Laidback assassin: An inside look at Reggie Holmes, Morgan's sharpshooter

Reggie Holmes likes to say he cares only about winning, because if the W's pile up, the individual accolades will take care of themselves.

What may seem like a canned quote belies the fact that he really means it.

But the senior guard realized the magnitude of the moment as a silky-smooth two-pointer Thursday night solidified his place in Morgan State hoops history. The basket, which came late in the second half of the Bears' 74-54 victory over Coppin State, pushed the 22-year-old Cherry Hill native past the late Marvin Webster, a Baltimore legend, to become the school's all-time leading scorer.

"Breaking that record, it feels good," said Holmes, who finished with 36 points. "Where I'm from, being the all-time leading scorer at a Division I college, it means a lot."

In four seasons on Cold Spring Lane, Holmes hasn't always been flashy, but there is plenty of substance to his game. He can dunk but settles for layups. He can dangle the ball on a string but keeps it simple instead of trying to break an opponent's ankles with a crossover dribble. And instead of being a ballhog, he uses his high hoops IQ to get his teammates involved.

In it for the win

"Defenses are designed to stop him and put extra attention on him," Morgan coach Todd Bozeman said. "But his teammates can score so it's not all on his back. There's no pressure on Reggie. His desire to win is what’s pushing him."

The self-described gym rat keeps it simple off the court, too. He normally sports a stubbly beard and close-cropped hair. But he rocked a mohawk Thursday night with the number four shaved into his head to honor teammate Anthony Anderson (the redshirt freshman was diagnosed with leukemia before the start of the season). Holmes' one tattoo: a basketball hanging from a rosary, on his bicep.

Holmes, 22, says he doesn't smoke or drink, though he has pondered opening a liquor store because "everybody parties." Instead he watches movies and plays video games with teammates. And he is raising a 1-year-old son, Reggie Jr., with his girlfriend.

"I was scared having a child," the wiry 6-foot-4, 180-pound sharpshooter admitted. "But my father told me this should inspire me more to get better because I have a child to take care of. So I worked even harder."

Despite Holmes' accomplishments -- he is one of the top 10 scorers in Division I men's basketball and was named the 2009-10 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference player of the year -- senior guard Troy Smith calls him modest. "He doesn't like to talk about himself," said Smith, who has been Holmes' friend for a decade.

But he can open up, in a way. Sophomore forward Ameer Ali, who shares an on-campus apartment with the Bears captain, says Holmes can be goofy and talks when you get to know him -- or after he falls asleep. "He'll wake up in the middle of the night and just start talking," Ali said. "He says all types of crazy stuff."

Ali also said Holmes is the first player at practice and weight-training. Bozeman called Holmes, a business major with a 3.0 GPA, the "epitome of a student athlete."

Thursday's Senior Night was already emotional enough for Holmes, who admitted to tearing up before the game. But he said claiming the record in his last game at Hill Field House felt "special while you're home, to do it in front of my family and friends" -- including his parents, his girlfriend and the loyal cheering section from Cherry Hill.

Mark Holmes says his son lived a "typical project life" in the gritty South Baltimore neighborhood. "It wasn't all bad," the 42-year-old truck driver said. Reggie stayed out of trouble and was an honor roll student, said his mother, Tijuana Harvey, 40, a chef. His parents never married, and their relationship ended when he was in elementary school, but they have active roles in his life. Holmes says reporters always ask him how he didn't "go the negative side" growing up. "It was my mother," he said. "I ain't kidding -- she didn't play. She was very disciplined. It was all basketball and school."

Holmes' father, who played high school hoops, bought him a Fisher-Price basketball set when he was 2, and he started league play a few years later. The former Southern High and St. Frances star has "always had the basketball in hands" since, Harvey said.

But today, even though he averages 22.4 points per game for the Bears, Holmes spends much of his time in the team's half-court offense without the ball. He hides in the corner or stalks along the three-point line, waiting for his opportunity. He usually doesn't command the ball verbally, yet it always seems to find its way to him.

And with the flick of the wrists, he strikes.

Seeing potential

When Holmes arrived on Morgan's campus four years ago, Bozeman knew the sharpshooter was capable of breaking the record. It was Bozeman's first year at the school, and the former California coach convinced Holmes to stay home and play for the Bears instead of accepting an offer at Kent State or Wichita State. "When he got here, he could score the ball," the 2009-10 MEAC coach of the year said. "It was just a matter of expanding his game."

Holmes could shoot from long range or attack the basket, so Bozeman worked with him on adding a mid-range game to make him a more versatile scorer. "Bozeman has been telling me that since I was a freshman, working on my mid-range," he said. That's why it's fitting the basket that moved him past Webster came after Holmes faked a three-pointer, dribbled once then drained a jump shot from the left elbow.

"On the court, he's like a wildcat. ... He's an aggressive, tenacious kid who doesn't like to lose," Bozeman said. "Off the court, he's the nicest kid you’d want to meet."

Holmes is hardcourt dichotomy; he is among the NCAA leaders in shot attempts -- connecting on 39.7 percent of them. But his teammates say he's one of the most selfless players on the Bears roster. Bozeman says Holmes, who hit the back-breaking three-pointer in Morgan's stunning upset of Maryland a year ago, is just playing his role. "If you do what you do best … that's what helps the team," Bozeman said. "It just so happens Reggie is a scorer."

You might expect a mid-major star to have a big head that could fill a small gymnasium, but Holmes has his ego in check. He gives polite, terse answers and won't look you in the eye when talking about himself (his record-setting night an exception). But ask him about "Lil' Reg" or how it felt when the Bears won the 2009 MEAC championship and went to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, he opens up -- a little -- and grins.

"Some people go to big schools and never play a minute," Holmes said. "I'm here having fun. I'm fulfilling my dream. My family can see me play. My friends are here. My son is here."

Holmes, who says he's even more inspired since the birth of his son, probably won't be here much longer. Scouts have been coming to get a glimpse of his game. Bozeman, who sent several players, including Jason Kidd, to the NBA when he was at California, thinks Holmes is good enough to play professionally, whether in the NBA or overseas.

"He's definitely going to have an opportunity to make a living playing basketball," he said. "His game still has to grow some more, but he has come a long way."

Holmes admits he'll get homesick if he bolts Baltimore to chase his hoop dreams, but he's almost ready to try to go pro. First things first, though: this week's MEAC tournament. The Bears (24-9, 15-1 MEAC) have won 16 of their last 18 games. "Winning the MEAC tournament is my ultimate goal," Holmes said, his brown eyes focused on the Hill Field House hardwood.

"Boze always told me scouts are looking for a winner. When it's over, I'll be working hard and trying to fulfill my dream."

Matt Vensel is a content creator at b. Follow him on Twitter, @mattvensel.

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