Tu Holloway's road to the NBA begins overseas
The games taking place at a local gym in Hempstead a couple of nights a week are not your average pick-up games.
They're a mix of indoor discipline and playground rules. There's passing, cutting, pick and rolls, drive and kicks, help defense, and yet, you better be prepared to take a hit. There's pushing, pulling, jersey grabbing -- unnatural habits for many of the current and former college players that circulate the court.
There's jawing, a whole lot of it, and in the middle of it all, commanding respect of everyone in the gym, is former Xavier University guard Tu Holloway, a Hempstead native.
"It gets kind of boring training by yourself, so it's nice to set up these games and come out here and play," Holloway said.
This is home for Holloway these days, in more ways than one, as he prepares for another year of professional basketball overseas, this time with the Belgium club, the Lueven Bears. Lueven is just another stop on the 23-year-old's journey, a path that he hopes will end with him playing in the NBA -- a dream that evaded his grasp less than a year ago. It's been an unexpected road of travels for Holloway, who averaged 18.6 points and 5.2 assists in his final two years at Xavier.
After going undrafted in the 2012, he was signed by the Mavericks at the end of the summer only to be released right before training camp in October. A month later, the 6-foot, 190-pound guard signed with Aliaga Petkim, a Turkish Basketball League team that he thought would further his development and provide him with an opportunity to prove he could play in the NBA.
It didn't turn out how he expected, as he averaged 5.8 points and 1.6 assists in 16 minutes a game. "I liked it over there," Holloway said. "It was a small town, but I'm a low-key guy, so I didn't mind. I just wanted an opportunity to play and I wasn't getting it there. As soon as I was getting more minutes toward the end of the year, there was a coaching change. The coach wanted to go with someone he was more comfortable with, someone he knew. I just didn't get a chance to prove myself, so it was frustrating."
Holloway is trying to rediscover the touch that made him a third team All-American and the 2011 Atlantic-10 player of the year during his junior season. But maybe more importantly, the pick-up games offer him an opportunity to rediscover his enjoyment of the game before he heads back overseas.
Sometime during his senior season at Xavier, Holloway said, basketball lost its fun. He said the enjoyment he felt on the court his first few years for the Musketeers had evaporated, and he increasingly felt himself needing to get away from the game.
Xavier was a top-level program by then, no longer just a mid-major, and Holloway said the pressure weighed heavily on him. Holloway's role in the Xavier-Cincinnati on-court brawl in December 2011, not to mention his inflammatory postgame comments, didn't help, either. He was suspended for one game.
But in Lueven, Holloway can reignite his once-promising career. Jamar Smiley, a close friend and mentor who works closely with Holloway as the director of player relations for BDA Sports Management, believes that it's a good fit for him because team management wants him there and it will let him run the team.
"Tu has a goal to get back to the NBA and my responsibility to him and his family is to help him achieve that goal," said Jamar Smiley director of play relations at BDA Sports Management. "It's a one-year deal, so we thought with him still being young, it allows him flexibility for his future."
Xavier coach Chris Mack believes Holloway will make it to the NBA. Mack said he knows that critics of Holloway say he is too small to play in the NBA, but he also knows the quick, extremely strong point guard who has the talent to play at that level.
Despite the detour, Holloway's confidence hasn't wavered. He said he knows he can play in the NBA and just wants an opportunity to prove his value.
How much does he think he's worth?
"Millions," he said.