The eager freshman guard was earmarked for a redshirt season, but Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said he amended his plan on the first day of practice last June.
Demarcus Holland has a slender frame and unpolished skills, ample justification for Barnes to assign him a spot on bench in street clothes for a year. And yet there was something about the 6-2, 168-pound Holland that impressed Barnes.
“More than anything, it was the way he competed,” Barnes said. “He’s fearless.”
During one of the first practice sessions in June, guard Sheldon McClellan was dribbling the ball when Holland swiped it, drove the length of the court, and dunked. McClellan supposedly gave Holland a look as if to say, “What are you doing, it’s just a workout in June?”
But Holland viewed it as an opportunity.
“It was just my instincts,” Holland said. “He put the ball in front of me, I took it and went in for the dunk. I’m pretty sure a lot of people were shocked. I guess everybody else was tired.”
That energy and attitude are why Holland has started the last three games despite averaging only 3.7 points and shooting 36 percent.
Many coaches, including Barnes, are reluctant to liken one player to another. But Barnes predicts that Holland could someday resemble former Longhorn Royal Ivey, a defensive stopper and selfless team-first guy who started for the Longhorns when they went to the Final Four in 2003.
Assistant coach Chris Ogden, who recruited Holland out of Garland Naaman Forest High, understands the comparison.
“He has the same mental makeup as Royal,” Ogden said. “He has the long arms. He doesn’t care about individual numbers. And he’ll try to do whatever it takes to win.”
Ogden said he noticed Holland while recruiting Prince Ibeh, the Longhorns’ 6-10 freshman center from Naaman Forest. Holland, originally committed to South Florida, elected to join Ibeh at Texas.
“Every time I went and watched Prince, I couldn’t take my eyes off Demarcus,” Ogden said.
Holland has hit only 6 of 38 3-point shots, but he maintains the confidence to launch them. Last Saturday, he missed the rim with two 3-point attempts on the same possession at Kansas. But on Tuesday, he made a critical trey with 1:07 left in a close game at TCU as the shot clock was about to expire.
“He didn’t even hesitate,” Barnes said.
Often during his 15 seasons at Texas, Barnes has cited players who spend more time than others in the gym angling for an edge. Holland is one of those, but Barnes added, “There are a lot of guys that stay in the gym. Not many work with a purpose. He’s one guy who works with a purpose.”
Holland has increased his weight to 178 pounds since the summer. To become a more complete player, he will have to improve his ball-handling and jump shot.
Toward the latter goal, Barnes has adjusted Holland’s release.
“I’m just focusing on my follow-through,” Holland said. “My follow-through used to go out to the right; now I’m keeping the follow-through straight and holding it up there. And using my legs.”
Holland’s reaction to the two air balls at Kansas was a return to the gym Sunday morning.
“And the morning after that,” Holland said.
Which is why Ogden says, “Demarcus Holland will be a good shooter because he will make himself a good shooter.”
TEXAS VS. KANSAS STATE
7 p.m. Saturday, LHN, 1300, 98.1
*assists per game
*assists per game
About this game: Texas (12-14, 4-9 Big 12) will be without freshman center Cam Ridley, who has an infected right eye. Kansas State (21-5, 10-3) has won six of its last seven, including at Oklahoma and against Baylor by 20 points a week ago. The one defeat was by 21 points at Kansas. … The Longhorns lost at Kansas State 83-57 on Jan. 30. K-State converted 18 Texas turnovers into 33 points and punished the Longhorns with some offensive rebounds. … Through 13 Big 12 games, Kansas State leads the league in 3-point shooting accuracy, turnover margin, assists and assists-to-turnover ratio.