Holden believes Raiders poised for another big year

Wright State guard Tanner Holden is covered by Cleveland State guard Alec Oglesby during a Horizon League game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Jan. 16, 2021. Wright State won . Contributed photo by E.L. Hubbard
Caption
Wright State guard Tanner Holden is covered by Cleveland State guard Alec Oglesby during a Horizon League game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Jan. 16, 2021. Wright State won . Contributed photo by E.L. Hubbard

FAIRBORN — Making up for the loss of Loudon Love’s production is going to require a group effort.

Filling the leadership void, though, could turn out to be a one-man job.

Junior wing Tanner Holden — a two-year starter for Wright State and first-team All-Horizon League pick last season — has been such a high performer that his teammates would respect what he had to say if he chose to speak up. And that’s exactly what he plans to do.

“I’m working on being a better leader, being more vocal, being the guy who steps up and becomes the voice of the team,” he said. “With Loudon leaving … I’m trying to be that guy.”

Love was a huge presence in the program — and not just because of his 6-8, 260-pound frame. The two-time league player of the year also had a big personality and was popular with coaches and players alike.

He finished as the program’s all-time leading rebounder and third-most prolific scorer. He’s also the winningest player in the Raiders’ Division I era, having contributed to 89 victories over his four years (a number that would have been even higher if last season wasn’t shortened by COVID-19).

“It’s definitely weird not having him here. He’s been a staple in this program for a long time,” Holden said. “It’ll be tough to replace him, but I feel we have the right guys to do it.”

That list starts with the 6-6 Holden. He had 21 points and seven rebounds against Central State in his first game as a freshman and has never tailed off, blossoming into a star last season as the Raiders finished 18-6 and won their third straight regular-season crown.

He averaged 15.8 points and 7.3 rebounds, second only to Love’s 16.6 and 10.1 marks.

Holden also led the team in steals for the second straight year and was second in assists.

“He looks great,” said coach Scott Nagy, whose team is about two weeks into preseason practice. “Defensively, he’s gotten better and has more focus on that. He’s rebounding better. And his ball-handling has gotten better. He’s really hard to deal with off the bounce.

“He’s always been hard to deal with, but his ball-handling has gotten to the point where we could play him at the 1 (point guard) if we want. I don’t know if we ever will, but we could be a huge team. He’s just hard to handle as an offensive player.”

But Holden knows he still has facets of his game that need attention.

Though he shot 52% from the field and 79.6 on free throws (up from 60.9 as a freshman), his 3-point clip was a pedestrian 30.2.

“I’m trying to get my 3-point shot better along with my defense,” he said. “I’m improving — slowly — on those things, so I’m happy about that.”

While Love was the No. 1 focus for opposing defenses, the Raiders will be able to strike from multiple positions more than ever.

Juniors Grant Basile, Tim Finke and Trey Calvin are just as capable as Holden of leading the team in scoring.

The final starting spot hasn’t been filled yet, but the Raiders have plenty of options.

“We’ve got a lot of good young guys like Andrew Welage, Keaton Norris, A.J. Braun, Alex Huibregtse — pretty much everyone can contribute in some way,” Holden said.

“We have very good depth, a lot of good scorers and good defenders.”

As dominant as the Raiders were with Love, their last two seasons fell short of expectations with one-and-done showings in the league tourney.

Last year’s 94-92 overtime defeat at home to eighth-seeded Milwaukee was particularly painful. The Raiders squandered a 24-point lead in the final 6:26 of regulation.

“We had probably one of the worst losses in Wright State history. We have a chip on our shoulder now — especially because we’ve won the league the last few years, but in the tournament, we haven’t come out victorious,” Holden said.

“It’s definitely motivation. But it’s a very tough league this year. We’ve got a lot of good players and a lot of good teams — especially with the COVID year.”

All college athletes in 2020-21 were granted a free year of eligibility, and the league is expected to have plenty of players coming back for a fifth season.

Love passed up the extra year to join a pro team in France, and Holden also might be ready to play for pay after two more seasons.

Either way, it won’t be an easy decision.

“As of right now, I’ll probably take it,” Holden said of the extra season. “But it’s a long time away, so I’m not going to try to rush to it. I’ll enjoy this year and next year, and then we’ll see.”