4,000 calories a day helps UD’s Holmes improve game: ‘I just want to win’

After standout freshman season, forward has put on weight to take his game to the next level

Dayton Flyers sophomore DaRon Holmes II often cooks the classic ribeye steak at his apartment. Sometimes it’s the New York strip. He gets them at Wal-Mart. He also eats at the Bourbon Street Grill and Cafe, Panera and other places on Brown Street, near campus. Of course, he visits Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken, a restaurant he endorses and loves, often.

The path to 4,000 calories takes Holmes, a 6-foot-10 forward from Goodyear, Ariz., on a daily and sometimes arduous journey. If you are what you eat, Holmes is a Ponderosa buffet. He consumes five to six big meals a day and never stops snacking.

“It’s a lot of calories,” he said. “Probably the hardest thing I’ve done in basketball is gaining the weight. It’s something I have to do.”

Holmes sat down in the Skuns Room on the second floor of the Cronin Center, steps away from the coaches’ offices and just above the team’s practice court, on Wednesday to talk about why he’s packing on the pounds this offseason, what he learned from his freshman season and, of course, the much anticipated season ahead.

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Dayton will be motivated, Holmes said, by falling short of its main goals: winning the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship (it tied for second); winning the conference tournament (it lost in the semifinals); and playing and advancing in the NCAA tournament (It was the first team left out of the 68-team field).

“I just want to win,” Holmes said. “I want to win the whole tournament, and I want to win the A-10 tournament.”

Holmes, one of five returning starters, lived up to the hype in his freshman season. He was Dayton’s highest-ranked recruit this century and became the first true freshman in school history to lead the Flyers in scoring (12.8 points per game). He set the school record for blocks by a freshman in January and finished with 81.

Holmes joined Obi Toppin on the short list — two players long — of Flyers who have won the Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year award and made the All-A-10 second team. Holmes and fellow freshman Malachi Smith, as well as third-year forward Toumani Camara, shared the team MVP award.

Holmes played some of his best games at the end of the season. He scored 20 or more points three times in the last five games, including a career-high 28 points in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament against Massachusetts, after hitting that number twice in the first 30 games.

In every way, Holmes laid the foundation for a memorable college career. Of course, like Toppin, who led Dayton to 29 victories in his final season, Holmes’ legacy will ultimately be tied to his team’s success, and Dayton has all the tools to improve on its 24-11 season.

“We can be a lot better,” Holmes said. “We’re doing really good right now. I’m happy to see our progress. We’re going to continue to move forward. I’m just excited. Our strength is being experienced. On the defensive end, for sure, we have a lot of athleticism.”

The weight gain should improve Holmes’ athleticism. 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 230 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.

Lifting weights five days a week for about an hour a day with strength coach Casey Cathrall also contributes to his gains.

“Lifting is a huge part,” Holmes said. “and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger. Casey told me I’m making the right progress right now and he’s proud of me. He pushes me every day. He really gets the best out of me, which is what I appreciate about him.”

Holmes hopes the extra pounds lead to more points, more rebounds, more victories and ultimately to a NBA career.

“That’s been my main goal one day to make it there,” he said. “I’m going to work as much as possible. This season, the goal is to win and do whatever I can to help my team go as far as it can. But (the NBA) is my end goal.”

Holmes elected not to explore the draft process in the spring as his older teammate, Toumani Camara, who finished his third season in college basketball in March, did.

“At first, I was thinking about that,” Holmes said, “but then I thought, I already know what I have to work on. It’s something I could do next year. I don’t think there’s a rush for that. I think it’s more about doing it at the right time. It will come. I’ve just got to get better.”

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The increased strength and weight will help Holmes improve. He also knows there’s much more to the game.

“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.”

Holmes led the A-10 in field-goal percentage (63.6) in conference games and ranked 35th in the country in 2-point field-goal percentage (66.2). He ranked sixth in the country in dunks (82), a number that trails only Toppin, who had 107 dunks in the 2019-20 season, in the Dayton record book.

Adding a mid-range game has been a focus this offseason. He worked on that often this spring with graduate assistants Leron Black and Tyler Carter, who are both entering their second season on Anthony Grant’s staff, rebounding for him.

“I’ve started to realize it’s about the reps and how many shots I get up, but also it’s about confidence,” Holmes said. “I can shoot a bunch of shots off the court, but when it’s time for the game, that’s what really matters. So in pickup, I’m starting to shoot more. That’s not like everything I’m trying to do, but it’s something I’m trying to add in, to be more of a weapon on the offensive end.”

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