Beach's Bits

It wasn't long ago that Justin Holiday, the wafer-thin star of Campbell Hall arrived at Washington, accompanied by more question marks than hype. His younger brother Jrue was a prep phenom, generally regarded as the top prospect in his class, and there was sentiment among many fans that Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar took Justin to increase Washington's odds of landing Jrue.

"We were recruiting Jrue Holiday, Justin's younger brother, and we talked to Justin and his parents, but we hadn't offered him a scholarship yet," explained Romar after Holiday's 20-point effort Saturday in the Huskies' 108-79 win over Texas Tech. "We were not going to offer him a scholarship just to get his brother, so I watched really closely in July that year to see if he'd be worthy of a scholarship on his own. When you watched him, he just kept doing the right things. Kept making plays and winning and after a while, it became a no brainer.

"When I saw him, I could help but think of Michael Cooper, the Lakers Sixth man," Romar continued. "I thought that was the finished product he could look like. You could see that he worked hard, he defended, he was long, he was a leader, he was athletic; He just knew how to play and had a high basketball IQ."

While brother Jrue jumped to the NBA after one brief season of discord at UCLA, Holiday has carved out a fabulous career at Washington.

The slender, 6-foot-6 wing became a fan favorite early on in his career. Coined "Fireman" and the "The Mantiss" by fans due to his ridiculous length and ability to lock down opposing players, Holiday made an immediate impact on the defensive side of the court. An injury/mononeucleosis-plagued freshman season limited his contributions, but he returned healthy the following season, earning 15 minutes a game and drawing raves for his defending.

"In the spring of his sophomore year going into his junior year, he spent a lot of time working on his shot," said Romar. "That went on up until he had his sports hernia, so he couldn't do anything that entire summer. When he came back before his junior year, he didn't have his legs because he'd been out for so long so his shot still wasn't falling, but he had improved his shot enough that when we got to the spring. You could see the improvement and he was making them with regularity."

Despite his early offensive limitations, Holiday still managed to prove his worth time and time again. Little by little he started to show that there was more to his game than defense and hustle, and during the Huskies 2010 Sweet Sixteen game against West Virginia, the dam holding back his offensive game broke. Holiday scored a team-high 14 points against the Mountaineers.

"By the end of the year he had regained his legs," said Romar. "He spent countless hours working on his shot this past summer."

Holiday echoed Romar's statements. He understood his role during his first three seasons. "In the past, we had Brockman and Quincy," he said. "It wasn't for me to go out and try and score like that. I probably could have scored more in the past but I think a lot has to do with the confidence I gained over the summer."

And now, nine months later, the Huskies are soaring - in large part due to Holiday. Named co-captain of the squad during the offseason, the 2010 Pac-10 All-Defensive team member has demonstrated that his NCAA Tournament breakthrough was no fluke. Holiday has scored in double digits in all seven games this season, averaging 13.4 points a game. He's also grabbing 6.9 rebounds per contest to lead the team, and has collected on 50 percent of his 22 three point attempts so far. He's also fourth in the conference in steals at 2.1 a game. Those are big numbers from a player for whom statistics rarely tell the whole story.

"Everything just feels way better," Holiday said. "I feel like I have my legs under me more now. I have to jump because I can't really set shoot that well, and having your legs under has really helped shooting jumpers. It's helped a lot playing defense too. "

Ironically, Holiday's biggest strength isn't necessarily something he does on the court, it's his approach and preparation to the game that allows him to shine. He rarely makes mistakes and never takes plays off. Rather than trying to perform to a pre-game expectation, he lets the game come to him and adjusts his role on the fly. Though he checks in at a scant 180 pounds, Holiday has become an effective post defender – key for a team that lacks depth up front.

Last Saturday afternoon against Texas Tech, Holiday completely dismantled the Red Raiders. Name a category; he got it done. Whether it be his team high 20 points and nine rebounds, his three assists or his stellar work deflecting passes and blocking shots, he was at his dominating best. And the crazy thing was, it was done with as little fanfare as possible. He simply went to work, punched in his 27 minutes giving everything he had, and enjoyed most of the second half from the bench with a smile on his face.

"I've always felt I've been able to score," said Holiday. "But on the team, that wasn't what was needed from me at the time. My senior year, I feel like I've been the most patient and confident with my offensive game I've ever been." He added that his increased scoring has also been a result of finally being able to work out for a full summer and just knowing this might be his last go-round.

"When he came back we thought wow, it's great to see the kind of success he's had," Romar said of Holiday. "He's a leader and he plays basketball for the right reasons. You want to see guys like that be successful."


Dawgman.com Top Stories