|14 April 2009|
When it comes to watching and learning, the current crop of young players could do a lot worse than to sit down with a few game tapes of EuroBasket 2007 star JR Holden in action - whether it is for CSKA Moscow in Euroleague or for Russia on the International stage.
As with most players and even those at the top, Holden is far from flawless but there are some particularly striking dimensions to his repertoire which don't necessarily accompany every other player who has the ability.
Watch him closely and it becomes immediately apparent that as well as having talent and the all important feel for the game, he also has some pretty vital additional ingredients.
Hard work, application and a fearless approach to making decisions and taking tough shots when required are characteristics that go a long way to explaining his stellar status within the European game.
That of course is also the reason why we were discussing ‘that shot' from EuroBasket 2007 in the first part of the interview. For things of such magnitude rarely happen merely because of talent - they usually require a not so small dose of those extra factors.
Some observers have criticised Holden in the past for perhaps pushing his playmaker role to the limit by doing too much himself but you wont hear anyone in his adopted country complaining too much - or the coaches who have given him the scope to win countless games.
One look at his personal list of achievements and the fact he is due to play in yet another Euroleague Final Four with CSKA in just over a fortnight speaks volumes.
On the International stage, playing as a naturalised player for Russia has never looked a problem but only a privilege for Holden and indeed it is a role that he has clearly taken to his heart - even in times of struggle.
He nailed his colours firmly to the mast with an impressive personal effort during a disappointing Olympic tournament by the reigning European Champions scoring 19 points or more in four of his five outings in Bejiing.
However with his future at National Team level now hanging in the balance and fans having to reluctantly come to terms with the possibility of him being absent in Poland, it seemed a good time to find out more about his approach and how to survive on the big stage.
Not only that, but to also reflect on how it all started over a decade ago with a typically brave and shall we say, 'Holdenesque' decision. For after graduation from College, JR was just a few days away from looking for a "real job" before courageously taking the plunge and of course that first pivotal step towards stardom.
FIBA Europe: As a leader for your club and country and now in that ball park of being a veteran, how do you think you have changed as a player and a person since those days when you ran out in Lewisburg for the Bucknell Bison?
JR Holden: Wow, as a player and as a person I have become better and smarter. Back then I didn't know how much or what it took to really be a champion. As I got older I realized how important working hard and smart is in becoming a champion. At Bucknell I was innocent and had no clue about the business side of the game/sport. Also, I didn't have a clue that I would be a professional. All I wanted to do was play a game that I love so much. Now I know more about myself, my love for basketball and the business side of the game.
FIBA Europe: Back in the day you showed you had the guts to make a brave move from college into the unknown of Latvia to try and carve out a pro-career. Was that the best decision you ever made and do you think you are proof that going out of your comfort zone and showing that kind of mental toughness is important?
JR Holden: I wouldn't say its the best move I ever made but it was definitely very important. It was my step towards where I am today so it was definitely monumental for me. However, I think every decision I made early in my career was very important and significant to where I am today. Yes, I think you have to have a mental toughness in order to play in some countries and at that time Latvia isn't like it is today. You have to believe in yourself and sacrifice some things in order to be successful and this was a part of my sacrifice.
FIBA Europe: I guess that when you grew up in the States you maybe had posters of your favourite players on your wall? Who were they of and do you ever think about how now, half way across the world, kids in Moscow have your poster on their walls. Quite a journey and turnaround in the situation?
JR Holden: Well, as a kid, I loved Kenny Anderson, the Fab Five (Jalen Rose big time), and Isaiah Thomas. Those players and many more were all over my wall. Just thinking about a kid having my picture on their wall is a blessing and truly a humble feeling. I am very thankful for everything that I have been blessed to accomplish. Its truly humbling for me, especially coming from where I am from.
FIBA Europe: You have National team tournaments, Euroleague with CSKA and also the Russian Super league - quite a schedule for any player. A young guy with talent approaches you for your advice. What do you tell him about surviving at the top in all of these big competitions?
JR Holden: I would say the summer time is very important. You have to work-out in the summer time to become a better player. That time is important for your physical and mental growth and you will need them both to play at the top level. It should be fun as well. The regular season is stressful enough. The summer time should be about you getting better and having some fun with the game.
FIBA Europe: How do you approach playing in big tournaments like EuroBasket in terms of how close the games come together and how many games you might play in a couple of weeks? Can you take your foot off the gas and contain yourself or is it always flat out and see how the body and mind hold up?
JR Holden: Honestly, I approach every game and tournament the same. You have to go all out and try to play your best. When you try to cruise or take off, that is how you get beat or get hurt. I just try to focus on that one game no matter how many games we may play in a small amount of time. That is why preparation is so important. You have to be in shape and ready to compete at a high level before the games begin.