Wright State basketball: Holden excited to build on standout freshman season

Wright State University guard Tanner Holden adds two against IUPUI forward Zo Tyson during their Horizon League game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. Wright State won 106-66. Contributed photo by E.L. Hubbard
Wright State University guard Tanner Holden adds two against IUPUI forward Zo Tyson during their Horizon League game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. Wright State won 106-66. Contributed photo by E.L. Hubbard

FAIRBORN -- Wright State sophomore Tanner Holden heard a lot of well-meaning advice about how he should temper his expectations going into last season.

Not that it swayed him all that much.

“Even the coach told me not a lot of freshmen would come in and play right away,” he said of Scott Nagy, who was just being a realist based on 25 years of experience. "But the summer before my freshman year, I really tried to become one of those reliable players he could throw in and trust in big situations.

“I knew if I just play great defense and get rebounds, I definitely would have a role on the court.”

Instead of just settling for finding a niche, Holden blossomed into a star. The 6-foot-6, 185-pound wing averaged 11.8 points (third on the team) and 6.5 rebounds (second) while being named to the Horizon League all-freshman team.

He also shot a blistering 61.1% from the field. The school record is 64.2 by Mike Nahar in 1992-93.

“He’s a really good athlete with a really good feel for the game,” Nagy said. "And No. 2, he’s just got a great motor.

“That motor thing is hard to teach. Guys either have it or they don’t. He just has it, and it goes up at game time.”

Holden didn’t need long to make an impact. He had 21 points in 26 minutes in the opener against Central State. And he notched 18 points and 14 rebounds against Tennessee Tech one week later.

But his most mind-blowing outing of the year was a 27-point, 17-rebound effort in a win at Toledo in the last game before league play.

Preseason conference player of the year Loudon Love, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound senior, pulled down 19 rebounds once as a freshman. But Holden had to rely on more savvy than size.

“I just play with a lot of heart. A lot of people don’t want to do that part of the game. It’s kind of being lost — the hustle plays,” Holden said.

“My dad (Rodney, who is Marshall’s all-time leading rebounder), that was his game back in the day. I’ve watched him on film. He taught me a lot about positioning and how the ball comes off the rim. I took all that and used it. When a guy gets an offensive rebound, it’s a huge boost for the team.”

Knowing foes will be more apt now to try to muscle him, he bulked up to 191 by weight-lifting in the offseason at his alma mater, Wheelersburg High School, with Jerod Tilley, an assistant football coach there who also happens to be the father of Holden’s girlfriend.

And while he shot 42.4% on 3′s (second on the team behind James Manns' 44.9 clip), he did most of his work around the rim and wants to develop a more well-rounded game.

“This year, I need to be a better shooter. That will be huge coming into the season,” he said.

“My dad is always telling me, ‘It’s a new year. People are going to be prepared. They’re going to scout you.’ I just have to find different ways to score, and one of those ways for me will be to shoot off the dribble and off the catch — but not lose focus on the things I did well last year.”

He also intends to be more vocal, taking on more leadership duties as an established player.

What Nagy wants for Holden, though, is for him to approach the season the same way he did last year — playing freely without the weight of expectations.

“My big concern for Tanner — because the natural progression is you think, well, I’ll come back my sophomore year and am going to average more points. The team dynamics are different. We’ll probably play slower. So, a guy might be a better offensive player but score fewer points because we don’t play as fast,” Nagy said.

“But he’s developed into a leader for us. He’s very stable. Doesn’t get too high or too low. He plays really hard and is a great teammate, very encouraging. When guys get down, he tries to pick them up. And as the year goes on, he’ll become one of the voices guys listen to.”

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