Wright State’s Tanner Holden had 21 points in his first college game and 18 in his third. But the freshman wing from Wheelersburg hit a lull after that, and he admitted his confidence waned while he was scoring just 41 points over a seven-game span.
Friends and confidants — like his father, Rodney Holden, and personal trainer Ron Bledsoe — did their best to bolster his spirits with encouraging words. But the voice he listened to most was the one inside his head.
“Probably one of my favorite Bible verses is Prov. 18:21: ‘The power of life and death is in the tongue.’ If you hear yourself say something, then you know you can do it. That’s a big thing for me,” he said.
“I always try to tell myself, right before I step on the court, ‘I can play at this level and I can do great things.’”
Holden has done some great things in his last two games. He had 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds against Mississippi Valley State and 14 points while making 4 of 6 shots and five boards against Southern.
He’s also a long-armed perimeter defender that coach Scott Nagy covets and looks as if he could be a rare four-year starter for the Raiders.
“He was really active right from the start (against MVSU). It looked a little bit like the beginning of the year. He had lot of energy and was just making hustle plays around the ball. I was really pleased with the way he played.” Nagy said.
The 6-foot-6 Holden had a pair of 50-point games in high school, and that torrid start may have led some to believe he was capable of being the team’s top scorer.
But while he was clearly under-recruited and overlooked by many programs, few freshmen have that capability. And the Raiders had no need to lean that heavily on Holden with so many proven players around him.
“That was my concern with him, that he’d think, ‘Man, it’s just going to be easy all the time.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Nagy said. “He’s gone through a little bit of a struggle. Freshmen go through more of the ups and downs.”
Holden, who is averaging 9.9 points (fifth on the team) and 6.1 rebounds (third), called his last outing “definitely a huge confidence-booster.” But he doesn’t have unrealistic expectations.
“I’m not going to be a guy who’s going to come out and score 20. Not a lot of freshmen do that. But if need be, if I just let the game come to me, that’ll be there,” he said.
The athletic lefty, who’s shooting 57.8 percent from the field, has impressed his teammates with his poise and production.
“Tanner is great rebounder. That’s what we love about him,” back-up center James Manns said. “And he can shoot and get to the rim and finish well.”
He’s one of only two true freshmen getting playing time. Point guard Trey Calvin has also appeared in all 12 games and has averaged 6.3 points with 15 total assists and just nine turnovers.
They’ve helped give Nagy plenty of options even with star center Loudon Love sidelined indefinitely with a fractured elbow. The Raiders are 4-1 without him and look ready to live up to their billing as the preseason Horizon League favorites.
“I’m feeling really, really confident about our season,” Holden said. “We’re missing a big part of our team, but James has stepped up, and it’s going be great whenever Lou gets back because it’s going to add more depth.
“We’re going to put together a great run, and it’s going to be exciting.”
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