see if he has what it takes to play at the professional level.

His accomplishments during his last season alone speak loudly for Holmes: the Big West Conference leader in scoring (16.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg); recorded 11 double-doubles and the school's first triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists; earned second-team all-conference honors; and was selected Most Valuable Player for this year's squad.

An impressive list of accolades that only strengthens his resume. But before the numbers and before he ever dreamed of making it to the next level, Holmes earned a name for himself on the playgrounds of North Philadelphia.

"I came up playing in the Hank Gathers league, the biggest league in the summer time in Philly," Holmes said. "I played against guys who are in the pros right now. Cuttino Mobley, Alvin Williams, Aaron McKie, all of them dudes who came out of Philly. And that's what gave me my confidence early."

At 16, Holmes was given the nickname "Sensational," thanks to his high-energy, crowd-pleasing play in a league for adults. Despite having played only his freshman year at William Penn High School, Holmes honed his skills and adorned the honors of becoming a member of the 2000 All-Playground Legends team.

Basketball became an outlet for Holmes, an escape from getting into trouble in a neighborhood all too familiar with seeing its own walk down the wrong path. But it would take a divine ultimatum in the form of a stray bullet to make him realize he better make good of his God-given talents.

"I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Holmes said. "Shots went off and I got hit in my foot. It was a warning sign from God. He was telling me, ‘You have to make a decision. Either you're going to run these streets and waste the talents I've given you or you're going to go to school.' And that woke me up."

Although it was only a flesh wound, it was enough to get Holmes off the mean streets of North Philadelphia and into the basketball program at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Calif.

A year later he transferred to Fullerton and immediately grabbed the attention of the fans. Holmes captured first-team All-Big West Conference honors his first season with the Titans.

An off-campus incident would keep Holmes out of school for the 2003-2004 season.

But he made a triumphent return, rejoining the team after missing the first five games of the season and helped lead the Titans to their second most successful season in school history.

And for the past month Holmes' cell phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from agents trying to get a piece of the CSUF star.

Maybe it was his performances in the NIT; the game-winning buzzer-beater in overtime against Oregon State and the 19 points and 13 rebounds he collected against San Francisco while playing despite having partially torn ligaments in his left knee, which is now fully healed.

megan dangermond/Daily Titan
Ralphy Holmes hopes to be mentioned in the small group of Titan basketball elite who have gone on to play in the professional ranks. In 2005, Holmes led the Titans to their second-best season in school history. (megan dangermond/Daily Titan)

Whatever the case may be, Holmes' coaches and the agents interested in him agree that he has the talent and the work ethic to get paid for playing basketball.

"He plays hard all the time, he never takes a minute off on the court," Titans Head Coach Bob Burton said. "He's got the heart and the passion, I just think it's going to be mostly about him getting an opportunity."

"I think what separates Ralphy, what he can do as far as an NBA level, is that he plays with a tremendous amount of energy, he hits the offensive glass, and he can get his shot off against anybody," Assistant Coach Jason Levy said. "He can get a shot off against anybody without a play, which is an NBA talent, which most people don't have."

Holmes' coaches have been helping him any way they can. Just last week Levy helped Holmes get into a pre-draft workout, which featured Daniel Ewing from Duke and this year's NCAA Tournament MVP, North Carolina's Sean May.

While he weighs his options and sorts through a list of potential agents, Holmes is still looking for an opportunity to play in the United States.

"[Playing] overseas is almost like a last resort to me," Holmes said. "I love the United States and I'm an American. The best players play in America, so I got my mind set on playing in the United States."

Although his coaches think he has got what it takes to make it to the NBA, they think it would be best for Holmes to get himself grounded and play a year or two in Europe.

"Personally, what I would rather see Ralphy do is go to Europe because I'd like to see him make some money," Burton said. "I think that would be great for him and his family. He's worried about ‘out of site, out of mind,' but I think they find you."

Wherever Holmes finds himself playing in the near future, he has a feeling that his life is going to be much better.

"I'm just smiling right now," Holmes said. "They say that when your hands sweat you've got money coming and my hands have been sweating for like a month now. Just being able to say I made it, coming up having limited resources, it's a blessing. I look forward to representing Cal State Fullerton wherever I'm playing at."

Even though Holmes may have to work his way up the ranks, he is determined to one day make his dream of playing in the NBA a reality.

"I'm still optimistic about my goals, playing at the NBA level," Holmes said. "I feel that's where I belong. Nothing less. I might have to start from the bottom to reach my goals, and that's the NBDL or the CBA route. But if I have to go that route and sacrifice a chance to play overseas to achieve my goal, I will."