Texas Longhorns Joyner Holmes drives and score against South Carolina Gamecocks Alaina Coates during the first half of a NCAA college baserball game, Saturday, Thursday. Dec. 1, 2016 at Frank Ewin Center, Austin, Texas. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas’ Joyner Holmes does impersonations of superstars, good ones

Posted January 18th, 2017

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Story highlights
  • Joyner Holmes was once promoted to practice with the Cedar Hill varsity basketball team. As an eighth grader.
  • Holmes' mother, Twana, used to get on her husband, Ron, for being so hard on Joyner in backyard, one-on-one basketball games. He'd never let her win.
  • Holmes gets her first name from Olympic gold medalist and one of the greatest female athletes of all time, heptathlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Karen Aston’s had her eye on Joyner Holmes for more than a moment.

Try eighth grade.

“Yeah, I think that’s when she started looking at me,” Holmes said.

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Aston wasn’t the only one who had eyes for this gifted basketball player. And why not?

That same year, didn’t Cedar Hill coach Andrea Robinson promote the middle-schooler to fall practice with the varsity? Didn’t Holmes start attracting what her mom guesstimated was at least 600 letters from college coaches like Kim Mulkey and Geno Auriemma? Hadn’t Holmes been to camps far and wide and made her name on the AAU circuit where one sportscaster in an interview just happened to drop the notion that she was a “female LeBron James?”

That’s so wrong.

Hyperbole? Well probably, but not necessarily.

Texas' Joyner Holmes dances to her player introduction with teammate Jordan Hosey at the Erwin Center. The Texas Women's basketball team played a matinee game against Houston Baptist Wednesday afternoon November 16, 2016 with hundreds of AISD elementary school students in attendance. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas’ Joyner Holmes dances to her player introduction with teammate Jordan Hosey at the Erwin Center. The Texas Women’s basketball team played a matinee game against Houston Baptist Wednesday afternoon November 16, 2016 with hundreds of AISD elementary school students in attendance.
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But after all, Joyner’s a Kobe gal. The athletic, 6-3 freshman swingman has the Kobe Bryant jerseys to prove it, starting with the one her high school teammates gave her on her 16th birthday.

”He’s my favorite player of all time,” she said unabashedly. “I love his mentality. He’ll win the game for you. He’ll put his team on his back. I love Kobe.”

Twana Holmes knew her daughter was going to be different when her pediatrician told her early that Joyner was “going to be off the charts.” She was right when Joyner grew to 6-2 as early as her sophomore year in high school, a season when she also played point guard, a position she could probably manage today with her great handle, court vision and physical skills.

“She’s a huge Kobe Bryant fan,” her mom said Wednesday. “She loves the way he gets to the hole. If she ever gets to shoot like Kobe, she will be off the chain.”

Added Aston, “If she becomes a shooter, she may be one of the best players to ever play the game. If she stays on track.”

Her 6-1 dad, Ron, played hoops at Central State in Wilberforce, Ohio and regularly schooled Joyner on the sport court behind that the family put in behind their two-story house on a one-acre lot in Cedar Hill. There, or on the side basket on the driveway, dad would take his daughter to the basketball woodshed, toughening her up even as he made her cry. He never let her win.

“I was so mad,” Twana said. “Ron would say she’s still a girl, but she’s going to be a feisty girl.”

One that still longs to beat her pops in their rugged, one-on-one battles back home. “That’s definitely on my bucket list,” Joyner said.

It’s a long list. It once included competing in the triple jump and long jump at Texas, which wanted her in that role, but there just isn’t time in the schedule. It includes going into sports broadcasting, and why not for this Texas freshman who does crackerjack impressions of everyone from Aston to her teammates. It includes living up to her namesake, Olympic gold medalist heptathlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, because Twana said, “You give people names that can be legendary and foster greatness, and they will always remember that and try to further themselves.”

Texas Joyner Holmes during practice on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 at the Cooley Pavilion, UT campus RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas Joyner Holmes during practice on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 at the Cooley Pavilion, UT campus RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Holmes is certainly doing that. She came in ranked as the No. 1 or 2 recruit in the nation and hasn’t disappointed, having just put up 20 points and 10 rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Oklahoma, but she got no coddling at home.

“That’s absolutely true,” Twana said. “When she comes home for break, she does the dishes. I tell her, ‘If you can be a McDonald’s All-American basketball player, you can be a washing-dishes All-American, too.”

Unlike Kobe, Holmes doesn’t exactly rain shots from all over the floor. In fact, her range is quite compact. Only at or very near the rim, the same rim she hopes to eclipse at some point.

She’d heard that a UCLA women’s player had recently attempted to dunk. Holmes has tried, to no avail. Not yet, but she will in short time because she’s as athletic a big girl as the storied Longhorns women’s program has ever had. She’s so much more instinctive and athletic than Imani Boyette, the former Longhorn now drawing WNBA paychecks with the Chicago Sky.

“My teammates have told me to try to dunk,” Holmes said. “I can get the ball to the rim, but I can’t get it in the hole yet. Oh yeah, it’s a goal.”

Goals, she’s got. Talent, she has. Sherri Coale, Oklahoma’s curly-haired basketball boss, called Holmes “an unusual basketball player” after watching her dribble coast to coast for an emphatic layup on one play against OU. “My goodness, she’s talented. She has the ability to jump over you.”

She has terrific court awareness and showed off her skills as a passer with a bounce pass to teammate Kelsey Lang for an easy layup Tuesday. Still, she tries too much at times, reason enough for her 50 turnovers this season.

But she’s not your typical freshman.

“I’d say she’s a freshman-and-a-half,” Aston said.

Or a freshman and half a superstar. This young lady is the future of the Texas program, a bright future at that considering Aston’s battle-tested team is in the midst of an 11-game winning streak and is trying to match Big 12 giant Baylor step for step.

And maybe Kobe as well.

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