April 3, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE - For most, it's just Philadelphia at Charlotte. Another game between sub-.500 teams playing out the final weeks of the NBA's regular season.
For Justin Holiday, it's greatest day of his life.
"It's a dream come true. I feel totally just blessed. One, I've wanted all my life to be in the NBA. And two, I'm in it with my brother!" the captain of the Huskies' 2011 NCAA-tournament team said excitedly over his cell phone from Philadelphia on Monday.
|Huskies In The NBA|
|Justin Dentmon||Dallas||Has also played for San Antonio and Toronto|
11.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg
|Justin Holiday||Philadelphia||Officially joined 76ers on April 1|
|Quincy Pondexter||Memphis||Scored 10+ 15 times this year|
|Nate Robinson||Chicago||Averaging 12.6 ppg in his 8th season|
|Terrence Ross||Toronto||2013 NBA Slam Dunk champion|
Only played 5 games this season
Averaged 18.6 ppg & 5.3 apg in March
2.8 ppg in 32 games
That was the day the 76ers signed Holiday out of the NBA's Development League. The contract for the remainder of this season ends Justin's basketball odyssey from Seattle to Portsmouth, Va., to Aalst, Belgium, to Orlando, Fla., to Las Vegas to Boise, Idaho - and now, Wednesday, into the NBA. To Time Warner Cable Arena, to play against the Charlotte Bobcats, the team Michael Jordan owns.
Holiday will put on an NBA uniform for the first time inside the same arena where he took off his UW one for good. That was 24 months ago, after the last-second loss to North Carolina in the third round of the NCAA tournament in Charlotte that ended Holiday's career at Washington.
Best of all, he's reunited with Jrue. The Sixers' all-star guard is Justin's younger brother by 14 months.
Tonight will be the first time Justin and Jrue have suited up together since March 24, 2007. That night Justin had 15 points, eight rebounds, and four steals, Jrue had 20 points, eight rebounds, and five assists, and their Campbell Hall High School in North Hollywood whacked Santa Rosa Cardinal Newman 70-34 in the California Division IV state title game. Campbell Hall went 33-1 in Justin's senior season, which was Jrue's junior year.
Justin headed to Washington after that game. A year later, Jrue chose UCLA over UW. He stayed with the Bruins for just one season before the Sixers drafted him 17th overall in 2009. Later that year Jrue became the first player born in the 1990s to play in the NBA.
Now, after a far more daunting and roundabout trek, his big brother has re-joined him in the, yes, City of Brotherly Love.
"I couldn't be happier. I'm at a loss for words," Justin said Monday as his dream was just turning into reality.
"I'm walking around thinking, `I'm really here!'"
Holiday is the ninth former Husky in the NBA, and second on the Sixers. Seven-footer Spencer Hawes has been torrid recently for Philadelphia. Justin Dentmon signed a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks out of the NBADL last week.
So maybe it really is true that great things ultimately happen to great people, even if it sometimes takes a while. Holiday is one of my favorite recent Huskies. He's always conscientious and considerate, hard-working and understated.
And that's not even considering his hawking defense, his 7-foot-plus wingspan or his recently hot outside shooting that has the 6-6 guard in the NBA despite no one drafting him two years ago.
BUSING THROUGH SNOW, A CONVERTIBLE WITH A BROKEN TOP
"I'm sorry I wasn't able to answer the phone earlier," Holiday said to me unnecessarily -- but characteristically --Monday afternoon.
I had left him a message an hour or so earlier, after Philadelphia announced it had waived former Gonzaga guard Jeremy Pargo to make roster room to sign Justin.
"I was at a community event for the team," Holiday said, apologetically.
No, he wasn't getting fitted for a new Armani. He wasn't plotting the ways he might make a huge, first splash in the league. Instead, he spent his first hours in the NBA pitching in with new teammates at an energy efficiency renovation project at Shepard Recreation Center on Haverford Avenue in Philadelphia. He shared the values of installing "smart" power strips, hanging compact fluorescent light bulbs and other forms of energy conservation.
"This is `Green Week' in the NBA, so I was with some kids showing videos on why people should clean out air-conditioning vents, change out light bulbs, do things that help the environment," Holiday said.
"They put me right to work. Hey, whatever they want me to do."
It sure beats busing through the winter across the Midwest.
Holiday is leaving behind the apartment he shared in Boise with a teammate on the NBADL's Idaho Stampede for the five-star Ritz-Carltons and Westins he'll stay in while with the Sixers. Tuesday he received the first of his $120 per diem, the daily meal money - distributed in cash at the start of every road trip - that is mandated to all players by the NBA's collective bargaining agreement.
If he impresses the Sixers, or another NBA team, over these final nine games of this season he could stick in the league for the start of next season. That would earn him at least the NBA minimum salary of $490,180 for first-year players.
As of Monday he hadn't talked yet to his new coach, Doug Collins, to learn what was expected of him these last two weeks and to get a feel for how much he will play. But he knows what will keep him in the league.
"I do know I need to continue to play the way I have on defense," he said, sounding like the protégé of Romar he is.
For sure, Holiday didn't travel to Charlotte on Tuesday the way he traveled with the Stampede.
His favorite road-trip story from the D-League: Flying this winter from a game in Los Angeles to one in Ohio, then riding on a bus to Iowa for a game. Then he and his team bused from Iowa to Indiana for another game. Then it was more bus to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for more of an eight-game road trip.
It only seemed like Hell and back.
Last fall he gave up hundreds thousands of dollars to play in the D-League. He could have returned to Aalstar, the team in Belgium's Division-I Ethias League for which he from August 2011 until last summer.
"I made a lot more money there," he said.
But he wasn't chasing money. He was chasing his dream. He knew the shortest route to the NBA was through the D-League, which has more scouts' eyes on it. Some NBADL teams are directly affiliated farm clubs of NBA franchises.
Belgium was a long way from the NBA.
Aalstar's home gym in Aalst, the Generali Forum about 20 minutes outside Brussels, seats 2,800. That's about one-fourth the capacity of UW's Alaska Airlines Arena. The team did give Holiday an apartment plus a car as part of his first professional contract.
"Oh, man, the car," he said. "It was a little Citroen. A little European car. It looked kind of like a VW Bug."
The Citroen, a French car, is known for being economical, for being good on gas - and for not being able to go faster than 108 miles per hour.
Hey, at least he got a convertible to cruise around Belgium in full-on bachelor mode.
"Yep," he said, "but the convertible top didn't work."
He shot and defended well enough in his year with Aalstar that the Sixers invited him onto their 2012 team in a summer league in Orlando. He was second on that team averaging almost 12 points a game. After league ended, he played in a second summer league, in Las Vegas, for Cleveland's team there. A numbers game led to the Cavaliers releasing Holiday early in their training camp. Portland signed him last fall.
"I came in late, at the end of training camp. They already had their guys," he said.
But the Trail Blazers saw enough of Holiday that they asked him to play for their D-League affiliate in Idaho.
Holiday averaged 17.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.4 steals, 1.2 blocks and 35 minutes while starting 42 of 47 games for the Stampede. He was averaging 23.3 points in 15 games during March and leading the D-League in steals when the Sixers signed him. He caught scouts' eyes when he set a D-league record by having two or more steals in 16 consecutive games.
"I was just being aggressive," he says.
"HERE I AM"
Abdul Gaddy and Aziz N'Diaye, Holiday's teammates on the 2010-11 Huskies, are at the same place now Holiday was two years ago. That was when Justin was departing as UW's third-leading scorer behind Isaiah Thomas, who was taken 60th in that year's draft and is now starring for the Sacramento Kings, and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who is playing professionally in Europe.
Gaddy and N'Diaye aren't expected to get drafted, either. Each is doing what Holiday did in 2011: heading to the Portsmouth Invitational in Virginia this month. The three-day tournament is a showcase for 64 players hoping to catch the eyes of NBA scouts and get at least a tryout: /ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=30200&ATCLID=208013673.
When I told Holiday that Gaddy and N'Diaye are going to play in Portsmouth next week he said, "I need to call those guys.
Holiday wants to tell them about all the scouts that will be there, and of all the agents that will be there, too.
Most of all, he can remind them they can get to the NBA this long way, too.
After Charlotte, Holiday and his brother will fly with the Sixers to Atlanta to play the Hawks Friday night. As if this week wasn't enough of a celebration for him, Friday is Justin's 24th birthday.
Justin expects to see his father Shawn, if not his mother Toya, too, at one of the next Sixers games to see this reunion of their sons. Their parents both played basketball at Arizona State.
"They're excited. I'm pretty sure my dad is going to at least one game," Justin said. "He's not going to miss this."
Then Saturday, the overlooked Husky from two years ago -- the guy who was playing in a 2,800-seat gym and driving around Belgium in a convertible with a broken roof this time last year - will suit up in Miami to face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and the defending NBA champion Heat on ESPN.
"Yeah, I've already thought about that a little bit. I'm trying to take this one day at a time. But ... yeah," Holiday said.
"The last time I was there (in Miami's American Airlines Arena), I watching Jrue in the playoffs."
That was in April 2011.
"And now, here I am. I'm playing with him.
"It's hard for me to think `I've made it.' I haven't played yet," Justin said. "I still need to prove myself.
"But I never lost faith that this would happen. At all."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.