To the Hoop

When Jordan Holmes ’17 fi rst stepped on the court for Denison her freshmen year, she was timid. “I was 17—I was lost, trying to find my way,” says Holmes. Over the next four years, though, she began to get her bearings, finding her way to the starting lineup, then into the headlines, and—eventually—into the NCAA record book.

Holmes graduated in May as the Division III career leader in rebounds, blocked shots, and triple-doubles, and is the only Division III player ever to tally 1,000 points, 1,500 rebounds, and 500 blocked shots. Holmes ranks fourth in women’s college basketball history—in all divisions—in total rebounds, and third in blocked shots. “And she led the country in blocked shots all four years,” says head coach Sara Lee, finishing out the exhaustive list.

But Lee remembers that lost 17-year-old. “She was not aggressive, not physical,” says Lee. “But she could play—she’d score every time if she got it close to the basket, grab every rebound.”

Lee noticed a change in Holmes during her junior year: On the sidelines, she’d see her counsel an underclassman. In huddles, she’d direct. At crucial parts of the game, she’d gather her teammates at the free-throw line. “She wasn’t the one who was going to scream things,” says Lee. “But she learned to lead in her own distinctive way.”

While Lee would often stress the importance of leadership to her players, she thinks Holmes’ junior-year transformation was sparked by an off-court experience: Holmes’ involvement in Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically black sorority, where she served in a number of leadership roles, including vice president. “That might have opened her up more than anything on the basketball court,” says Lee. “Basketball was something she had always done. The sorority was something new.”

Holmes says the on-court transformation still didn’t feel totally natural, but both she and her coach knew it was necessary. “Jordan was our best player, and she had been our best player for years,” says Lee. “So her teammates looked to her to put the game on her shoulders. They needed her to be that player who feels comfortable taking the shot at the end of the game.”

Overcoming her doubts was a collective effort, Holmes says. “Coach Lee and my teammates helped be a support system in a way—we built that family bond.” Lee became a confidante as well as an off-court mentor, offering Holmes and her teammates training on everything from professional etiquette to building a strong LinkedIn profile. “She helped us build real life skills,” says Holmes.

As Holmes prepared to embarks on life after college, she had a chance to consider her body of work. “In the moment, I never paid much attention to the stats,” says Holmes, who graduated in May. “But now that it’s over, I’ve had time to reflect.” Maybe, she says, the numbers will be an indelible mark—a kind of legacy. “And hopefully my legacy will last.”

Published July 2017