For all the impressive things he does on the court as a 19-year-old freshman just 10 games into his college career, DaRon Holmes II — “Deuce” as his University of Dayton teammates and coaches call him — is just as splendid once you get him one-on-one off the basketball court.
“He’s one of the nicest young men you’ll ever meet,” said Flyers coach Anthony Grant. “He’s genuine and really, really coachable.”
Holmes’ parents, DaRon Sr. and Tomika, have a lot to do with both sides of their eldest son’s development.
“My mom actually coached me when I started out,” Holmes said with a smile as he stood in the Flyers’ Cronin Center practice gym before drills began Friday afternoon.
“I was like 6 or 7 years old and playing in a YMCA League (in Nashville, Tennessee). I don’t have a lot of memories of it, except that I was out there having fun.”
And how was Mom as a coach?
“She played basketball in high school, but not when she went to KU,” he said of her days at the University of Kansas.
“But she was really competitive. I guess that’s where my competitive nature comes from.”
As a versatile, 6-foot-10 power forward/post player, he’s become quite the competitor. He was ranked the No. 39 player in the nation in the 2021 recruiting class by 247Sports and became the highest ranked recruit ever to sign with UD.
His dad played basketball at Mount Carmel High in Chicago – where his well-known teammates included NFL Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb and NBA All Star Antoine Walker – but he bypassed lower D-I and small college offers to shelve his sports career and go to Notre Dame. He then went to grad school at KU, where he met Tomika.
He coached DaRon — the same as he now does younger sons, Quintyn and Cameron — off the court:
“The only real message I gave to DaRon was: ‘Pay attention to the news. Follow all the top athletes and notice there are some who don’t know how to treat people. There are enough jack----- in the world, we don’t need another superstar jack--- .
“’How you treat people is going to take you farther, whether it’s in basketball, the business world or everyday life, than anything is.
“No one wants to lend their support to some butt----!’
“That’s the only real talk I had with him about anything like that and he just naturally took it to heart.”
Grant was right. Holmes is a charming, polite and engaging conversationalist.
Yet, all that nice guy wrapping gets a Mom makeover on the court and Holmes can be witheringly competitive around the basket, especially when an opposing player puts up a soft shot.
Twice this season, he’s tied the Flyers single-game record for most blocked shots with six.
Coming into Sunday’s game against 7-3 Virginia Tech at UD Arena, Holmes has blocked 24 shots. His 2.4 per game average is fifth best in the Atlantic 10 Conference this season.
He leads the Flyers in minutes per game (27.4) and is second in scoring (10.4), rebounding (5.4) and field goal percentage (63.2).
In the season opener against UIC, he became the first true freshman to start for the Flyers in nine years.
Credit: David Jablonski
Credit: David Jablonski
Since then, he’s been joined by the always-vexing point guard, Malachi Smith, another true freshman who has started the past seven games. They give the Flyers an aggressive defensive tandem that also has showed signs offensively of becoming an alley-oop combo that stirs memories of two years past when the lob-and-slam connections of Jalen Crutcher and Obi Toppin brought the UD Arena crowd to a full-throated roar.
“I get why people try to make the comparisons, but Obi had some crazy bounce,” Holmes said with a grin. “He was a monster! Just a great, great player.
“But, I want to be great player, too.”
“Folks always go, ‘Why Dayton?’” DaRon Holmes Sr. said from the family home in Goodyear, Ariz., Friday evening. “I get that question a lot. They say, ‘We expected him to go to a Power 5 school.’”
Daron II starred his first three years of high school at Millennium High in Goodyear and was named Arizona’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019.
His senior season he transferred to Montverde Academy, the basketball showcase school in Florida. After a semester, he returned to Arizona Compass Prep and won honorable mention All-America honors.
He had scholarship offers from numerous big-time schools – including Arizona, Kansas, Notre Dame, Cal, LSU, Ole Miss, Arkansas, UCLA, Virginia, Tennessee, Marquette, USC, Texas Tech and Arizona State – but chose Dayton.
“Honesty, it’s all about where you fit,” Holmes II said. “A lot of kids, a lot of recruits, get all wrapped up in the whole big program thing. And there’s nothing wrong with big programs. But everybody’s path is different.
“It’s unfortunate sometimes because some kids get caught up in what other people say is best for them. And some of them end up unhappy and that’s why they transfer.”
His dad agreed: “If a kid is not a top 20 recruit in the country, he can get caught up and trapped by the sexy, big-time names. But then they get there and find themselves having to wait for their turn. They might only play a few minutes and they become miserable.
“Parents and the kids have to be able to examine a situation without rose-colored glasses.
“With Dayton, we thought extremely highly of Anthony Grant and Ricardo Greer and the rest of the staff. We thought we could trust what they told us.
“I had followed Coach Grant’s career from the time he was an assistant at Florida with Billy Donovan and then the head coach at VCU and Alabama. And when we met him, we felt he was a solid, honest guy. A real role model. We thought his temperament fit DaRon.
“And Dayton has provided DaRon with a great opportunity. He could get on the court as a freshman and develop and contribute while he played. That might not have happened at some big schools where he might only play 10 minutes a game.
“We also felt Dayton provided enough of a stage in terms of being able to compete against great competition. We looked at UD’s schedule and saw they always had games against Power 5 schools. And the A-10 always gets its share of coverage and attention.
“And then there’s the fact that Dayton has such a strong fan base and a Midwestern flavor. I grew up in the Midwest and my wife grew up in the South and the Midwest. We trusted that DaRon would enjoy the Midwest and the at-home feel. And so far, the Dayton fans have embraced him.”
In choosing Dayton, DaRon Sr. also mentioned “the Obi Toppin factor.”
“It wasn’t like DaRon expected to be the next Obi, but we believe Coach Grant has a certain pedigree. He’s worked with a number of NBA talents. He can develop them. Obi just happens to be the latest example. And that was proof positive that if your goal is to get to the next level one day, you’re not selling yourself short coming to Dayton and playing for Coach Grant.
“They can produce.”
Big test vs. Hokies
After stumbling to three straight losses at home to teams in the bottom third of the KenPom Division I power rankings early this season, UD made a miraculous recovery – beating the Miami Hurricanes, No. 4 Kansas and Belmont – to win the ESPN Events Invitational in Florida over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The Flyers went on five-game winning streak before falling at SMU last Wednesday night.
Much of the revival has come thanks to the play of Holmes and Smith.
“Mali is a pest out there on the court,” Holmes said. “On the defensive end, he can shut down a guard. And I’m right there with him. I feel if the point guard and the big man are doing it, everybody else feels it and it becomes contagious. It becomes a natural thing for our team. "
DaRon Sr. sees the growth, but also believes “we’ll probably see some other head-scratching losses this season. We have a young team and sometimes you’re going to face a team like SMU that’s built on seniors and juniors.
“They have experience and know how to finish off a game. Our team is still learning how to close out games and play above the competition.
“Every victory is something to build upon and every loss is something to build from, too. Everyone just needs to give them time to grow as a unit.”
Virginia Tech will be a growth tester. The Hokies are the best non-conference team to visit UD Arena this season.
“We’ve just got to do a great job of locking in and focusing,” Holmes II said. “They have great front court and back court players, too. But we believe we can take them down.
“We want to be fired up for anyone who comes into our home. We want to make sure we put on a show. We want to make sure we play Dayton basketball.”
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