Wright State freshman Tanner Holden scored a team-high 21 points in his collegiate debut against Central State on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Nutter Center. Joseph Craven/WRIGHT STATE ATHLETICS

Archdeacon: For Wright State freshman, basketball is family affair

In his college debut, Tanner Holden led the Raiders with 21 points and seven rebounds.

Afterward – following the locker room “attaboys” of his teammates – the 6-foot-6 freshman from Wheelersburg headed back to the Nutter Center court to spend some time with his mom and his godmother who had made the two-hour drive from southeastern Ohio to see the game.

Meanwhile, his dad and his grandfather had driven to Kentucky where his older sister, Sydney, and her University of Rio Grande teammates were playing at the University of Pikeville.

A 5-foot-9 senior guard, Sydney has just returned from ACL surgery 10 months ago.

Before going out to join his family, Tanner had talked about his sister:

“I’m really proud of her. Tonight was just her second game back. She’s just finding her groove. It will take her a while, but she’ll get there.”

Yet, back at courtside – where his mom had gotten a text from his dad – he found out just how Sydney got her groove back.

While he had had 21 points, Sydney had scored 22.

And later when you checked the boxscores of each game, you saw she had eclipsed his rebounds 10 to 7.

As for shooting, he went an impressive 6 for 10 from the floor. But she was better, going 8 for 11.

“Sissy still beat him,” Tammy Holden, Tanner’s mom, said with teasing affection.

And that got a big laugh from his godmother Amy Jeffers.

“Yep, big sister can still do it!” Tammy said.

All teasing aside, the siblings’ dad – Rodney Holden, a former Marshall University basketball standout who is in the school’s hall of fame – explained the relationship between the two.

“They have competed against each other, especially on the basketball level,” he said via phone. “It’s not necessarily to do better than the other, but each is going to push the other to be their very best.”

And Tuesday, both – Sydney rebounding from injury, Tanner playing his first college game – were better than most people expected.

But WSU coach Scott Nagy wasn’t totally surprised. He’s watched Tanner blossom during a summer trip to Italy and in the preseason back here.

“When Tanner and Trey (fellow freshman Trey Calvin) came in, we weren’t necessarily anticipating playing freshmen this much,” Nagy said. “But both are very good players.

“Tanner has consistently produced for us. He did in Italy and in our scrimmages (against Eastern Kentucky and Ball State) and he did tonight.

“The last scrimmage he led us in rebounds and tonight he led us in rebounds. He has a nose for the ball, a feel for the game. He’s very aggressive, a good ball hander and a pretty good passer.”

That’s a sound endorsement from a coach who doesn’t usually scattershot many accolades this early in the season.

Sophomore guard Jaylon Hall – who often is matched up against Tanner in practice – had similar praise after the game:

“Man, this guy has a lot of energy and you all saw it tonight. He just always seems to be in the right place at the right time. I felt like it benefitted him tonight and it benefitted us on the court.

“The guy is everywhere!”

Wright State freshman Tanner Holden scored a team-high 21 points in his collegiate debut against Central State on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Nutter Center. Joseph Craven/WRIGHT STATE ATHLETICS
Photo: columnist

‘Hidden gem’

Tanner was a two-sport star at Wheelersburg High School.

He was an All-Ohio wide receiver who caught the winning touchdown pass in overtime when Wheelersburg won the Division V state football crown in 2017. He was the only junior among the finalists for Ohio’s Mr. Football that year and drew considerable scholarship interest.

“When Urban Meyer was the Ohio State coach, he met with Tanner before the Buckeyes took the field against UNLV, I believe it was,” Rodney said. “They sat and talked and he asked Tanner if he could see himself playing for Ohio State. But Tanner hesitated a little because of his love for basketball.

“Tanner got (football) letters from Michigan, Akron, Toledo, several schools, but basketball was his first sport.”

He was a first team All-Ohio pick in basketball, too, and last season he set the Wheelersburg single game scoring record when he had 50 points at East Liverpool.

Soon after he scored 50 against Russell, Ky.

He had several scholarship offers, but 15 months ago he announced he’d narrowed his choices to Marshall and Winthrop.

He was focused on Marshall, where his dad had been a star 6-foot-7 forward in the 1980s, but then he said the school decided to recruit in a different direction:

“They said they wanted a guy who could shoot and they took a different path. It kind of set us off a bit because we had to take a U-turn and go a different direction.”

By then, he said, Winthrop had moved on.

“I don’t know Marshall’s reason, but I know this is a business,” Rodney said. “And I’m a firm believer that when one door closes, another opens.”

Tanner had offers from schools such as Ohio University, Akron, Toledo and Cleveland State, but he said one school stood out to him — Wright State:

“I came on my visit and hung out with the guys – there was a real family feel – and the coaching staff was really straight forward. That’s what I liked.”

The family already knew a little about WSU.

Drew Burleson, who is from Wheelersburg, played for the Raiders from 2003 to 2007, scored 1,176 points and today, Rodney said, “he’s an orthopedic surgeon.”

He said his wife’s nephew also played baseball at Wright State.

“The school is a hidden gem,” Rodney said.

When Tanner finally signed his letter of intent with the Raiders last November, he did so in the high school gym with a crowd from the school and the community there to watch a signature moment for a favorite son.

And Tuesday night several people from Wheelersburg — including Tanner’s barber — showed up at the Nutter Center.

He didn’t disappoint the home folks and he seemed to tap into that old snub from Marshall.

“Back then I’d told him to ‘just use it as motivation, and show them the they were wrong,’” Rodney said

Nagy thinks that will happen:

“They’ll be sorry they didn’t sign him.”

First-game nerves

When he came off the bench Tuesday, Tanner said: “I was really, really nervous. I think it was just pregame jitters with my first college game and the atmosphere. I’m from a small town. I’m not used to something like this.”

Before the game, Tammy — who said she was nervous herself — tried to calm her son:

“I told him, ’Just go do what you do! Once you get out there, it will be alright.’”

She was right. Ninety seconds after he entered the game, he scored on a lay-up. He ended the first half with 10 points, the last basket coming on a dunk.

As soon as he got in in the second half, he hit a three pointer and the added eight more points for his 21-point night.

“I’m not saying he’s going to score 21 every night, but he’s capable of being a really good player,” said senior point guard Cole Gentry. “He didn’t surprise anyone who has seen him in practice.”

As for the games, his family already is working out a schedule so some of them are at Sydney’s games and some are at his.

“Saturday we’ll go watch Sydney and his dad will come watch him,” Tammy said. “We’ll just keep flip-flopping.”

“We’re blessed to have a problem like that,” Rodney said. “We’ll split up – divide and conquer. The main thing is that they both know Mom and Dad are always there. We want them to know we love them – win or lose – no matter what.”

No matter who ends up the night’s headliner and who is second fiddle.

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