ASHLAND — Tristen Holmes’ college plans didn’t always include basketball.
It was easy to understand why: On top being an all-state selection in basketball, Holmes was a highly-touted defensive back during his prep career at North Medford High School.
“I never really thought about (playing basketball) coming out of high school because I was planning on playing football,” Holmes recalls.
But, when it was time to make a decision back in early 2015, two things influenced him most — the simple love for basketball and plenty of conversations with Southern Oregon University’s longtime head coach, Brian McDermott.
College football’s loss has proven to be college basketball’s gain.
These days, Holmes, SOU’s senior point guard, has left the collegiate football career for his younger brother, Tre, who’s a sophomore defensive tackle for the Raiders. “I don’t need somebody like my brother laying on top of me,” the elder Holmes said with a laugh.
“Basketball’s just always been my favorite sport to play,” he added. “Growing up in the Rogue Valley, SOU is never really like a main option because everybody’s always thinking about growing up, moving out of the valley, but it’s really been the perfect situation for me and I really couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
More than 1,000 career points — and counting — later, Holmes has certainly made his mark at SOU.
And with the final stretch of his collegiate career coming over the next two months, he’s out to make the most of it.
“It’s definitely a different mindset from junior, sophomore or freshman year when you know that you have more basketball to go,” Holmes said. “My mindset this year is just to try and win as much as possible. Really, the main goal is to make it back to nationals and just have as much basketball as I can.”
Being a point guard is a natural leadership spot. But this season, following the graduation loss of two of the Raiders’ most experienced backcourt players — Ben DeSaulnier and Kenny Meyer — and there being just three seniors on the roster, the leadership burden has been placed on Holmes’ shoulders.
Instead of the two departed veterans — who combined to start 182 games from 2015-18 — alongside Holmes, in has stepped a pair of freshmen, Tez Allen and Teron Bradford.
There is more youth in the Raiders’ backcourt, but there’s still talent that’s growing, and Holmes is happy to lead them forward.
“It’s definitely a different role that I have to play this year, when last year I could really lean on Ben and Kenny for that leadership,” Holmes said. “This year, it’s me that’s taken over in that spot, so it’s kind of taking the pressure off them and putting it on myself so I can put them in the right spots so that they can be successful. They’re really coming into their own this year, and with such a young team — especially them being freshmen — we’re hoping the best is yet to come from them this year.”
Holmes is also leading the Raiders simply in terms of his on-court production.
His 18.3 points per game not only leads a well-balanced SOU team, but it ranks fifth in the Cascade Conference. After starting the season at the off-guard spot with Allen’s arrival in the starting lineup, Holmes has returned to the point in recent weeks and continued to lead the Raiders’ offense.
In SOU’s first seven CCC games, Holmes has scored at least 20 points six times.
Holmes also leads the team in assists per game (3.2) and ranks third in rebounds (5.4) despite usually being one of the shortest players on the court.
“I just really try to take it upon myself to fill the holes that we had from last year to this year and knowing what we need as a team each game coming in, that I need to be the first to step up being the senior leader,” Holmes said. “I’ve really just taken it upon myself to do what’s best for the team game by game.”
It doesn’t hurt that he can always channel the same kind of mentality he had as a football player whenever needed.
“Football is a different kind of situation where you have to have a certain amount of tenacity and fight every time you step onto the field. I try and take that onto the court as much as I can,” Holmes said. “It’s that saying of ‘Don’t give an inch’ and trying to stop everybody that you can whether it’s on defense or trying to be aggressive on offense.”
Holmes knows what his future is beyond his playing days at SOU — he’s already been accepted into the Oregon Health & Science University’s dental program — but it’s the final chapter of his basketball ball career that’s still yet to be written.
It’s pretty clear what the biggest goal is: It’s about trying to get the Raiders back to where they were at the end his freshman season — the NAIA national tournament.
“It really couldn’t be any better to have people who supported me in high school come to my college games,” Holmes said. “Being able to go back to Medford and have people come up to you and talk about how proud of you they are, it’s just really gratifying that I was able to do something positive after high school.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.