Fierce dunks and big blocks make Holman a fan favorite

by Jabari Ritchie

Midway through his team’s pounding of Penn State’s men’s basketball team last Wednesday, Minnesota’s freshman standout Rick Rickert had nearly half of the Gophers’ points.

But as he has done quite often this season, fellow newcomer Jerry Holman was the one who brought the Williams Arena crowd to its feet.

Moments after Rickert scored his 26th point four minutes into the second half, Holman blocked a Penn State shot on the other end of the court. Fans in the student section ñ many of them wearing maroon “Jerry’s Kids” T-shirts, immediately began chanting Holman’s name.

Holman – who had six points at the time ñ has heard the “Jerry” chant at almost every home game this year.

“That’s surprising, but I’m loving it,” Holman said about his popularity in the stands. “I enjoy the crowd. All they do is make me get more hyped.”

The transfer from Minneapolis Community and Technical College has averaged just under nine points and started only four games in his first season with Minnesota, but Holman hasn’t had any trouble becoming the most popular player on the court.

“At first I was kind of skeptical of that because I didn’t want him to get his head pumped up too much,” said guard Kevin Burleson. “Instead of being too cocky, he still has the work ethic that he had when he first got here.”

While the team’s depth at the forward position kept him from starting earlier in the season, Holman made his presence known with big plays on the court and a unique attitude in the locker room.

“When he’s on defense or when he gets a dunk, he’s yelling at the crowd and he’s yelling at us,” Burleson said. “We’ve got guys on our team that are kind of quiet, so they don’t do that a lot. It’s good to have players like that because they get the team going.

“The first thing I think of about Jerry is he’s a comedian. He doesn’t try to be a comedian, but the way he talks and the way he says things cracks the whole locker room up.”

Holman leads the Gophers with 26 blocks and has more dunks than all of his teammates combined.

“The closer you get, the better off you are at scoring,” Holman said about his 21 dunks. “I just try to get as close as I can, and if it’s a dunk, it’s a dunk. It ain’t nothing but two points.”

Facing then-No. 17 Michigan State on Jan. 5, Holman led the Gophers in scoring for the only time this season. He scored 16, including the game-winning dunk with 43 seconds left.

In Minnesota’s 18-point upset over Ohio State, Holman punctuated the win with a slam dunk with three seconds remaining.

“We had to tell them that you don’t come into our house without wiping your feet,” he said about rubbing in the win over the Big Ten’s top team. “It broke their hearts.”

Before breaking the Spartans’ backs or the Buckeyes hearts, Holman displayed his skill against less-heralded opponents. At MCTC he was a junior college All-American.

“He’s a fierce competitor,” Minnesota guard Travarus Bennett said. “He helps us guards out if we get beat off the dribble because he can block the shot for us.”

The move to Division I has been aided by Holman’s physical presence and athleticism. Not only is Holman 6-foot-10, but his long wingspan has frustrated opponents all season.

“He’s so athletic and so long that guys have to shoot over him constantly,” Burleson said. “Even if they make a couple shots, it’s going to be difficult for them.”

Holman, who graduated from Humbolt High School in St. Paul, said the transition from junior college to the Big Ten has been what he expected ñ hard work.

“This is more like a full-time job,” he said. “You have to give 100 percent in everything you do. It’s hard work, but I’m enjoying it.”

Almost as much as fans enjoy Holman.