Sport is in Jaren Holmes’ blood. He and his brother were raised with it, and now, they make careers from it. His brother, William, was drafted to the Los Angeles Angels in the MLB, and Jaren has signed his first professional contract with the Leicester Riders.
“I was raised by a single mother, and she always put sports in our hearts,” said Holmes, reflecting on his journey. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a ball in my hand.
“I played baseball too until my freshman year in high school. But when I had to choose, I couldn’t live down the fact my little brother was better than me at baseball! So basketball was my choice.
“I’ve always had a great IQ, my grandfather taught me how to play the right way: making the right play, not being selfish, it’s all about winning. That’s how I was raised.
“Now, when I step on the basketball court, it always feels like home. It feels like I’m supposed to be there. It’s peaceful.”
It wasn’t a straight road to the best conference in college basketball, where Holmes completed his final college year. It all started at Ranger Junior College, under legendary coach Billy Gillispie.
There, he helped them to a berth in the NJCAA Division I championship game, starting all 33 games as a freshman, averaging 12.0 points and winning 31 games.
“Coach G brings a lot out of you as a player. He has a mentality of everyone leaning on each other to get through all his ways of coaching. Playing for him was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.
“I believe that my body changed in JUCO playing Coach G. The workouts he had us doing were second to none, and prepared my body for D1. I give all the credit to him.
“He moulded me into the player I am today, and I take my body very seriously now.”
And at Ranger, Jaren made lifelong friends. Most notably with Caleb Asberry, who will suit up with him on the Riders roster this season.
“Caleb and I have been really good friends for about five to six years. We started from the bottom at Ranger, and we had to endure a lot of trials and tribulations to get where we are today.
“I hold Caleb and his family close to my heart, and we’ve stayed in close contact. Even our mums are close! It’s come full circle now we can play together again, and I’m super excited about that.
“There was nothing to do at Ranger; the town is literally a petrol station and a Subway. We only had each other, and we became brothers. It’s good to be back with my brother again.”
His work at Junior College brought him to the big leagues. St Bonaventure gave him a shot in the NCAA D1, and he took it, proving he belonged at the top level of collegiate sport.
He scored over 1000 points for the Bonnies, putting up 13.5 points, five rebounds and 3.6 assists in the 2021/22 season. He was named to the Atlantic 10 Second Team All-Conference in 2021.
Holmes transferred to Iowa State in the Big 12 conference for his final year of college and continued to impress. He was named to the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team and received an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention, playing under Assistant Coach and former Rider JR Blount.
“It was amazing to get to D1—a breath of fresh air. I worked so hard to get to that level: through every no, the doubts and people saying I couldn’t play at that level. After all of the hard work, faith, prayer and sacrifice, it was something I could never imagine. I couldn’t believe it.
“I always thought I was supposed to be at that level. I just had to change my body, become more athletic and become a better ball player. I proved that this year.
“I was able to play in the best conference in the country and not miss a step. I’m tremendously thankful to St Bonaventure and Iowa State for the opportunities they gave me. They both gave me a shot when a whole lot of other teams didn’t.”
But even after all the rejection and upset that led him to this point, Holmes wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’d go through every situation, every heartbreak that I had to endure on this journey to make it here to the Riders. It’s made me a better basketball player and a better person. It helped me understand that life is hard, and you’re going to be disappointed throughout it.
“It doesn’t matter where you want to go, or what you think you deserve. Timing is everything, and I’m a firm believer in waiting for your time and being ready when your name is called. Keep your head down, work and believe in yourself.
“Keep God first, and no matter the situation, the upset and the heartbreak, I keep my head high and move two feet at a time.”
His assistant coach at Iowa State, Blount, helped recruit Holmes to Leicester. Blount played for the Riders in the 2010/11 season, averaging 20.6 points under Head Coach Rob Paternostro.
“JR always talked about his time in Leicester and said it was amazing. He said Coach Rob believed in him and trusted him, and let him play his game. When Coach JR brought this opportunity to me, I would never pass it down.
“I had a great conversation with Coach Rob. We talked everything through and I liked what he said: the way he talked about my game, and how he wanted me to play my role.
“The Riders are the best fit for me because of how they carry their organisation. It’s a well-run club, with a tremendous fanbase.”
Holmes is now ready to build on the success the Riders have had over the last decade.
“I love basketball, and I love to win. And that’s what the Riders do. They win.
“I’m excited and happy to be a part of this great organisation. I can’t wait to see the fans go wild. I’ve watched a couple of games already and the fanbase is crazy! I’m super excited.
“I’ll bring a winning attitude and work ethic, and excitement, laughter and intensity. I’m also committed to working hard in the community of Leicester.
“It’ll be an honour to meet the fans in Leicester. I’m ready to get to work!”