by Thomas Leturgey
Kenny Holmes’ journey to the Most Valuable Player of the American Basketball Association’s Championship Tournament is one of the most unique of the season. He started the season as Small Forward for the Newfoundland Rogues, but that wing of the ABA stalled for two weeks because of COVID and shut down entirely at the end of January.
He had played a couple of years previously for the Steel City Yellow Jackets, but had joined the team in Canada at the urging of his friend, former Jacksonville Giants Head Coach Jerry Williams. When the Rogues closed for the year, they were undefeated at 6-0, and Pittsburgh’s team was already 10-0. Holmes reached out to his friends and Co-Captains Tone Reddic, Sr. and Gilmore Cummings. They talked it over with Owner and Head Coach Ace Pippens and by the end of February, plans were in place for “Agent Zero” to come back to the Yellow Jackets.
“He’s our ‘Agent Zero,'” Pippens jokes. Holmes, 28, has worn the number 0 on his jersey since playing for Greenforest High School in Decatur, Georgia, and as a verified point scorer, it’s a nickname that stuck.
Holmes also played for Southern Wesleyan University. Professionally, he has played in Spain, France, and Mexico. So, playing in Canada isn’t that much of a stretch, in theory, anyway.
Newfoundland is 1,362 miles–or 2,192 km–away from Pittsburgh and the most eastern province in Canada. By contrast, the trip between Pittsburgh and Holmes’ home in Atlanta is less than 700 miles.
But he had a chance to return to the Yellow Jackets and made an immediate impact. “Everything happens for a reason,” he said. Holmes scored 42 points off the bench against the New York Hoop Dragons as the team was heading to the playoffs.
“I was able to play a role that was beneficial [for him and the team,” he said. “I was able to come off the bench. Strong.”
Holmes continued to put pressure on teams as he came off the bench in pivotal games. In the Northeast Regional finals, Holmes, as well as Jason Arrington, Tim Jackson and others assisted the starting five to defeat the Wyoming Valley Clutch in the Northeast Championship at A Giving Heart. Agent Zero plugged in with 27 points.
Injuries started to take their toll on some of the Yellow Jackets. Both James Jackson and Brandon Franklin were cut back due to twisted ankles. Franklin didn’t even dress for the Final 8 in Baltimore, but Jackson did contribute, often alongside his twin, Tim. In the first game of the tournament, Holmes was in the starting lineup and the team got by the Las Vegas Royals in an intense and controversial 2.5 hour affair, 139-133.
“It was an opportunity to step up,” he said. “…it could be anyone’s night. There was a lot of camaraderie out there.”
Now it was time for the Yellow Jackets to face the dreaded Jacksonville Giants. Holmes had been on the losing end against the Jerry Williams’ club with the Pittsburgh squad, but he had also tasted defeat when he played with the South Florida Gold a few years prior.
The Giants were ranked #3 and five-time defending champions going into the Top 8 tournament with the Yellow Jackets at #2. Holmes provided a key role in that “upset” by scoring 28 points, second only to Reddic’s 43. Despite that game being an emotional benchmark for the club, Holmes said that the Yellow Jackets were able to “stay locked in.”
Holmes led the Yellow Jackets with another 28 points as they won the ABA National Championship against the #1 ranked Team Trouble from Stockton, California. And Holmes was awarded the MVP of the Tournament. “It was humble to win a championship,” he said. “It was definitely rewarding.”
Even more gratifying is that his mother Sarah–who the team lovingly refers to as “Momma Zero”–was in attendance. Many members of the team had a rooting section that rivaled that of any team aside from host Baltimore, but few traveled further than Sarah Holmes. “It meant the world to me for her to be there,” Holmes said. “It was the first time she saw me play in person in six years; since my senior year in college. She was able to get up there and see all of my hard work.”
Holmes has really enjoyed his time with the Yellow Jackets. “I got to play for my guy,” he said about playing for Pippens. “We have a good relationship. The team is an extension of himself. He is pretty reserved [on the sideline]. He trusts you.”
“Pittsburgh is a second home to me,” he continued. “It feels like a brotherhood, relationship-wise.” He also says that playing alongside Reddic and Cummings has helped improve his individual game. “They provided perfect leadership,” he said. “They allowed me to lead, be a floor general. I appreciate them both. They are brothers for life.”
And while he plans on being back in Pittsburgh for the May 19 Championship Parade, Holmes “definitely” wants to return to the team and help the Yellow Jackets next season. “We have to defend.”