(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Transitioning to the next level of anything can make or break a career. In sports, especially, players that excel at the high school level may not be exceptional college players. Athletes at the professional level were all outperforming their competition day-by-day in college, but not all of those who dominated in college repeated their success at the next level.
For some, it clicks right away. The transitional period is nonexistent, and the flow of the game comes naturally. In this day in age for college basketball, a one-and-done freshman is no longer rare, but expected.
There are also players from high school who reach the next level, but the college game may not click at all. They will never reach where they expected to be because they aren’t able to adapt to the change of play of those around them, as well as the play of themselves.
Then there are players like Arizona State freshman point guard Tra Holder, who not only turned up his level of play, but also turned it up at the right time. Afterfreshman guard Kodi Justice’s season was ended after an injured foot against Stanford, Holder was in a position where he would have to perform every night.
Holder’s increased level of offensive production began before the Stanford game though. After not reaching double digits in scoring for over a month, Holder scored 10 in the Colorado victory, and since that game is averaging just shy of 10 per game.
“I think he’s as improved as any player that I’ve seen in our conference,” ASU head coach Herb Sendek said. “If you go back to where he was at the end of December, early January, and you fast forward to where he is now – he’s made tremendous progress.”
Sendek’s words aren’t the only reward he has given Holder for his improvement, but a jump in minutes as well.
In the Colorado win and the five games following it, Holder has averaged 31 minutes per contest. Before those five games, that average was nearly cut in half, only seeing the court for 17 minutes a game.
“When I was sitting down, I got to see how Kodi (Justice) was aggressive and taking open shots and knocking them down.” Holder said. “So I said when I got my opportunity, I’ve got to do that to help benefit the team.”
Holder recognizes the difficult transition from high school to college, especially being a point guard.
“In high school, I was mostly the primary option, but here I got more options.” Holder said. “So I’ve got to pick and choose when to take the right shot and get my teammates the ball.”
That is something Holder has done very well in his impressive stretch of games. Holder’s season-high for assists was five before he recorded six assists twice in the last five games.
If the Sun Devils are to compete with the No. 6 Arizona Wildcats this coming Saturday, not only Holder, but everyone will have to play at the top of their game. Holder recognizes not only this, but the talent that the Wildcats have.
“(T.J. McConnell) is the epitome of what a college basketball point guard is supposed to look like,” Holder said.
Similar to Arizona’s senior guard, Holder watched another point guard growing up who he wants his game to reflect.
“I watched Trey Burke.” Holder said. “I used to watch all his documentaries and all that stuff. I mean, I just saw a simpler skill set, so I try to resemble my game after him.”
Burke, current point guard for the Utah Jazz and former Michigan Wolverine helped lead his team to the National Championship game in 2013. Burke was then selected ninth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves but eventually was traded to the Jazz.
Holder’s recent turnaround is something everyone who watches ASU basketball as noticed, and something that Sendek is proud of and attributes to repetition.
“You’ve just got to take that old analogy and just got to keep pounding the rock,” Sendek said. “Nobody knows how many blows it takes before the rock splits, and it’s not just your final swing of the sledgehammer that breaks the rock. It’s each successive blow that contributes.”
Burke is a winner, McConnell is a winner, and winning is something that Holder and his recent success could bring for ASU in the near future.