By Blake McAdow
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
After four sophomores and one freshman left The University of Texas basketball program at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, forward Jonathan Holmes was left as the only upperclassman on the team entering his junior year. Jumping into the center of attention was not the easiest task for the usually quiet Holmes, but it is a role he has taken with time and has adjusted to at the perfect time.
“I was surprised when all the guys left,” Holmes said. “It impacted me a lot, since I became the only upperclassman on the team. I’m not really a vocal person, so I had to grow into that in the offseason.”
Bringing it every day in practice was something Holmes had mastered by the end of his sophomore year. The 6-8 forward was the recipient of the team’s Hard Hat Award following his sophomore campaign for the physicality he brings at all times. But now, other guys are looking to him when adversity strikes.
“The way he carries himself is all business-like,” sophomore forward Connor Lammert said. “His work ethic is the best it’s ever been.”
Sophomore center Prince Ibeh added, “He goes 100% all the time and does a lot for the team that goes unnoticed.”
On a team that features five returning sophomores and four freshmen, Holmes has emerged as a leader of the team and his work ethic is beginning to spread.
“He’s never been a very vocal guy, but he leads by example so well,” sophomore guard Demarcus Holland said. “He’s bringing [sophomore center] Cam [Ridley] along with him, too. When Jon crashes the boards so hard, it makes Cam want to do it as well. He’s been a positive influence on all of our big men.”
Assistant Coach Chris Ogden has seen firsthand the development and maturation of Holmes, since Ogden first recruited Holmes from Antonian College Prep in San Antonio.
“Since he’s been at Texas, he has improved how he handles adversity and shown the ability to move on to the next play,” said Ogden. “Before, he used to visibly show disappointment and frustration, whereas now he’s learned to move on. Even if he is mad, he’s learned to hide it.”
Ogden agreed that Holmes is not the most outspoken guy, but this season he has learned to pick his spots and interject when his teammates need him, whether that is privately off the court or during crunch time of a critical game.
Holland said, “Sometimes you go through a stretch where you’re not hitting shots, and Jon will come over to you and say, ‘Come on, just play confident. You know you can play basketball and this is the game you love. Just have fun.’”
“I have to help guys when they’re not getting it,” said Holmes “I have to look out for other people and not just myself. For example, we were running a play at Baylor. There was some miscommunication about when I come up to the high post of whether I was supposed to get the ball or set a screen,” said Holmes. “We communicated that in the huddle and came out and made three straight buckets on pick and rolls.”
Holmes’ presence on the court has been just as impactful as his off-the-court role. Last season, the junior missed a critical five-game stretch with a hand injury during Big 12 play. This year, he has played in all but one game and leads the team in scoring while ranking second in rebounding.
On Jan. 21 with Texas and No. 22 Kansas State locked at 64 apiece and under two seconds remaining, Holmes hit a three-pointer at the buzzer off a perfectly-executed inbounds play to give the Longhorns the victory.
“I had complete confidence that he was going to make it, because he always makes big shots,” said Lammert. “He’s the guy we look to, because he’s the rock of our team.”
For head coach Rick Barnes and the Longhorns, they will be relying on Holmes’ versatility and leadership the rest of the season.
Fellow big man Ibeh said it best when he said, “Jon tells me to stay confident in myself and if I work hard, I’ll have everything I want in life. I think he’s one of the most underrated players in the nation.”