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After long journey, Cam Holden finds a home with Towson men’s basketball

Since absorbing a blow in a 69-52 victory at Navy on Dec. 22 that left him with a fractured jaw, Cam Holden has resorted to wearing a black mask during practices and games to protect his face. The newest sartorial option has earned the senior small forward for the Towson men’s basketball program a new nickname.

“A lot of people call me Bane because of the mask,” Holden said of the DC Comics villain who famously broke Batman’s back. “I kind of take that joke in. I’ve kind of embraced the mask. At first, I used to fight it a lot and be like, ‘Man, I can’t play with it.’ I got very upset on the bench one time, and [associate head] coach [Pat] O’Connell took me to the sideline and said, ‘Look, you’ve got to embrace it.’ So thank you for him because he helped me embrace it. I hate it, but I’ve got to fight through it to help my team win.”

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That attitude has endeared Holden to teammates and coaches past and present. Tigers coach Pat Skerry firmly believes the 6-foot-5, 200-pound University of Tennessee at Martin transfer has played an instrumental role in the team’s 11-5 overall record and 2-1 start in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“He’s all about winning,” Skerry said. “He’s a great guy, a great personality. He handles his business, and he has fit in.”

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Guard Cam Holden leads Towson in points (13.9) and rebounds (9.3) and ranks second in assists (2.9) and steals (1.5).
Guard Cam Holden leads Towson in points (13.9) and rebounds (9.3) and ranks second in assists (2.9) and steals (1.5). (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Holden leads Towson in points (13.9) and rebounds (9.3) and ranks second in assists (2.9) and steals (1.5). In a 78-66 win against Hofstra, Holden collected 11 points and 10 rebounds for his team-leading sixth double-double of the season and made an impression with Pride coach Speedy Claxton.

“He’s a good player,” he said. “He plays the game the way you want a player to play, and that’s hard, tough-nosed basketball. He’s all that.”

Holden has been a good fit wherever he has gone. At Mary Persons High School in Forsyth, Georgia, he is believed to be the first player in the boys program history to reach the 2,000-point mark, and he earned All-State honors after averaging 28.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.9 steals as a senior in 2017-18.

Despite the accolades, Holden was lightly recruited and chose instead to play at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Florida. In his first year in 2018-19, he led the team in points (15.3 per game), rebounds (6.1) and steals (1.2) and ranked third in assists (2.2), but the Commodores went 14-15 overall and 2-10 in the Panhandle Conference en route to a last-place finish.

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After that season, Phil Gaffney was hired as the head coach, and he challenged Holden to be more active as the first player in his full-court press and the player to inbound the ball after every made basket by the opponent.

“I was like, ‘Yo, I can’t do everything,’” Holden said of his initial reaction to Gaffney’s plan. “But he was like, ‘You are going to do everything. You’re going to make the right pass, you’re going to rebound, you’re going to guard the best player.’ … It was a stepping stone for me to be successful.”

The following year in 2019-20, Holden averaged 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals, and Gulf Coast State compiled a 21-7 record and an 8-4 mark in the conference and captured the Florida College System Activities Association tournament — the program’s first championship in 48 years. The Commodores qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament, but it was canceled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nevertheless, Gaffney said that season’s success would not have been possible without Holden.

“I came in, and it looked like I did something special. The truth is, he did something special, and that team did something special,” Gaffney said. “I was just there, but they were the ones who did everything. They were a great group of kids, and he was the leader. He made sure everyone kept in line and did what they were supposed to do.”

Gaffney said Holden is just as special off the court. He cited Holden’s decision to buy a comforter set for a new teammate who was using his jacket as a pillow because he didn’t have enough money to buy one.

“He was like, ‘I’ll pay you back.’ I told him, ‘Don’t pay me back,’” Holden said, confirming Gaffney’s story. “The thing about Gulf Coast is that it taught me to be a better person. I wasn’t the best guy just doing the little things like being respectful to everybody because you never know what they’re going to do.”

“That’s the exact kind of kid he is,” Gaffney said. “That’s just a true testament to the kid’s character.”

“I feel like this school is very good for me on the court and off the court,” Towson guard Cam Holden said. “I feel like I can give this school my last push and give all I’ve got because they believed in me even though I wasn’t a high-profile guy. I’m proud to be a Towson Tiger.”
“I feel like this school is very good for me on the court and off the court,” Towson guard Cam Holden said. “I feel like I can give this school my last push and give all I’ve got because they believed in me even though I wasn’t a high-profile guy. I’m proud to be a Towson Tiger.” (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Recruited by Arkansas and Missouri, Holden chose to go to the University of Tennessee at Martin because of his strong relationship with coach Anthony Stewart. But on Nov. 15, 2020, Stewart died suddenly and unexpectedly.

The tragedy took a toll on Holden, who was given two weeks off by the school to mourn and reconcile his emotions. He returned to lead the Skyhawks in points (14.9) and rebounds (8.3) and became only the second player in program history to earn All-Ohio Valley Conference honors as a member of the second team.

Holden said despite a heavy heart, he forged on as a tribute to his late coach.

“No matter what the outcome was, I know that man would not want me to quit on his team,” he said. “So I went in there and balled for them. We were unsuccessful, and we didn’t have that great of a season, but we fought. We played hard, and I just know that he wanted me to do it for them.”

Arkansas, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and James Madison pursued Holden in the offseason, but he chose Towson after studying film of new transfers Terry Nolan Jr. (Mount Carmel) and Antonio Rizzuto and veterans Nicolas Timberlake, Jason Gibson and Charles Thompson.

Holden quipped that he wished he had enrolled with the Tigers when he was a freshman.

“I feel like this school is very good for me on the court and off the court,” he said. “I feel like I can give this school my last push and give all I’ve got because they believed in me even though I wasn’t a high-profile guy. I’m proud to be a Towson Tiger.”

Skerry credited O’Connell with finding Holden and alerting him to his potential. On Wednesday, Holden became one of 41 players in the nation to be added to the Lou Henson Award Mid-Season Watch List for an honor given to the NCAA Division I’s top mid-major player. He joins an exclusive club of former Towson players such as Jerrelle Benimon, Brian Fobbs and Zane Martin to make the list.

Skerry compared Holden favorably with Benimon, the former power forward who was a two-time CAA Player of the Year and member of the conference’s All-Defensive Team.

“I think he’s the most complete guy we’ve had since Benimon,” Skerry said. “He’s playing hurt. So I’m really appreciative of what he’s doing, and people are noticing that, his teammates notice it. He’s just got a high IQ, and he’s really competitive, and he understands winning. I’m enjoying coaching him. He’s a good fit. We do try to play through him. It didn’t take long to figure out that we have to move this guy around and put the ball in his hands. He’s really a 6-5 point guard that plays multiple positions.”

Skerry said he and his staff are determined to help Holden, who turned 22 on Jan. 1 and is majoring in communications, play basketball as long as he can, including professionally either here or overseas. For his part, Holden said his top objective is helping Towson bring home its first CAA tournament championship.

“I’m not very big on accolades,” he said. “I’m just all about winning. I came to Towson to win. As long as we win, I’m going to the locker room smiling. If we lose, I’m not going to the locker room smiling.”

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