A former Columbia High School hoops standout is having the time of his life at the University of Arkansas as a freshman walk-on.
Jonathan Holmes, who averaged nearly 15 points per game to lead last year’s Eagles to conference and regional titles and a 22-7 record, didn’t want his playing days to be over after high school.
Unfortunately, there weren’t many takers for the 5-foot-11 guard.
So Holmes enrolled as a student at Arkansas and poured his heart into getting ready for basketball tryouts. The fact that the Razorbacks are a NCAA Division I member of the highly-touted Southeastern Conference might be too intimidating for most, but not for Holmes.
“Nobody really believed that I could do it besides my family, a couple really great friends and (Columbia head coach) Mark Sandstrom,” Holmes told the Republic-Times. “I wasn’t ever the biggest guy on the court, but I wanted to have the most heart and play the hardest every time I stepped on the floor.”
Holmes didn’t start at the varsity level for Columbia until his junior year. He came out of nowhere to average 13.4 points that season, turning some heads in the process.
“It took me up until the summer before my junior year, when we went up to Monmouth College for a shootout, for me to realize that if I wanted to play somewhere I’d have to play my heart out,” Holmes said. “So that same summer I really hit the gym hard and worked on a lot of my skills and my strength and quickness.”
The following summer, Holmes worked even harder at improving his hoops game.
“I was in the gym and weight room every day that summer, working on my game and getting my body in shape,” he said.
At Arkansas, coach Mike Anderson’s team is known for running opponents out of gyms with its “Fastest 40 Minutes” mentality.
Holmes said he worked on his conditioning to prepare for the Arkansas way.
“When I got down here, I didn’t know anybody, so I would go to the gym and rec center by myself and stay up on my strength and conditioning and play a few pick-up games to keep myself playing,” Holmes said.
When tryouts came around, Holmes felt confident.
“I knew good things were going to happen because of all the hard work I put in,” he said. “When I received the call from Coach Thurman about Coach Anderson wanting me on the team, I teared up because I just knew I accomplished my dreams of playing Division I basketball.”
Holmes said his parents were the first to receive the good news.
“The first people I told were my parents and family, and they were really happy for me and I knew they wanted to know all about it,” he said.
Holmes’ younger brother, Jordan, is the leading scorer on this year’s Eagles squad.
Moving into the season at Arkansas, Holmes said he only knew a couple of the guys on the team and didn’t know any of them on a personal level.
“That made the first couple weeks tough, but once I got rolling with practices and started hanging out with them daily, they got more and more comfortable with me being around them,” Holmes said. “They have really taken me under their wings and have been great teammates and friends.”
Holmes, who has already appeared in two games this season for the Razorbacks, said Division I hoops is even more time-consuming that he imagined.
“Even though it takes up 90 percent of my day, I still really enjoy playing the game that I love,” he said. “It’s been a crazy ride from playing in the Cahokia Conference to playing in the SEC. I can only thank God and all the support from the people that believed I could accomplish this.
“It’s been an amazing ride and I can’t wait to see what will happen in the future.”
Sandstrom expressed great pride in Holmes accomplishing his dream.
“I knew he would have a chance after coaching him the last couple of years,” Sandstrom said. “He is a fearless competitor and has a heart of a champion. He has worked extremely hard at his craft. He loves the game and understands his role at Arkansas.”