Tu Holloway was in this gym before, with the ball in his hands and with many of the same NBA decision makers watching and evaluating. But the Hempstead product is all in this time.
A little more than a year ago, Holloway participated in the NBA draft combine at the Nets practice facility. However, he wasn't sure he was ready for the NBA, so he went back to Xavier for his senior year. Holloway returned to the PNY Center Saturday anxious to show what another year of school and competing has done for him, and that he's NBA-ready now.
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"For years, I worked on my game tirelessly," Holloway said. "I got a lot of motivation and determination to be a pro. I feel like I've been a pro the last two years in college. I treated every day like I was an NBA player already. I just got to get ready for the process, work on my game and take everything in."
Holloway's final college season was marred by his involvement in Xavier's ugly fight with Cincinnati and his comments afterward that his team has "a whole bunch of gangsters." He was suspended one game by Xavier.
Overall, though, Holloway received national attention for being a physically and mentally tough player at Xavier, where he averaged 17.5 points and 4.9 assists as a senior. Those attributes were apparent according to one NBA executive, who said Holloway played better Saturday than he did during last year's combine.
Holloway scored more last year and Saturday he played better defensively and ran his team in front of representatives of all 30 NBA teams, including a large Knicks' faction. But Holloway may have to distinguish himself during individual workouts because he's an undersized player.
He measured 5-11 in sneakers before Saturday's group session that also featured former Iona point guard Scott Machado, who is from Queens and also was said to have a good showing.
Two league executives said that Holloway played well but his height could be a factor in whether he's taken in the mid-to-late second round in the June 28 draft or gets brought in as a free agent with a shot to make a team. Holloway is motivated by that, having heard many times that his height could hurt his chances.
"It's about your heart and things like that," Holloway said. "People watched me be the best player on the college floor many nights and I was the smallest guy on the floor. If I do it on the college level being 6-feet, 6-1, I can definitely make an impact in the NBA. You look at every team, guys are my size.
Xavier coach Chris Mack agrees with Holloway, saying his toughness and confidence make up for his size.
"He may be a smaller guard but he's a fireplug," Mack said. "He's low to the ground and extremely strong. He initiates contact and gets to the free-throw line. Size never hurts him.
"Tu is never rattled. Bigger the moment, the better he plays. He closes games. Never misses a free throw in crunch time. The Mariano Rivera of college basketball."
Closing time is approaching for Holloway, who graduated last week with a degree in Liberal Arts. He begins individual workouts for teams this week -- for Philadelphia Tuesday and the Knicks Wednesday. Holloway also is scheduled to visit the Pacers, Rockets and Warriors before the NBA Pre-Draft Combine in Chicago. This is the time Holloway has to show he belongs in the NBA.
Holloway, who has been training at Joe Abunassar's Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, believes he's better equipped for the challenge than he was a year ago.
"Coming from Hempstead it's a different process as far as being pro," he said. "You go through things in life that discourage and you say maybe it's not going to happen. Then you have days you really think it's going to happen. So I just think about the process and if I'm able to get drafted I'll be really excited. If I don't, I'll be a little disappointed. But I'll be excited about still being able to play basketball somewhere."