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Sunday, May 1, 2016

'Laying it on the line' - BVU's Holton drilling for success on and off the court

Monday, January 21, 2008

If Eric Holton's not in the science center, check the library. Not there either? Try the orthodontist or Family Dental.

If all else fails, Holton's probably at Siebens Fieldhouse in another one of his roles at Buena Vista - backup point guard for the first-place Beavers.

He'll be there today when BVU (12-3, 6-0 IIAC) hosts Cornell three days removed from a 64-62 road thriller over league heavyweight and rival Loras.

"We're getting ready for a game and maybe I have classes all morning, a 3-4 hour lab in the afternoon, and then go straight to practice, and then eat supper and then do homework all night," says Holton, a biology major who plans to attend dental school after he graduates this spring - "I don't have a whole lot of those days anymore because my labs have been limited based on getting those done, but some of those days were pretty tough and tiring."

If the 5-foot-11 senior from Alta isn't the most serious guy on the team, he's probably the busiest.

"Being a biology major has been pretty difficult trying to overload myself with basketball and biology. It has (gotten easier) because I'm not taking as many credits (now)," said Holton, who earned all-state honors for his floor work, and was named both an Army and Marines scholar athlete while at Alta. If dental school doesn't work out, he's also interested in physical therapy. "Biology's a tough degree ... Definitely when we're just back in the dorms, (I'm) maybe going to the library when all the other guys are having fun, watching a movie, (playing) video games or whatever.

"That's always been tough, but I figure it'll pay off in the long run."

Oh, it will, says Beavers coach Brian VanHaaften, who knew Holton long ago from basketball camps, when the understudy barely came up to his waist.

"No. 1, the real reason we wanted him is because he's such a good guy," said VanHaaften, who has a .758 career winning percentage midway through his 12th year at the helm. "He's got a high moral standard and he's a leader. That's what you want out of your point guard and I haven't been disappointed since he's been here.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Eric will make a lot of money. He'll be a great father, a great husband - he's just got all those things. He'll live a quality life the rest of the way, no doubt."

On the hardwood, the son of Mike and Jill Holton of Alta is finding open teammates and popping the occasional 3-pointer while providing root canal defensive pressure on opposing point guards.

"He's always a guy that'll do anything coach asks," said senior guard Jeff Bissen, a Harlan product and one of nine Beavers averaging at least 4.9 points. "He's always that coach out on the floor. He knows when to pass and when to shoot.

"He's always studying and probably has the toughest class load, but he balances it so well that you can't really tell when he's having a bad day. He's a low-key guy but isn't afraid to take control.

"He's a little leader, and people don't know it, but he's a fiery guy."

Holton is averaging 3 points and 1.4 rebounds while seeing a little over 13 minutes a game this season. He has 18 assists against 13 turnovers and has made 7-of-19 from downtown, where he's shot right around 40 percent for his career. He matched his career high of 12 points earlier this month against Wartburg.

He and Bissen are the team's most proficient free throw marksmen, each at 86 percent.

Holton "just does what all point guards need to do," VanHaaften said. "The thing about him is that he might not be real athletic, but he makes up for that by being a real good shooting point guard. Bottom line is, he's one of our top 10 guys, he does a great job out there.

"I think he's a guy that everyone really likes to be around."

VanHaaften and Holton have more in common than just their Buena Vista County ties. Each went from being the best player on his high school team to a reduced role as a sophomore debuting at the collegiate varsity level.

"From being a starter when I first picked up a ball, it was very difficult at first. But within the system," said Holton, "you've got to understand that we were all the best players on our team, and every one of us has certain roles. One of us can have a breakout game on any given night.

"We just kind of pick up the slack for each other if someone's not playing well."

It's not necessarily an easy situation to be in, but it's not uncommon, said VanHaaften, who played for Northwestern College in Orange City.

"It's quite a few of our guys. Sometimes the sophomore year is the biggest change because you go from a starter in high school, a starter on your jayvee team here, and now all the sudden you're playing 12-15 minutes a game," he said. "Now he's really embraced that role. The leadership he brings when he comes in has been outstanding."

Holton rarely hoists what his players or coaches would call a bad shot. A penetrate-first player in high school, he's discovered that the next level is more inside-out.

"We've learned that (if you) get the ball inside first, you're going to get better looks from the arc," he said.

At every level of play, a conference championship has eluded Holton. Is this the year?

"I think we can go as far as we believe we can go," said Holton, who's played in the national tournament two out of his three seasons on the varsity. "I think once we get to the national tournament, I think we can do some damage."

VanHaaften called this club the closest-knit team he's coached in his 12 seasons with the Beavers, and said Holton is a big reason for that.

Holton attributes the camaraderie to VanHaaften's recruiting philosophy.

"It might just be the personality," he said. "Coach has always said that he recruits guys who may not be the best talented all-around, but he finds the guys that are going to fit well into his system, have good attitudes, want to play for the right reasons.

"I think that's one key to our success."

"This group of guys right here - the guys that are juniors and seniors - have really meshed together as people," VanHaaften said. "We have diversity in that group ... It's a nice mix and I think they all appreciate each other really well."

They have guys from bigger cities like Omaha (Andre Wagner, the team's leading scorer) and Kansas City (Rahn Franklin Jr., who last fall proved he could cover gridirom receivers as well as dole out assists on the hardwood).

Guys who grew up on the farm.

Guys from metro high schools. Guys from podunks.

And guys like Holton, who come from just a few miles away and find out, as he says, "Home is as far away as you want it to be."

Said Bissen: "When people look at us, they probably think, 'Oh, that little red-headed kid can't play.' But he's one of the best players on the team. He lays it on the line each and every day, and that's what BV basketball is all about."

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