BROOKLYN — When it comes to DaRon Holmes II, there is debate and then, there is no debate.
While Virginia Tech’s Ace Baldwin was named the Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10 Conference this season, there are a lot of people — especially Holmes’ University of Dayton teammate Toumani Camara — who think the Flyers 6-foot-10 sophomore is head and shoulders (literally) above the Rams’ guard.
“In my opinion, he’s the best player in the league,” Camara said of his front-court partner,
He’s one of 10 players in the running for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year award given out annually by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
He’s the only player in the A-10 who is in the top four in the league in scoring (No. 4 at 18 points per game.) rebounding (No. 4), field goal percentage (No. 3) and blocked shots (No. 2).
He won All A-10 first team honors this season and for the second year in a row was named to the conference’s All-Defensive Team.
All that didn’t vault him over the 6-foot-1 Baldwin, who averaged 12.6 points but played for the league’s regular-season champs.
Where there is no debate is up above the rim.
Holmes was he nation’s top dunker in the regular season.
He currently has 82.
Although Wednesday, Washington’s 7-foor-1 center Braxton Meah caught up to him with two slams, the Huskies lost their Pac-12 Tournament opener to Colorado, so he’s now sidelined.
Holmes can retake the lead all for himself today with one dunk in the Flyers A-10 quarterfinal matchup with Saint Joseph’s at the Barclays Center. Tip-off is 5 p.m.
He had four dunks in the Flyers’ 76-56 victory over the Hawks in January at UD Arena.
With 81 dunks last season as well, the rim-rattling, crowd-pleasing move has become the signature piece of Holmes’ ever-growing game.
But it wasn’t always like that.
He remembered “trying and trying” with no avail to dunk at the start of the summer going into his freshman season in high school.
“I kept trying over and over and then one day it just happened,” he said as a big smile crept out from underneath those beaded braids that hung down in his face. “It was during an AAU game and I got the ball in transition and just did a one-hand dunk. I have really long arms and just used my length to get up there.
“It wasn’t anything crazy, but I remember it was a very emotional game so that was definitely something people went nuts about.”
Since then — as he’s gotten more proficient and more confident as a dunker — he’s begun to appreciate the art form.
“I like a lot of different types of dunkers,” he said. “I like the ones who do it for fun and the ones who just dunk with a bunch of aggression like Giannis (Antetokounmpo.)
“It’s pretty cool to see all the different variations. There’s the Vince Carter type dunks that are creative and there’s Ja Morant, he gets very high in the air.
“Then you’ve got the guys like Giannis and Anthony Davis. Their dunks are more traditional, but also very aggressive.”
Holmes said his favorite dunk this year came on a transition break-away midway through the first half of the final home game against La Salle. It brought many in the sold-out UD Arena crowd to their feet in roaring approval.
But those slam and jam theatrics often overshadow the other accomplishments in his game.
His 81 blocked shots as a freshman shattered the old, single-season UD record of 55 set by Steve McElvene.
In the final game of this season at Saint Louis, Holmes surpassed 1,000 career points at UD. He’s the only true sophomore ever to do that. He now has 1,008 points.
He’s Dayton’s leading scorer, second-leading rebounder and often an all-arms-and-legs defensive nightmare when opposing players get the ball inside and try to come up with a way to sneak the ball around him or float it high above him to avoid getting their shot slapped back at them.
That’s why Camara — no slouch himself inside as a first team A-10 and All Defensive Team selection ― thought Holmes was the best player in the league:
“But it (the voting by the A-10′s 15 head coaches) was out of my control. We’re only able to control what we can.
“Knowing (Holmes), he’s going to take this personally and he’s going to bring all his energy to the tournament. I think it actually benefits us.”
To make the NCAA Tournament, the 20-11 Flyers, who were the preseason pick to win the league and, before a series of early-season losses, were rated No. 21 in the nation, must now win three straight games to take the A-10 Tournament title and get the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA bracket.
Holmes talked about he and his teammates now playing with a chip on their shoulders.
“My whole goal is to get to March Madness,” he said. “And I’m going to do everything I can to get there.”
And one thing he can do — better than anyone in this tournament — is dunk.
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