College Sports

Holmes steps up, tries to keep it going

South Carolina center Mike Holmes goes to the basket against Southern Cal forward Taj Gibson earlier this season.
South Carolina center Mike Holmes goes to the basket against Southern Cal forward Taj Gibson earlier this season.

COLUMBIA -- The book on Mike Holmes has been out a while, well before he reported to South Carolina.

Even at Lee Central High School, the report told opponents Holmes was a great player, an NBA body blessed with the ability to bang inside, then step out and rain jumpers over the defense. He was a ferocious rebounder and should be a major college prospect, once he learned the nuances of the next level.

But ...

The addendum listed Holmes' mental state as his biggest drawback. Behind that easy smile was a nasty temper mounted on a hair trigger that, if exploited, would put Holmes in quick trouble.

"They knew they could mess with me," Holmes said. "I've had to put that aside and not hurt this team."

When he became a Gamecock, everyone saw the points and rebounds he could accumulate, but he was struggling with that other part. He'd take a hard bump and get up and start woofing, or else complain about it to the coaches, which put him back on the bench.

Playing Alabama last week and matched up against center Richard Hendrix, a wide-body who's the only player in the SEC averaging a double-double every game, Holmes' temper was on display.

But this time, he kept it in check.

And the Gamecocks won.

"Certainly, it was good to have Mike Holmes back on the court tonight, being productive," coach Dave Odom said after Devan Downey drained the last four points of the game for a 67-65 win. "It's been a process getting him to understand certain things he's been able to do."

Downey, the hero of the night after a close-to-NBA-range 3-pointer and ensuing free throw with less than 15 seconds to play, also credited his big teammate.

"I see it every day at practice," Downey said. "He's started listening now and working."

Holmes scored 10 points with eight rebounds, putting back Zam Fredrick's missed layup with 4:14 to go and lifting a soft jumper for the Gamecocks' last lead before Downey hit his shots. What was most impressive, though, was the way Holmes handled it when he and Hendrix collided.

Late in the second half, tussling for position, Hendrix threw out an arm that ended up dropping Holmes onto his back, Hendrix tripping over him as the rest of the players converged on the scrum.

Hendrix was whistled for the foul and walked by Holmes on his way to the bench, pausing to bump his shoulder into Holmes' chest. The contact went unnoticed by the officials but Holmes, wide-eyed, turned around in protest before Odom corralled him and directed him to USC's sideline.

"I think he was probably a little bit frustrated," Holmes said. "He's a great player and it was just a little contact."

"(Holmes) didn't back up, I can tell you that," Odom said. "He wasn't afraid."

But he ended up walking away, USC won and Holmes had a new goal -- do it again.

"I've been playing hard the last couple of practices," Holmes said after the Alabama game. "Showed up tonight."

He gets another chance tonight when the Gamecocks (12-12, 4-6 SEC) travel to Florida (19-7, 6-5), which escaped Columbia with a two-point win on Jan. 23. Holmes probably won't start -- USC has had good results with its small lineup -- but after the Alabama game, he'll probably be the first guy off the bench.

Waiting for him will be sophomore Gators center Marreese Speights, a 6-foot-10, 245-pounder in Hendrix's mold. He's averaging just under 14 points and eight boards per game.

If Holmes is truly beyond his fiery past, now's a good time to prove it.

"He's had a lot of very good practices and very few good games," Odom said. "He had his way in high school, came in here and has a lot of Michael Holmeses around him now."

"At first, I was kind of holding back a little bit," Holmes said. "This sure isn't high school. I just adjusted."