Kenny Holmes is averaging 40 points a game. Photo courtesy of Ray Durkin
by Thomas Leturgey
The Steel City Yellow Jackets, coming off of a hard-fought victory last weekend against the Ohio Bruins, make their first trip outside of the city this season to face the Burning River Buckets in Cleveland.
And leading the way will be shooting guard Kenny Holmes, who celebrates his 29th birthday on November 23. Holmes has already made an impact on the 3-0 Yellow Jackets’ early season. He scored 40 points, including a game-winner 3D trey with nine seconds remaining on the clock last weekend. The week prior, Holmes led all scorers with 41 points. During the home and season opener, Holmes posted 38 points.
To have someone who can jump off of the bench and average 40 points a game is a big plus for any team, let alone the defending American Basketball Association (ABA) champions.
“It was a good win for us,” Holmes said of the last-second win against the Bruins. “We called the play, came up off the screen and stayed with the shooter. I got my spot.” And when Holmes got the turnover and the shot, he aimed for his favorite bank shot and nailed it. “I practice that every day,” he said.
Holmes has nothing but respect for Chris Anthony, Sr.’s club from Columbus. “They always give us problems.” (The Bruins and the Baltimore Hawks were the only teams to defeat the National Champions last season.) “But we stayed together.”
Now, Ace Pippens’ club is preparing to travel to play Cleveland and then turn around and come home to play the Burning River Buckets less than 24 hours later at A Giving Heart Community Center.
“It’s a Top 10 matchup,” Holmes says of the showdown between #1 ranked Pittsburgh and #10 Cleveland. While early-season rankings can swing wildly with even one win-or-loss, Holmes doesn’t consider this a must-win sweep weekend. “It’s really early. We always go out to win.”
Many of the Yellow Jackets players, and coaches, talk about the team’s uncanny ability to “stay together.” It’s a mantra that leaders, like Holmes, preach to the younger players.
Win or lose this weekend, Holmes time scoring in flurries is coming to an end with Pittsburgh. In mid-January, Holmes will return to the Newfoundland Rogues, a former ABA team that has transferred leagues just this past September to the The Basketball League (TBL). Holmes had played for the same Newfoundland squad at the beginning of last season, but six games in, the ABA franchise was shuttered due to COVID. That’s what allowed Holmes to return to the Yellow Jackets.
Holmes’ contract says his last game for the Yellow Jackets is January 7 against the Buccaneers in York, PA. This Sunday, as well as the December 10 game against York will be the last time Yellow Jackets fans can “Catch the Buzz” with Holmes racing up and down the court. But he feels the team will be in good hands.
It all starts with that camaraderie between the entire roster. With Co-Captains Tone Reddic, Sr. (back) and Gilmore Cummings (calf), and Claude Scott, Jr. (knee) currently on Injured Reserve, another generation of guys, led by Holmes, have taken the reins of the club. Scott has assisted Pippens on the bench, and Holmes has helped on the court. “We have a lot of young guys,” he says. “It’s not always one player, there are different levels (of contribution). It’s a team effort to put together performances.”
He says the “pace is faster” with the young players and the veterans can “slow things down.” Plus, with a younger, faster team this season, Pippens has promised to utilize more presses. In addition, the team has added rebounding-machine Artis Cleveland under the paint, and they have Dominick McClung and Brandon Burnett to add size the team lacked last season.
Once Reddic comes back, the continued maturity of Tim and James Jackson, the growth of Amaru Caldwell, Brandon Johnson and Cam Wiley (among others), it might take a few guys to fill Holmes’ automatic 40 points a contest. He feels the Yellow Jackets are in excellent hands.
As for this weekend, Holmes adds that “We’re in the #1 position, everyone is coming for us. They come with better performances.” He’s looking forward to the games. But come January 14, training camp starts in Cleveland. That’s a move-up in competition for the hungry Holmes. He feels that he finished what he started with the Yellow Jackets when it comes to the National Championship. He doesn’t know how the team will be in Newfoundland as a number of players won’t be returning, but he’s eager to get started.
As for the ABA’s “Final 8” scheduled in Atlanta? Holmes’ hometown? He’s devastated that he will be in Canada come next April; his mother and friends traveled to Baltimore to see the Yellow Jackets clinch their first championship. But he refuses to say returning is impossible. No one could have guessed that Newfoundland’s season would have been eliminated last year.
But the last year has been eventful for Agent Zero. He is eager to see what the next 365 days will bring.