EDITOR’S NOTE: David Jablonski is counting down to the Dayton men’s basketball season opener on Nov. 7 with 25 pieces (one every day until Nov. 7) previewing the 2022-23 season. This is the 12th story.
DaRon Holmes II’s connection to Dayton Flyers basketball dates back to June 2020 when he thanked Dayton coaches Anthony Grant and Ricardo Greer for offering him a scholarship.
This was three months after Dayton’s 29-2 season ended because of the pandemic. Coaches couldn’t visit recruits at that point. Throughout the year, recruits couldn’t take official visits because of the NCAA’s pandemic-related restrictions. Holmes already was a prized recruit when Dayton offered him a scholarship. He had offers from San Diego State, Arkansas, Arizona, UCLA and Virginia to name a few and ranked 30th at that time in the 2021 class, according to Rivals.com.
Holmes put Dayton in his top four in September 2020 along with Arizona, California and Marquette and committed to UD that October.
“Growing up, I always had a passion and sense of urgency for the game,” Holmes said then. “I’ve always been taught to work hard day in and day out. I’m going to continue to learn and grow at a high level so I can fulfill my goals and dreams. I will always continue to strive for great success and great opportunities. This was the toughest decision of my life. These were all great schools, but I can only choose one. To further my academic and athletic career, I will be attending the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. Go Flyers.”
Two years later, the 6-foot-10 forward from Goodyear, Ariz., is about to start his sophomore year with the kind of hype last seen during Obi Toppin’s second season. Holmes is the first true sophomore to earn an Atlantic 10 Conference preseason first-team honor in Dayton history. Toppin earned the same honor as a redshirt sophomore in the 2019-20 season.
Here’s everything you need to know about Holmes:’
1. He’s the highest-ranked recruit to pick UD this century: Holmes ranked 47th in the 2021 class, according to Rivals.com. Juwan Staten, who played one season at Dayton, ranked 49th in the class of 2012, according to Rivals. Chris Wright ranked 49th in the class of 2007, according to Scout.com.
“He’s a multi-dimensional player,” said Ty Amundsen, who coached Holmes three seasons at Millennium High School, in 2020. “He can score at all three levels. He’s an elite defender with his length and athleticism. He has a real good feel for the game. He can play all five positions, which he did for me. What makes him different than everyone else is just his work ethic. He’s a tireless worker. He’s always in the weight room. He’s always in the gym. He’s on a pathway to greatness. He really wants to achieve his ultimate goal, which is to play in the NBA.”
2. Holmes picked UD because of his connection to the coaches: While Holmes seemed to be following in the footsteps of Toppin, whose NBA career began two months after Holmes committed to UD, Holmes’ dad DaRon downplayed the Toppin storyline when he committed. Grant’s plan for Holmes was more important. Holmes himself said he took his time with his decision.
“I felt like I made the right decision based off how the system fit my game and the opportunity that I could have there with hard work,” he wrote then in a blog post. “I just want to come in and work hard and do whatever it takes to win. Coach Grant really showed me how they could really elevate my game and put me in position to be successful. I know that I have to buy-in and work hard, and that’s the only focus for me in going there.”
3. Holmes was part of the highest-ranked recruiting class in UD history: Malachi Smith was the first member of Dayton’s 2021 class. Kaleb Washington committed to UD days after Holmes did. On signing day in 2020, the group ranked 21st in the nation.
Grant called the recruiting success a team effort and said of Holmes, “You look at his accolades and his talent, his size, his skill. He really fits the prototypical forward for us with the way we want to play with his skillset and versatility. When you talk to people around him, you get this feel when you get to know him of just his character and who he is as a person. His humility, his willingness to work, they really stand out.”
4. Holmes grew up in Nashville and then the Phoenix area: He told Dayton Daily News columnist Tom Archdeacon his mom Tomika coached him at first when he was 6 or 7 at the YMCA in Nashville. His dad DaRon Holmes Sr. is from Chicago and met Tomika at the University of Kansas. DaRon Sr. later coached all three of his sons: DaRon and his younger brothers, Quintyn and Cameron.
”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,’” DaRon Sr. said. “‘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.”
5. Holmes split his senior year between two schools: After moving from Arizona to Florida to attend Montverde Academy, one of the top prep basketball schools in the country, Holmes decided to return to his home state and attend another top basketball school, Compass Prep, in January 2021.
“Defensively, we get after it,” said Pete Kaffey, Compass Prep’s program director. “That’s one of DaRon’s strengths. Dayton is getting a kid who can guard multiple positions, who can probably guard all five positions on the court. He just fits perfectly in what we do. We asked him to run the floor. He runs the floor super hard. We asked him to be a rim protector and be help side, and when we help, he’s always in position to make a play on the ball. He’s cleaning up, getting offensive rebounds.”
6. Holmes finally got to visit UD in March 2021: Compass Prep played in the Top Gun Showcase in Vandalia late in his senior year. He stopped at UD during the trip to Ohio.
Holmes was not able to talk to Dayton coaches in person because of NCAA recruiting restrictions during the pandemic or tour UD Arena because it was being used as a COVID-19 vaccination site, but he otherwise got to see dorms and classrooms and everything he’ll experience as a student when he arrives in June.
”You can obviously tell the culture is there,” Holmes said. “Great culture. Great fans. The atmosphere is amazing. That’s what makes this place special.”
Holmes scored a game-high 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting in a 76-35 rout of Ypsi Prep Academy (Mich.). He dunked three times. He wore a UD T-shirt during warmups, exciting the Dayton fans who came to watch him.
“I didn’t expect all those fans to be out here,” he said. “It’s a good thing. It shows me what I’m about to get into.”
7. Holmes arrived at UD in early June in 2021: The four members of Dayton’s 2021 class showed up on campus within days of each other in preparation for Dayton’s eight-week summer practice schedule. Malachi Smith was the first and was followed by Lynn Greer III, who would transfer to Saint Joseph’s midway through his freshman season, Kaleb Washington and then Holmes.
8. Holmes earned early rave reviews from Grant: In Holmes’ freshman season, Dayton had 13 scholarship players, and only two were playing college basketball two seasons ago: Toumani Camara, who was a freshman at Georgia; and Elijah Weaver, who was a freshman at Southern California. Nine of the Flyers were either juniors or seniors in high school two years ago. Eleven of the players were in their first or second year at UD, which meant Holmes had a chance to compete for a starting role in the preseason.
“For DaRon,” Grant said during A-10 media days in October, “obviously coming in with the accolades that he did, being a top-50 player in the country, I have been really impressed with his humility, his work ethic, his desire to continue to try to improve and get better. He’s just learning the game. Every day, there are just different things that he’s able to pick up from myself and our staff, whether it be on the court or through film. He’s been really good.”
9. Holmes was the rare true freshman starter in his first game: When Holmes started in a 64-54 victory against Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 9, he was the first true freshman to start the first game of the season for Dayton since Jalen Robinson in 2012. He had nine points and four rebounds in 30 minutes.
”I’m pretty excited,” Holmes said, “but at the same time, it’s more about having a big impact on the game, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench. Everybody has a role. I think we all just need to live up to it.”
10. Dayton fans saluted Holmes after this first game: Holmes and his family received a standing ovation when they stopped at Milano’s for a late dinner after the opener.
“We had heard so much about the fan base here and how supportive they are of the team,” Holmes Sr. said, “Having that unexpected moment, it was just great for our family but just really great for DaRon to receive such support.”
11. Holmes tied a school record in his second game: Dayton lost three games in a row after beating UIC in its opener, but Holmes was a bright spot. He had six blocks in the second game against UMass Lowell.
“Blocking shots, finishing at the rim, dunking and being an inside presence when we need it – for a young guy, he’s playing terrific,” teammate Elijah Weaver said.
12. Holmes’ personality showed after upset of Kansas: After the Flyers upset the No. 4 Jayhawks on a last-second shot by Mustapha Amzil, a Dayton fan, John Douglass, came onto the court to seek a high five from Holmes and got picked up and hugged instead. The Flyers won three straight games at the ESPN Events Invitational, rebounding from a 1-3 start. Holmes made the all-tournament team, averaging 14 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.
13. Holmes set a single-season school record for blocks by a freshman: He blocked 81 shots, surpassing Steve McElvene’s 2015-16 total of 55.
“I do take a lot of pride in my defense,” Holmes II said. “Even if it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, I want to give it my all out there. I used to try to block everything. I have learned that sometimes it is important to just alter the shot instead of trying to block it.”
14. Holmes has taken advantage of his name, image and likeness rights: The NIL era started about a month into Holmes’ time on the UD campus, and has made the most of it. Among other opportunities, he signed an endorsement deal with Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken in January, hosted a basketball camp for kids last summer and was given the keys to a 2021 Chevy Tahoe Premier thanks to a deal with the White-Allen Auto Group.
15. Holmes won the A-10 Rookie of the Year Award: Holmes, who also made the A-10 second team, became the second player in Dayton history to win the award and the first to win it as a true freshman. Obi Toppin won the award in 2019 as a redshirt freshman.
″It means a lot,” Holmes said before practice Tuesday at the Cronin Center on campus. “A lot of hard work and dedication went into that. Great teammates, great coaching staff, great atmosphere here, all that contributed to this award. I’m really thankful.”
16. Holmes had a career night in A-10 tournament: He scored 28 points on 12-of-15 shooting in a quarterfinal victory against Massachusetts.
“I just try to read what the defense gives us, and they decided to put one defender on me,” Holmes said. “I tried to use it to our team’s advantage and score.”
17. Holmes led the Flyers in scoring: He became the first true freshman in UD history to lead the team in scoring (12.8 points per game). He scored 20 or more points three times in the last five games.
18. Holmes shared the team MVP award: Holmes, Smith and Camara were all named MVP by their coaches after the season.
19. Holmes has transformed his body: He said he weighed 205 pounds when he arrived at Dayton in June 2021. The official roster listed him at 220 pounds last season. He’s now at 231 pounds. He wants to get to 235 or 237 before the season begins. He expects to lose weight during the season because of all the calories he’ll burn in practices and 31 regular-season games plus the postseason.
“I feel like you can be really big and strong,” he said, “but you still have to know how to play basketball. So I want to gain weight, but I don’t want to be too heavy. I want to still be able to run like I did last year, run the floor well and be versatile. But this is going to help me now so I’m able to rebound better, play better defense and be tougher, and it helps my confidence.”
20. Holmes has big goals for his sophomore season: Dayton finished 24-11 last season and was the first team left out of the NCAA tournament. It has not played in the NCAA tournament since 2017, though it would have gotten the chance in 2020 if the tournament wasn’t cancelled because of the pandemic.
“I just want to win,” Holmes said. “I want to win the whole tournament, and I want to win the A-10 tournament.”
DAYTON SEASON PREVIEW
Part 1: Fans dreaming big as always
Part 2: A-10 changes tournament format for first time in years
Part 3: A familiar face returns to A-10
Part 4: KenPom.com’s math likes the Flyers
Part 5: Three new walk-ons join roster
Part 6: Grant, Martin don’t look forward to coaching against each other
Part 7: Ranking difficult of non-conference opponents
Part 8: Free-throw percentage a stat to watch for Flyers
Part 9: UD roster again full of international talent
Part 10: Ranking quality of exempt tournaments
Part 11: How Grant’s first six teams compare
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