Archdeacon: Spurned by Marshall, Holden finds home at Wright State -- ‘I’m in a better spot now’

Wright State guard Tanner Holden shoots while covered by Marshall guard Taevion Kinsey during a mens basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (E.L. Hubbard for the Dayton Daily News)
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Wright State guard Tanner Holden shoots while covered by Marshall guard Taevion Kinsey during a mens basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (E.L. Hubbard for the Dayton Daily News)

The court he’ll play on tonight is the one he always dreamed he’d be playing on when he was kid.

When Tanner Holden was growing up in Wheelersburg on the banks of the Ohio River, he often went over to the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington W. Va. to watch his beloved Marshall University play basketball.

Holden’s dad, Rodney, had been a basketball star at the school in the 1980s and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2007.

His mom, Tammy, also went to Marshall. It’s where she and Rodney met and fell in love.

“I went to a lot of games at Marshall,” Holden said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s the closest Division I college team to my home – it’s just about 45 minutes away – and my dad and mom had season tickets being alumni.”

He said he had Thundering Herd T-shirts and other team gear and he remembers when he was youngster being there for his dad’s hall of fame induction.

“That was definitely an awesome thing,” he said. “It’s really cool to see your dad recognized like that by a Division I college.

“They had his name on a plaque on the floor of the Marshall Café and we’d always go see it. And we’ve got his hall of fame award in one of our rooms at home where we keep all the trophies.

“Seeing what my dad did at Marshall really motivated me.”

Tanner dreamed of one dad playing for the Thundering Herd as well.

He started on that path at Wheelersburg High School and soon had crafted quite a sports resume of his own.

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Wright State guard Tanner Holden shoots over Marshall center Goran Miladinovic during a mens basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (E.L. Hubbard for the Dayton Daily News)

Wright State guard Tanner Holden shoots over Marshall center Goran Miladinovic during a mens basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (E.L. Hubbard for the Dayton Daily News)
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Wright State guard Tanner Holden shoots over Marshall center Goran Miladinovic during a mens basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (E.L. Hubbard for the Dayton Daily News)

Already as a junior he was a finalist for Ohio’s Mr. Football. He caught the winning touchdown pass in overtime of the Division V state championship game in 2017, was named the state’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year and was recruited by Ohio State and Michigan.

He was just as good in basketball. Twice he scored 50 points in a game and he was named to the all-state team.

He got numerous basketball offers and – once he decided that was the route he’d take to college – he narrowed his choices to Marshall and Winthrop.

He said he knew the Marshall campus so well that he didn’t even take an official visit. The Thundering Herd offered him a scholarship in the summer before his junior season and it was a dream come true.

And tonight he’ll finally be on the Cam Henderson court, but instead of a Herd jersey, he’ll be in a Wright State uniform for the 7 p.m. tip.

The 6-foot-6 junior guard isn’t just the star of the Raiders’ team, he’s become the popular face of the program.

So what happened?

How did that childhood dream take such a detour?

Immediate impact at Wright State

Marshall pulled the scholarship offer when he was a senior and it was a shock.

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

These days he doesn’t like to revisit that rerouting, though he did admit the other that day it was a blow.

By the time Marshall reneged, Winthrop had moved on to other players and no longer had an opening.

As Rodney Holden once explained: “I don’t know Marshall’s reason, but I know this is a business.

“But I’m also a firm believer that when one door closes, another opens.”

And it certainly did for his son.

Left scrambling, Tanner still had interest from the likes of Ohio University, Akron, Toledo, Cleveland State…and Wright State.

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Wright State guard Tanner Holden goes to the hoop against Marshall forward Jannson Williams during a mens basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (E.L. Hubbard for the Dayton Daily News)

Wright State guard Tanner Holden goes to the hoop against Marshall forward Jannson Williams during a mens basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (E.L. Hubbard for the Dayton Daily News)
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Wright State guard Tanner Holden goes to the hoop against Marshall forward Jannson Williams during a mens basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (E.L. Hubbard for the Dayton Daily News)

“When I visited Wright State, everybody – the athletic department, the coaches, my teammates, the fans – they all treated me like family,” he said the other day. “It was awesome. I really loved it.”

He chose WSU and now said: “I wouldn’t change anything about this decision. I feel so blessed that I was able to come here. I’m in a better spot now.

“I feel like I’ve achieved more here than I could have accomplished somewhere else, that’s for sure. Anywhere else I wouldn’t have gotten this kind of coaching and experience. The coaches put me in position to be successful.”

His very first game as a freshman he scored 21 points. That season he started 30 of the Raiders’ 31 games and had several big outings, including a 27-point, 17-rebound game against Toledo.

He ended up the team’s second-leading rebounder (6.2 a game) and third-leading scorer (12.1) and was named to the Horizon League’s All Freshman Team.

Last season, as the Raiders like every other college team navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic, Holden led the team in minutes per game (34.2) and was second in both scoring (15.8) and rebounds (7.8). At season’s end he was named a first team All Horizon League selection.

This year, he was a preseason all league pick and in Tuesday night’s season opener, he led the Raiders to an 86-53 victory over Lake Erie College, an NCAA Division II school from Painesville. He had 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and no turnovers.

And that sets the stage for tonight’s game.

A big contingent of Wheelersburg fans will be at the game, as will his family, including older sister Sydney, who had her own stellar collegiate career at Rio Grande and is now preparing for her boards to become a nurse.

A 1,000 point career scorer, she was named Rio Grande’s Female Athlete of the Year for the 2019-20 academic school year, was the River States Conference Player of the Year and won NAIA All America honors.

In the spotlight

Wright State opened its pandemic-altered season against Marshall last year at the Nutter Center.

The Raiders first three games were cancelled because of COVID issues and Holden said the team had practiced together as a complete unit just once before the game.

WSU jumped to a 21-8 lead and had a five-point advantage at the half. But with 12:09 left, the Herd finally took the lead and then went on a 14-2 run that propelled them to an 80-64 victory. Holden, who dealt with foul trouble, finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.

His dad had some advice for this game:

“There’s no pressure. Go out there, relax and do the things that you do and do it together as a team, not as one person. One person is not going to win it for you.”

Yet, no one Raider will have more of a spotlight on him tonight than Holden because of his connections to both schools.

“We went to Marshall and have history there, but at the same time my heart supports my son,” Rodney said. “Our family, we’re honored to see him play on that floor, but at the end of the day, shall I say, Wright State turned out to be the right fit for him.”

For Tanner Holden, Wright State turned out to be his dream come true.

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