VANCOUVER — Jacob Holt admits he was originally leaning towards playing his university basketball in Canada.
One day over this past summer, however, Vancouver College’s then-rising 6-foot-9 senior forward decided to test the waters with a highlight tape he’d put together all by himself.
“I probably got 40 calls… it was surreal,” the affable Holt recounted Wednesday. “I went from having nothing (from NCAA schools) to having around 40 Div. 1 coaches calling me.”
And when you hear the rest of Holt’s story, all about the place he has committed to for the 2021-22 season, you can’t help but imagine B.C.’s most persuasive basketball gods, sensing the karma that was in the air, doing everything in their power to let destiny take its course.
That’s because Holt, the long-limbed and uber-versatile shooting forward, will begin his collegiate career with the Santa Clara Broncos, the same school that over the past near-30 seasons has prospered by recruiting some of B.C.’s very-best boys talent.
And while it was Steve Nash’s arrival in the Bay Area in the fall of 1992 that officially signalled the start of this province’s direct connection with the West Coast Conference program, there is one player even closer to Holt’s geographic roots.
“I had never even talked to him before, but we got in touch and he was able to talk to me about the campus and getting a feel for the (college) game,” Holt said of Marc Trasolini, 13 years his senior, yet coincidentally also a 6-foot-9 forward and Vancouver College grad (Class of 2008).
The connection was made by Santa Clara assistant coach Jason Ludwig, now in his second stint on the Broncos’ staff, the first of which included coaching a then-rookie Trasolini back in 2008-09.
“I definitely felt a relief, and more than anything a reassurance,” admits Holt, thankful that Trasolini, most recently playing professionally in Japan, was able to give of his time to a hometown kid.
And that was big because Holt is also not afraid to admit that the pandemic’s wrath has forced he and all of his fellow Class of 2021 athletes to deal with a lot of emotion and anxiety as it pertains to everything connected to their senior years of high school.
“It was a tough time for me,” says Holt, who through the spring was thinking of staying in Canada to play at the U Sports level, before he sent off his tape stateside. “I had high-Div. 1 coaches calling me, and they said ‘We love you, but we have to see you play in person’. I was definitely lucky and glad that Santa Clara offered me.”
Now, he will have the chance to play alongside one of the most dynamic offensive forces in B.C. high school history. Holt joins Broncos’ redshirt freshman guard Miguel Tomley, the Tamanawis grad who did not play due to injury in 2019-20.
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS
He may not be a seven-footer, but ask Jacob Holt about his series of childhood growth spurts, and you’re reminded of interviewing a certain Kelly Olynyk back in 2009 about the voluminous vertical rise he experienced over the latter stages of his career at South Kamloops Secondary.
“Going in to high school (Grade 8) I was about six-foot so I played more guard,” remembers Holt, whose dad Rene, and mom Sandra, both six-footers, met during a volleyball match at Kits Beach. “But in Grade 9 I was 6-4, in JV I was 6-7 and now 6-9. It’s just been an upward grind.”
The latter is an interesting way to describe his hoops evolution because despite the growth spurts which so often narrow the lens of positional possibility in the eyes of young players still grasping for coordination, Holt never pigeon-holed himself as growing into any kind of pre-defined player.
For him, it was more about learning the subtle art of patience and acceptance.
“If you watched his game in Grade 10, there were a lot of times where he would get frustrated with reffing and other things around him,” said Lloyd Scrubb, the longtime Vancouver College head coach, who is now enjoying his first year of retirement.
“But he mentally became tougher and started to accept things more, focused on what he could control,” added Scrubb. “Now, for a guy his size to be comfortable with the ball, and to have such a good game facing the basket, especially shooting the three, he has really improved over his time at VC.”
Holt’s mentors have been many.
He credits Playmakers’ Dwayne Selby for upping the dynamic aspects of his game, and is so grateful for the guidance he has received from coaches Pasha Bains and Karn Sharda of DRIVE Basketball.
And both he and Scrubb give a lot of credit to the early work done by Eric Butler, whom Holt says he was fortunate enough to meet during a camp held by Butler’s Split Second club.
“I tell everyone that Eric turned Jacob into a player,” says Scrubb. “The difference in his game from Grade 9 to Grade 11 was startling.”
Butler, the Prince of Wales grad who later starred at UBC, is smaller than Holt in height, but the latter said they nonetheless shared a likeminded view of the player he could become.
“In the summer after my Grade 8 year, he took me under his wing for two or three years,” said Holt of Butler, whom your author covered as a 6-foot-4 senior during the 1991-92 season “He saw a lot of me in himself, that stretch-four player who could shoot it. He helped with all of that, with my mobility.”
And while the pandemic has forced Holt to try and maintain his fitness and skill base with his own non-stop workouts, the 215-pounder remains confident that he will be able to help the Broncos in any way they might decide to ask.
A SHOT-BLOCKING THREE-POINT SHOOTER?
In his first and potentially only senior varsity season (2019-20), it was pretty easy to say that as the stakes got higher, Jacob Holt got better.
The numbers certainly bear that out.
Holt averaged 19.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game heading into the provincials, but when the glare became brighter in the Quad-A Sweet 16 at the Langley Events Centre this past March, just days before the province went into COVID-19 lockdown, he averaged 27.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.8 blocks and shot 59 per cent (10-of-17) from beyond the arc as the Irish closed out with a third-place 58-56 win over the Handsworth Royals.
“He’s a pretty exceptional talent and he works hard,” said Scrubb. “He has gone from a gangly guy in Grade 9 to the player that you saw in our (69-52 loss) to Burnaby South (in the provincial semifinals).”
In that game, despite the outcome, Holt shone defensively against the eventual champs, and also tore it up on the offensive end with 31 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and a 4-of-6 night from downtown.
Scrubb can’t ignore the mismatch potential that Holt could well represent at the next level.
“He is still in that stage of going from a boy’s body to a man’s body,” says Scrubb, who in that way compares Holt to his own son Thomas, who while a little smaller at 6-6, eventually came into his own while winning five national titles at Carleton.
“In terms of the guys Jacob had to face, if he had a disadvantage against a bigger guy, he could take them out to the perimetre. He could pull them away, make them guard him, and if they did he could take advantage off the dribble.”
Whatever awaits in Holt’s Santa Clara future, he can already rest assured that he is carrying on a great B.C. tradition at the school.
Nash (1992-96), set to begin his NBA head coaching career with the Brooklyn Nets this coming season, currently sits seventh on the Broncos’ all-time scoring list with 1,689 points. One spot head of him in sixth with 1,699 career points is Trasolini (2008-13).
And when it comes to the depth of the B.C. tradition at Santa Clara, it goes even deeper.
Sean Denison, the 6-foot-11, 245 pound big man, a grad of Nelson’s L.V. Rogers Secondary, played with the Broncos from 2003-07. He, along with Nash, in fact, are two of the eight all-time Broncos honoured as West Coast Conference ‘Player of the Year’. As well, a pair of players from Victoria’s Lambrick Park Secondary spent time with the Broncos. Centre Brendan Graves, who originally signed in the Pac 10 with Cal, later transferred and spent three seasons (1993-96) alongside Nash. Forward Steve Ross would follow, playing two seasons (1998-2000) at Santa Clara.
Jacob Holt’s ticket certainly appears to be his versatility, and when you ask him about all of that, he loves everything about the game, inside and out.
“I think when I was growing up, I didn’t hate being inside, but I always loved being on the wing,” says Holt. “I definitely think I can play one through five… I really think that.”
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