Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Holiday May Not Be 'Big,' But He Is Still A Special Player

By Ramona Shelburne
L.A. Daily News

He paused to consider the question, glanced down at the worn, maple-lacquered bench in the corner of the gym, then shook his head like he was still trying to wrap his thoughts around something.

"No," he said earnestly. "I'm not big like O.J. (Mayo)."

Thirty minutes earlier, an assistant coach from the University of Texas had dropped by to watch him practice. Before he left the gym, the coach glanced across the court at Jrue Holiday, waited until his gaze was returned, then waved goodbye.

Next week, North Carolina coach Roy Williams is supposed to drop by the Campbell Hall of North Hollywood gym and do about the same thing.

"(UCLA coach) Ben Howland," Campbell Hall coach Terry Kelly said, "has his own parking space here."

But no, Holiday is not big like O.J. Mayo.

"He has no idea how good he is," Kelly said of Holiday. "He doesn't get it."

Maybe that's why the 6-foot-3 junior guard plays like he has got to prove himself on every play, why he turns from a quiet, polite, high school kid in well-pressed khaki pants and a polo shirt into an emotional, single-minded force on the court.

Jrue Holiday doesn't just dunk the basketball, he tries to tear the rim down. He doesn't just want to win, he needs to.

"When I go up for a dunk," he said, "I try and get up as high as I can and slam it in to make it dramatic. I want to get everybody hyped. I want to get my teammates hyped to get us into the game. I want to get the crowd hyped, because that helps us play better."

What about getting himself excited?

"I'm already hyped," he said, smiling.

He always has been like this. Bring up basketball and his eyes light up, like he's flashing back to something. Thinking back on those days growing up in Rancho Cucamonga, playing two-on-two in the backyard with his brothers Justin and Aaron, and little sister Lauren. They'd set up a huge trampoline under the basket and practice their dunks for hours on end.

But people don't just bring up basketball with Jrue (pronounced Drew) anymore. They send text messages every night to talk about college, post videos of him on YouTube and file a weekly update on what college he's thinking about this week.

They want to compare him to O.J. Mayo, the recently-signed USC recruit from Huntington, W.V., who has been signing autographs since the sixth grade, or Larry Drew Jr., his crosstown foil at Taft of Woodland Hills.

Last weekend, Holiday went on an unofficial visit to UCLA to watch the Bruins play UC Riverside. He didn't get far before the student section started chanting his name.

"People were asking for my autograph," he said. "It was weird. ... I'm just a regular person. How can my autograph be so important?"

Some people mistake this for shyness. Cynics might think it's an act.

But as you look him in the eye as he says this, there are no signs of pretense. Just that slight shake of the head, like he's still trying to understand it all himself.

Basketball has always been a simple thing for Jrue Holiday. Just him, the other guy, a ball and a hoop. Whoever wants it most wins.   

Kelly still remembers Jrue's first practice. He showed up as a scrawny, long-armed ninth-grader looking for a spot on a team filled with Division I prospects. Joe Ford was the team's leader. He had averaged more than 21 points a game the year before and led the Vikings to 27 wins. He was 6-foot-6 and the college recruiters were all over him.

Kelly lined the team up for its first scrimmage.

"We were on this end of the floor," Kelly said, looking up at the basket on the north end of the court. "And I told everyone to match up. No one wanted Joe. ... Jrue stood up and was like, `I'll take him.'

"That's when I knew he was special and that I'd never have to coddle him."

That year, Campbell Hall went 32-0 and won a state championship.

Four players signed with Division I colleges. But somehow the skinny freshman found his way into the mix, and averaged 10.1 points a game while leading the team with 363-pointers.

Last year, with Ford and the other guys having gone off to college, Kelly handed Jrue the reigns and asked him to run the team. He averaged 21.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.5 steals.

Campbell Hall ran its winning streak to 42 games before falling to Taft on Dec.29. The Vikings regrouped to finish 26-6 and make the state playoffs, but fell short of their magical 2005 season.

"I hate losing," Holiday said. "After we lost (to San Joaquin Memorial to finish the season), it was a real quiet bus ride home. I don't get mad or yell. But I hate losing. That's why, on the court, I'll do anything to win."

Holiday enters this season as the No. 2-rated shooting guard in the Class of 2008 by The No. 2-rated point guard is none other than Larry Drew Jr.

On Jan. 13, they'll go head-to-head in the San Fernando Valley Showcase.

Holiday can't wait.

"Larry and I are cool," he said. "I like playing against him. We play for the same team in the summer."

But there is one guy he has never gotten to play against: Mayo.

"I've seen him a few times, but never got to play against him," Holiday said. "I'd like to, though. I know I can run with him."

(reprinted with permission)



At Dec 8, 2006, 6:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don' think that's a picture of Jrue Holiday...

At Dec 8, 2006, 12:54:00 PM, Anonymous jon said...

I really really hope UCLA steps up to meet the challenge of successfully recruiting this player to Westwood. Everything I've read and heard about this guy indicates he is the complete package and a great fit for UCLA. Team-oriented, tough, smart, fundamentally sound and most importantly a good person.


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