Pay You Back

Nov. 6, 2011

By Jon Cooper

Mfon Udofia should record plenty of assists this season courtesy of Kammeon Holsey.

Yet, none will be as important as the on-going one the junior point guard gave to the redshirt sophomore center over the 2009-10 and early 2010-11 seasons.

The assist that Udofia gave Holsey in that time won’t show up in a box score, as, for the most part, it didn’t even take place on the basketball court.

It started in the summer of 2009. Udofia, an incoming freshman, was roommates with Holsey, also an incoming freshman forward, who tore the ACL in his right knee on August 1 and had surgery to repair the ligament nine days later. He spent that entire season rehabilitating the knee and was still working his way back early in 2010-11.

“He helped me throughout the process,” Holsey recalled. “I’d come in, I was down at first and he would tell me, ‘You’ve gotta get better. You’ve gotta grow from this.’ He was always staying positive. He’d help me sometimes with some of the things I needed but I couldn’t do. He had a car, so he helped me if I needed to get groceries or go to rehab. We developed a good bond.”

“We’ve had a good relationship from the beginning,” said Udofia. “When he went down with his knee injury we were all sad for him. He was sad but he worked very hard to get his knee back right.”

Udofia, a Stone Mountain native and Miller Grove High School star was relentless in his positive attitude and refused to let Holsey get down.

“I just kept telling him, ‘Don’t ever quit. Just keep going after it,'” Udofia said. “When he went down I felt really bad for him. He was down for a couple of months. But I just told him, ‘Keep your head in there. You’re going to be alright. It’s your freshman year. You’ll be able to redshirt. You’re going to get to play. You’re going to be alright.’ He did that. Every day he worked very hard with the strength and conditioning coach and the trainers (especially Athletic Trainer Richard Stewart) to get his knee back healthy.”

Holsey, a Sparta native and Hancock Central star, remembers some of those days when it seemed like he’d never get back on the court. Yet, through it all, he knew he had his roommate to lean on.

“He knew what I was going through. It was kind of mentally tough,” he said. “Mentally, you’re going to have days by yourself watching them practice, knowing you want to get on the court, knowing you can’t do anything to help them. It makes you feel like, I know sometimes I felt like I wanted to cry, but it was part of the process. I think it helped me get stronger and better. There would be some days that I would work harder than they did in practice. It was like taking baby steps all over again, crawling to walking.”

Holsey made it back last season, playing in 30 games, including 12 starts in a 13-game stretch from Dec. 31 through Feb. 13, averaging 3.4 points and 2.7 rebounds in 14.4 minutes, including scoring a career-high 18 points in his ACC debut, at Boston College on Jan. 8, when he shot 8-of-10 and 2-for-2 from the line.

Over the season’s final 12 games, Holsey created a niche for himself as a valuable bench player.

As he began being a contributor on the court, he also was starting to become an important valuable sounding board off it for his roommate, who was experiencing struggles in his game.

Udofia, who had started the first 25 games as a freshman before being moved into a reserve role, saw history repeat in a not-so-positive way as a sophomore. He started Tech’s first 11 games his sophomore season before once again having to deal with losing his starting spot and seeing his time reduced.

Now it was Holsey’s turn to do some psychological healing. He said that through it all the ability to communicate was the key to their relationship.

“Last year, we came to the room after some frustrating games, he would be down, but we always talked,” he said. “We talked about anything. He was like a brother to me. We talked about any personal problems or anything going on outside of basketball. We had positive talks. Just like how he told me about being positive. We talked about staying positive despite the negativity. Just stay positive. You’ve got to believe in yourself.”

Heading into the 2011-12 season, the two are no longer roommates, but their friendship is as strong as it’s ever been, as is their ability to communicate, sometimes without words.

“He’s a silly guy. He keeps me laughing,” said Holsey. “Sometimes I’ll come to the locker room, he’ll look at me, I’ll look at him, and we’ll both start laughing. No one knows what we’re laughing at, but it’s just being around him, going on three years.”

When words — sometimes, harsh ones — are used Holsey will be able to navigate through and get straight to his intent.

“I’m looking forward to working with him,” said Holsey, who says he has gotten faster and has increased his vertical jump by seven inches (from 30 to 37). “He’s always going to stay on me. If I mess up he’s always going to let me know. He may get loud in his tone but I understand where he’s coming from. I respect him. He respects me. So I won’t get mad at him because he singles me out. I know he just wants us to get better and he knows that we have to keep working hard.”

Udofia and Holsey hope their positive energy and belief in themselves and each other is contagious for the rest of the team, which has been pretty much ignored in preseason polls — they were picked 10th at ACC Media day.

“I think there are going to be a lot of teams that take us lightly because once you read all the preseason magazines, preseason rankings, they’ve got us down at the bottom of the ACC,” said Udofia. “But we see all those things and we use them as motivation. We’re going to work hard and we’re going to work hard each and every night.”

Udofia said his former roommate could be one of the biggest surprises of the season.

“Last year he was kind of timid on it but this year you’d never know he had an ACL injury,” he said. “He’s not complaining about it. He’s just ready to work hard each and every day. Some days, when you see him when he sprints, you wouldn’t even know his knee was bad. He’s just a very hard worker and I feel like he’s going to have a very successful year this year.”

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