Saturday, July 24, 2010

The 1st Jrue Holiday Summer Basketball Camp at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, CA

Philadelphia 76ers guard Jrue Holiday talks to children during his basketball... (Hans Gutknecht)

Former UCLA standout Holiday finds himself a happy camper
By Vincent Bonsignore, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/22/2010 11:43:42 PM PDT

Jrue Holiday looked very much at home this week as he stood outside the basketball gym at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch.

This makes sense, considering the Philadelphia 76ers guard has been a member of Shepherd of the Hills for as long as he can remember.

"I grew up in this church," Holiday said.

Inside the gym, the sound of youngsters dribbling basketballs and shooting hoops clearly could be heard, and if there was any confusion what they were there for and who they were waiting on, the image of Holiday emanating from a huge screen on one side of the gym cleared it all up.

The first Jrue Holiday summer basketball camp was underway, and in a few minutes a bunch of wide-eyed kids would hang on every Holiday word, his every movement, as the former Campbell Hall High and UCLA standout taught them the finer points of basketball.

"That's a pretty cool feeling," Holiday said. "To see their faces light up, to see how happy they are running around and having fun is pretty awesome. For me it's just one of the great joys in the world."

The kids were having a blast, but it's doubtful they were enjoying the moment more than Holiday.

This was Holiday giving back to a church and community that helped rear him, the ones that watched proudly as he led Campbell Hall to three state titles before accepting a scholarship to play at UCLA, and the ones that helped him get through a sometimes-trying rookie season with the 76ers last year.

Just as important, this was Holiday remembering what it was like to be a kid, laying awake at night thinking about meeting one of his heroes the next day.

"Because I was that little kid," Holiday said, smiling. "I was the kid who wanted to go to Kobe Bryant's camp or LeBron James' camp. I know what that feeling is, so to be able to provide a place where kids can come and see me, where they can hang out and meet me and learn a little bit about basketball isn't just pretty cool, it's actually a dream come true."

These are good times for Holiday, fresh off a solid showing in the Orlando Summer League and just a few months away from beginning his second year in the NBA.

As trying and frustrating as his first year was - he was the youngest player in the league, he didn't play much early in the season, the team was losing and he was 3,000 miles away from home - his sophomore season is shaping up to be a coming-out party for the former first-round pick.

Holiday averaged 19.6 points per game in three games in Orlando, earned first-team All-Summer Team honors and flashed the all-around skills that prompted the 76ers to select him 17th overall last year.

In doing so, he made an immediate impression on new 76ers coach Doug Collins, who couldn't hide his excitement over Holiday after getting his first up-close look at him this summer.

"Jrue is so good, he is so good," Collins said. "This is a point-guard-driven league and when you get a young kid like that, that has that kind of confidence, and he has a real great demeanor about himself."

Collins was especially impressed with Holiday's interaction with teammates and the way he explained his decision-making process with them. On several instances Holiday would pull a player aside and outline why he didn't make a certain pass to them or why he felt a play wasn't there.

Little things like that - in addition to the obvious skills - convinced Collins his young point guard has a bright future.

"He could be really special," Collins said.

Holiday's impressive summer was night and day compared to his rookie season, one he spent observing more than playing under then-Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan.

It was a frustrating experience, a young player not used to sitting and watching, especially when the team was struggling and he felt there were things he could do to help.

It was just part of the experience of transitioning from college to the NBA, however, an adjustment more dramatic in Holiday's case after spending just one season at UCLA.

Holiday's freshman year with the Bruins was spent at shooting guard rather than the point, with UCLA preferring senior Darren Collison to run the offense.

It was supposed to be just a one-year deal, with Holiday assuming point guard duties as a sophomore. That plan was abandoned when Holiday surprised people by declaring for the NBA Draft.

He arrived in Philadelphia as a 19-year-old with just one season of college basketball under his belt, then spent the first half of the season fighting for an opportunity to start. It was a trying time, but he got through it with the help of his family and the Bible.

"My faith became a source of strength for me," Holiday said. "I read my Bible, I talked quite a bit to my mom and she'd send me Scriptures. That was extremely helpful in getting me through last season."

Holiday averaged 8.0 points, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals, but his numbers spiked after the All-Star break when his minutes increased from 18 to 32 per game - he went from 5.4 points per game to 11.9 points and 5.5 assists.

"The more playing time I got, the more comfortable and confident I got," Holiday said. "More importantly, I felt my teammates got more comfortable with me."

Still, it was a difficult situation.

"Being on the East Coast, a place I'd never been, and basically being alone for the first time in my life while traveling every other day, that is an adjustment you can't really prepare for," Holiday said. "It's just something you have to experience."

Holiday is glad he went through it, and feels he's better off after surviving it.

The focus now is on the future. Holiday is prepared to be a focal point for the 76ers this year, operating in Collins' up-tempo offense.

"There are a lot of positives going on right now and I can't wait to get started," he said.

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