Fearless, relentless, and possessed of an incredible drive to win, Tu Holloway will graduate a Xavier legend. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
This is the third of three senior profiles we have run during what we have whimsically dubbed Farewell Week. Joel has already profiled Kenny Frease on Wednesday, and Andre Walker led us off on Monday. Today Tu Holloway will have his curtain call. All three seniors left an indelible mark on the program, and all three will be missed.
It would be simple to cast Tu as the perfect hero in the Xavier timeline. Tu nervelessly buried opponents late in games, saved his best for the big stage, and generally played exemplary basketball. Time and again, Tu brought Xavier back. This year alone, deficits of 18, 15, 14, and 11 fell, and that isn't even naming all of them. Tu beat Dayton at UD last year with a superhuman effort, and then did it again this year in overtime at the Cintas. Yes, Tu Holloway would be very easy to cast as the conquering hero. Sometimes, though, the truth is a little more complicated.
The events of December 10th, 2011 will always be what people think when they see the name Tu Holloway, what they will miss is the truth of one of the best players to ever don the Xavier blue and white. Tu Holloway was more than a gangster, more than just another angry face playing a young man's game. Tu Holloway became what he was not because of an incredible gift, not because of someone else handing him his chances, but because he worked tirelessly. The story of Tu Holloway at Xavier is far more complicated than any one headline.
13.7/3.2/4.1 .412/.337/.852Even the way Tu Holloway landed at Xavier wasn't simple. Xavier didn't really even scout the kid from Harmony Prep before he committed to Indiana. Concerned about Tu's speed, jumper, and generally poor attitude, Sean Miller and Chris Mack both shied away from him. When Kelvin Sampson and Hoosiers collapsed, Tu landed in the Musketeer's lap. Far from impressing upon arrival, Tu logged the slowest ever time for the inaugural mile every Xavier player runs at the start of each year.
Tu opened that freshman year by making 27 of his first 28 free throws. Ten of those came in a win over Memphis in Puerto Rico. The talented freshman followed that up by not scoring in double figures for nearly two months. By the time that Xavier bowed out against a powerful Pitt Panthers team, Holloway had managed a season high of 16 and a season low of zero. More enigmatic than anything else, Tu showed flashes of excellence and petulance in almost equal measure.
Unwilling to follow the storyline of the talented headcase, Tu hit the gym between his freshman and sophomore years, putting up over 25,000 jumpshots. When Xavier took the court again, Tu was still Terrell, but his body and game were changing already. The assist to turnover ratio of 1.1 that Holloway registered as a freshman seemed a distant memory as Tu and Jordan Crawford led Xavier on a tremendous run after a difficult start. Tu was often the second scoring option on the team, but put up 26 in 42 masterful minutes in a double overtime win against UC. In that game Tu went 11-11 from the line and took the game over late. Jordan Crawford's long range bomb was the story against Kansas St, but Tu again scored 26, this time in 47 minutes. A season in which Holloway completed assists twice as much as he turned the ball over and shot 85% from the line didn't even begin to touch the legend that Tu would create in his next two years.
The 2010-2011 season was one of transition for Xavier, Jordan Crawford and Jason Love were gone, taking with them team leads in rebounding and scoring. Jamel McLean came in to the year with an injury, and Kenny Frease entered the year coming off a five minute, zero point performance in the gutting Kansas St loss. The fate of the team would end up riding mostly on the shoulders of the guards from New York. Of the two, it was Tu Holloway who answered the bell time and again.
It started in a non-descript game in the Virgin Islands. Xavier entered the game 3-0, but not playing a convincing style of basketball. Holloway went off, scoring 31 of Xavier's 57 and burying a three pointer after being caugth flat footed on the wing with only 17 seconds to play. Two games later it was Wofford pushing Xavier to three overtimes and it was again Holloway playing 51 minutes and scoring 28 points. In a close game against Florida a month later, Holloway scored the final four points and grabbed an offensive rebound that sealed the game. Despite those achievements the best was still yet to come.
Xavier entered the 2010-2011 conference schedule off back to back losses and looking nothing like an NCAA tournament team. Holloway responded by averaging 21 points in the first three conference games to establish himself as the new leader of the team. Xavier beat Dayton and then rolled Temple by 11 on the strength of 21/9/7 from the suddenly unstoppable guard. Holloway's confidence grew with every dominant game, manifesting itself not as an unapproachable arrogance, but instead the swagger of a player growing into his role as a leader. Xavier traveled to a suddenly good Richmond and Tu responded by destroying them with 33/7/5 while only turning the ball over three times in the face of the unrelenting Spiders pressure.
|You'd have to work hard to find a kid who it meant more to than Tu Holloway.|
In a game against Georgia that Xavier desperately needed to boost their NCAA resume, Holloway shot only 3-13 from the field, but demanded the ball down the stretch and buried 11 straight free throws to seal a vital win. Tu's hot season continued as he took it upon himself to defeat an upset minded Fordham with his second triple-double of the season, recording 26/11/10 after putting up 14/10/14 against Wake Forest earlier in the year. Two games later, Holloway played all 40 minutes an scored Xavier's final seven against Dayton in a come from behind win. That came only five days after missing posting back to back triple doubles by a slim margin with his 12/9/15 performance against La Salle.
Holloway's junior year ended with with an iconic picture of him crying on the bench after the Marquette loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Tu let that ending drive him into returning for his senior season. Tu took to Twitter to make his announcement, and delighted fans everywhere with the news. It seemed like the sky was the limit for the 2011-12 Musketeers, with Holloway and Mark Lyons joining Kenny Frease and talented transfers Andre Walker and Travis Taylor to form the nucleus of a potential Final Four team. High flying freshman Dez Wells only added to the excitement for the upcoming season.
2011-12 started with Holloway playing like a man with unfinished business. Xavier rallied from a ten point deficit at Vanderbilt and Tu hit back to back daggers from beyond the arc to salt away the win in overtime. In what would be a recurring theme, the senior guard let his teammates get involved before taking the game over late. Holloway scored 10 of his 24 in the last five minute period of the game. In Xavier's next game they trailed Purdue by 19 with ten minutes to play before another storming comeback. This time, Holloway scored eleven in the last two minutes to finish the game and crush the Boilermakers spirit. It seemed like the stage was set for a miracle season.
Again, though, the Tu Holloway narrative changed. A 23 point demolition of UC ended in a fight and a press conference that derailed the best start in recent Xavier history. Analysis of the fight and exactly what "gangster" means flooded airwaves, ESPN, and the internet and Tu Holloway was suspended for a game for what was, essentially, a misunderstanding. It took a long time for the Musketeers to recover, and one of the leading reasons was that the joy and swagger had gone out of the talismanic #52.
A brief four game winning streak was ended with a massive loss at Dayton and a damaging home loss to Saint Louis. As the team reeled through a crushing Temple loss and collapses against Saint Louis and Memphis on the road, Holloway seemed to slip farther and farther into a funk. While his raw numbers remained ok, it was clear something was missing. But then, one more time, Tu Holloway came off the mat.
The seeds were sown in an overtime win against Dayton. Holloway flashed some of the resilience from earlier in the year, simply refusing to let his team lose the game and scoring 32 while not missing a minute. With Xavier in trouble late, he made that three pointer and left Dayton for dead. Charlotte on Senior Day was where Tu really returned though. Late in the first half, he scored an improbable jumper to winnow what had been a commanding 14 point 49er lead. Tu scored ten in a frantic final five minutes and killed Charlotte with an end of the shot clock three with 1:32 to play.More importantly, the guard seemed to be enjoying himself again.
|For three years, all Xavier had to do was keep it close until Tu Time.|
The quarterfinal round of the A10 saw Xavier meet Dayton again, and again Tu made his time count, going for 21/5/2 and leading a 17-7 run back into the game. After the win, Tu raced the length of the court to celebrate with the students. A win against Saint Louis in the semi-finals locked up Xavier's spot in the NCAA tournament, and Tu controlled the game with 21/3/5. The first NCAA game was Notre Dame. Again, Xavier was down double digits early, and again Tu led them back. Playing now on pure determination, Holloway scored with 22 seconds left to cap the comeback and give Xavier the only lead they needed. Another 15 point deficit evaporated against Lehigh. While Tu wasn't the focal point (Kenny Frease was), he still went for 21/2/2 in what was a supporting role.
Baylor and an 18 point hole was finally a bridge too far for Tu Holloway. His heroic last minute attempt to save the game fell just short, seven points in 15 seconds not quite enough for a miracle. It seemed almost fitting that Tu walk off the court the last time having lost. His team surrounded him and the senior left, this time with his head held high. Tu Holloway never fit the classic hero mold for Xavier but, even in defeat his will and passion made him one of the greatest to ever wear the uniform.