Former WSU coach puts Holden in same class as one of Raiders’ all-time greats

Wright State's Tanner Holden is defended by Purdue Fort Wayne's Damian Chong Qui during their game at the Nutter Center on Jan. 30, 2022. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

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Wright State's Tanner Holden is defended by Purdue Fort Wayne's Damian Chong Qui during their game at the Nutter Center on Jan. 30, 2022. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

FAIRBORN — Jim Brown has been associated with Wright State basketball for 52 years — from an assistant when the program was in its infancy in the early 1970s, to being head coach for a year, to his current role as color analyst on radio broadcasts.

He was on the Ralph Underhill’s staff when Bill Edwards, the only men’s player to have his number retired by the school, led the 1992-93 team to the NCAA tourney. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 25.2 points and often made big scoring nights look effortless.

Though the Raiders have attracted plenty of prolific rebounders, deft passers and productive offensive players through the years, Brown figured there’d be a long wait before anyone showed up with the same skill set as Edwards.

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But while it may have taken almost three decades, the wait is over.

Junior Tanner Holden is second in the Horizon League with a 20.6 average while posting the third-best field-goal percentage at 51.8.

He also leads the country in free throws attempted and made, going 141 of 174 for an 81% clip.

The 6-6 wing can go on a scoring rampage, as he did at UIC when he tallied 38 points, and he consistently delivers when his team needs him most, averaging 23.5 points on 58.2% shooting the last six games to help the Raiders climb back into the league race.

“Bill would score 25 points, and at the end of the game, you’d look at the stat sheet, and you’re thinking he might have had 12, and he had 25. And that’s how Tanner is,” Brown said. “I watch the game and think, ‘He’s having a good game. He’s probably got 15.’ And you look, and he’s got 22. He just scores in so many ways. He’s not flashy.”

Edwards shot 51.8% as a senior and 51.0 for his career.

Holden is shooting 54.5% for his career.

“I just play my game, stick to what I’m good at and not try to do too much — just let the game come to me,” Holden said.

“I’m not going to force anything. If I have an open shot, I’m going to shoot it. Coach (Scott Nagy) preaches that to all of us: Play confidently.”

Edwards oozed confidence while racking up 2,303 points in his career. That’s almost 500 more than the next highest total.

Holden plays with a never-ruffled persona, too.

“He scores in a variety of ways, which is exactly what Bill did,” Brown said. “Bill had the ball in his hands a lot more than Tanner does. But the thing that’s impressive about Tanner is he does things most young kids don’t do — move without the ball. He’s incredible at that. And he knows exactly when to do it.”

Tanner’s breakout game against UIC was the highest single-game output by a Raider in five years.

Edwards holds the all-time mark with 45.

“I never thought anybody would break Bill’s 45-point record, but Tanner has a great chance of doing that,” Brown said.

On the night he had 39, Holden missed his first three shots and didn’t have a basket in the opening 10 minutes.

He finished 14 of 24 from the field and 10 of 11 on free throws.

“If he got off to a good start, he might have gotten 45,” Brown said.

Holden is on pace to become just the seventh Raider to average at least 20 points in a season.

Edwards also did it as a junior, scoring 20.9. Seth Doliboa has the second-best average at 22.3, while Rodney Benson (21.9), Brad Smith (21.7), Keion Brooks (20.7) and Vitaly Potapenko (20.7) also topped 20 per game.

Holden, of course, has another season after this one and possibly two. The NCAA gave all 2020-21 athletes a free year of eligibility because of COVID-19.

If Holden plays five years, he could surpass Edwards on the career scoring list. Some probably would insist on an asterisk because of the extra season, but Brown noted how much Edwards benefitted from playing in Underhill’s fast-paced offense.

The Raiders averaged 89.1 points in 1992-93, while they’re scoring 75.9 per game this season.

But aside from being prodigious scorers, the similarities between Holden and Edwards don’t end with how they perform on the court.

“The first time Chris (Collins) and I had Tanner on the coach’s show after a game, he was so impressive. It was like you were talking to an NBA player in terms of how he spoke,” Brown said.

“When we interview the guys, you never know if you’re going to get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and just one-word answers. It wasn’t that way with Tanner. He talked very, very well. In fact, I said something to his parents after that: ‘Boy, you’ve done a great job with him.’

“He’s so confident. You can tell that. And that’s how Bill was. Bill was extremely confident.”

WEDNESDAY’S GAME

Wright State at Green Bay, 8 p.m., ESPN+, 980

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