I don't know how Tu Holloway feels right now. How could I? The final two seasons I played basketball in any meaningful capacity, I was a kid in high school. My team won the state (in our tiny division), and I didn't ever have to walk off the court holding back tears and vowing to never feel this way again. I didn't even approach the skill level required to play in college. Instead, I pursued a baseball career that was the exact opposite of illustrious. I felt heartbreak then, but I was never in a position in which the team was counting on my contribution to make the difference between winning and going home. Few people ever are.
In an AP photo from late in last year's loss to Marquette, Tu is walking off the court, obviously struggling to contain his emotions until he reaches the relative safe haven of the bench. He was the most important player on that team, the one Xavier's fans - and his teammates - often looked to for inspiration, leadership, and production. Time and again he answered the bell. When the long, athletic guards Marquette bottled him up, he felt like he had let himself and his team down. You didn't have to hear him say it; it was written all over his face.
Holloway's work ethic is legendary in Xavier circles. Even just following his Twitter gives you an idea of where his heart lies. While other players are catching up with friends, spending nights out, or enjoying the life of a young man whose college is paid for by the game he loves, Tu is in the gym getting shots up and working on his game. He is a player who takes his basketball very seriously. The production fans see now is the product of the drive to improve from a freshman line of 5.5/2.0/2.2 on .350/.327/.782 shooting. There is no question that Tu cares in a way that a lot of players don't.
In the offseason leading up to the year, Holloway declined an offer to participate in the camp for the basketball team that was to represent the United States in the World University Games so he could stay in Cinci and work on his game with his team. There was a sense around the city that this year could be special, both for Tu and for Xavier. You all know how that has worked out. As the season has worn on, it has become apparent that Holloway feels the burden of responsibility for this team. It was apparent in the way he buried Purdue. It was apparent in the closing minutes at George Washington. It was also apparent Saturday afternoon at Memphis, when he eschewed distributing the ball to a shooter on the perimeter in favor of trying to hit a contested 15-foot fadeaway.
In five weeks, the NCAA tournament field will be set. There's a chance that this Xavier team will be eliminated by that point. In the next five weeks, Tu's legacy will largely be set in stone. There's always a chance for a final twist, as with Lionel Chalmers' magical run into the Elite Eight his senior year. There's no doubt in my mind that Holloway wants to pilot a similar charge into the postseason. Holloway's desire to put the team on his back and carry them forward has served the team both well and poorly in the past. There are only five weeks left for him to put everything together for one final push. A lot of hard work has gotten Holloway to this point. I hope for his sake that he's able to balance his desire to carry with his ability to distribute; the season - and his legacy - depend on it.