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Diminutive but tough, Holloway comes up big for Xavier on court


Can a 6-foot point guard dominate in college basketball?

Is a 185-pound-with-lead-in-his-pockets junior at Xavier imposing enough to bend games to his will? Tu Holloway's given name is Terrell. When he was 4 years old, the fellas at the barber shop in Hempstead, N.Y., decided he was so small, they'd call him TuTu: They figured he looked to be half that age.

Can a kid called Tu be the reason his team wins lots of games and earns yet another trip to the NCAA tournament?

Holloway fixes me with a cold, quizzical stare -- Get that weak stuff outta here -- and says, "Of course.''

I throw out a couple names. Allen Iverson did it, I say. Jameer Nelson.

"Kemba Walker,'' Holloway says.

Well, OK. Combining his points and assists, Walker had a part in 46.3 percent of UConn's points as recently as a week ago, according to Stats Inc. He's averaging 23 points a game, and at 6-1, is only an inch taller than Holloway.

"Nolan Smith.'' Holloway cites the Duke guard, who averages 21 a game. He's got Tu by two inches and at least 10 pounds. Darius Morris, the Michigan guard who accounts for more of his team's offense than any player in Division I -- 53.4 percent -- goes 6-4 and 195.

There are others. None is as slight as Holloway. What Tu is doing at Xavier this winter is approaching the remarkable. Last week, Holloway ranked fifth (44.8 percent) on the Stats Inc. list.

He leads the Atlantic 10 in points and scoring average and is second in assists at five a game (not to mention just under five rebounds per). He averages 38 minutes a game and 11 times has played at least 39 minutes.

When Holloway isn't playing well, neither is Xavier. In the Musketeers' most recent loss, at Charlotte last Wednesday, Holloway went 3-for-17 from the field. In Xavier's only other loss in 2011, at Cincinnati, Holloway had five points while missing 11 of his 13 shots.

Can a 6-foot point guard dominate in college basketball?

Maybe, if the kid grew up the way Holloway did.

He was 12 and living in Hempstead, on Long Island, when he found himself in a high-stakes game of 1-on-1 with a kid two years his senior. Holloway already had begun to establish himself, on the summer asphalt of some of New York City's best-known playgrounds. He wasn't thrilled about being second-best in his own town. Kareem Linton "might have been better than Tu, back in the day,'' says Tu's father, Terrell Sr.

That particular day?

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No one knows.

A crowd of 100 or so gathered around the court, pushing near the three-point line. Bets flew. "It was up to like $1,000,'' Holloway recalled.


"We never finished,'' said Holloway." There was a fight.''

Anxious bettors, worried about losing the milk money?

"Nah,'' Holloway said. "Me and (Linton). He started throwing punches. I was winning. I was embarrassing him.''

He doesn't budge. It's an acquired skill, taught by his father. The elder Holloway started driving Tu to the city when Tu was 8, to compete in the legendary summer leagues, on the teams everyone had heard about. "I wanted to see how good he was,'' Terrell Sr. said. "The first day he was there, he came home with a trophy bigger than he was.''

For several years, until Tu started taking a couple trains into the city himself, father and son made the trip in from Hempstead to Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx, five games a day, every day. Tu ticks off the names of the players with whom he competed:

UConn's Walker, Villanova's Corey Fisher, Truck Bryant of West Virginia. Former Louisville guard Edgar Sosa, Curtis Kelly at Kansas State.

"It made me tougher,'' said Holloway.

So did his dad. When Senior wasn't playing taxi driver into town, he'd play with Tu and other kids from the neighborhood. Senior had a few rules he applied to his only son:

"You don't call fouls,'' Terrell recalled saying. "You get hit, suck it up, play ball. Ain't no crying. Don't let me see you crying.'' And this: "Never work with your head down. Nobody's going to give you nothing. You have to be better than everybody else.''

On Sunday at home, as Xavier struggled in the first half against St. Louis, Holloway made just two of five shots. He went 17 minutes between baskets. Hardly dominating.

Then he popped for 20 in the second half.

The Billikens "were jumping ball screens, playing with a lot of energy in the first half,'' Holloway said. "To keep up that pace was incredible. I just stuck with it (and) I think they wore down'' after halftime. That was an interesting statement, coming from a player who averages 38 minutes a game.

Xavier coach Chris Mack conceded that he worries about Holloway's playing time. "I do, but what's the alternative?'' Mack said.

The Musketeers don't want to find out. They like to think they're past being a Tu-man team. In the St. Louis win, 7-foot junior center Kenny Frease had 12 points in the first half, many against the Billikens 6-6 forward Brian Conklin, but didn't score in the second half. Holloway's partner in the backcourt, Mark Lyons, has played well lately, but has had games when he disappeared.

"We have several players who can make big plays down the stretch,'' said Mack. "Early in the season, it was Tu Holloway and maybe another. I don't feel like we have to give the ball to Tu and get out of the way down the stretch.''

As March looms, the Musketeers prefer not to test that theory. They struggled through a potent early schedule. They're 8-1 in the A-10. They're poised for their 10th NCAA tournament run in 11 years. They're led by the shortest player on their team. In stature, anyway.

Can a 6-foot point guard dominate in college basketball?