One would think that at some point in Justin Holiday’s arduous journey to the New York Knicks, he would have given up on the NBA dream, or at least considered doing so.
After going undrafted in 2011, despite being one of the Pac-10’s best defensive players at Washington, Waze would have had trouble keeping up with Holiday’s basketball itinerary:
* Cleveland Cavaliers Summer League team.
* Portland Trail Blazers.
* Idaho Stampede.
* Philadelphia 76ers Summer League team.
* Utah Jazz.
* Golden State Warriors.
* Santa Cruz Warriors.
* Atlanta Hawks.
* Chicago Bulls.
Finally, New York.
“I never felt that it wasn’t going to happen,’’ Holiday told MSGNetworks.com. “I spent a lot of time praying and always asking if this is his plan for me. Either way, I’d be at peace with it.
“I was going to give it my all and try to make it over and over and over again. If it didn’t work out, it’s better off than giving up and quitting. I couldn’t live with myself if I did that.’’
Fortunately for the Knicks, Holiday never gave up.
He has been a great perimeter defender and, after countless hours in the gym, Holiday has improved his outside shot.
That has allowed coach Jeff Hornacek another lineup option. In the team’s 93-77 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Hornacek began the second half with a ‘small lineup’ that had 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis at the 5, 6-foot-8 Carmelo Anthony at the 4 and the 6-foot-6 Holiday at the 3.
After scoring 33 points in the first half, the Knicks scored 31 in the third quarter.
Holiday posted 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting to go along with four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one blocked shot.
“I feel like I showed that I’m going to bring it every night as far as effort goes,’’ Holiday said. “That’s the main thing I want to show. I want to show I can make a jump shot here or there, but the main thing is I just want to help my team with my effort.’’
The root of Holiday’s work ethic is part DNA, part environment.
His mother, Toya, and father, Shawn, both played collegiality at Arizona State. Basketball is in the blood.
When Shawn stopped pursuing his NBA dream, he dedicated himself to helping Justin and his brother Jrue, achieve their goal of playing professionally. Shawn is 52 years young and in about as good a shape as his brother.
Toya was the Pac-10 Player of the Year. Now she is the girls varsity basketball coach and ninth grade dean at Campbell High Episcopal High School outside of LA., where Holiday played his prep ball. Toya is one of those maternal figures who was little time for foolishness.
Toya and Shawn raised their children on a diet of faith, family and hard work.
That work ethic and a high basketball IQ was clear to Washington coach Lorenzo Romar from the moment Holiday set foot on campus.
“I would probably say in the 15 years we’ve been here, two players knew how to play defense when they arrived,’’ Romar said. “Justin was one of them.”
“And he had a real understanding of what to do on offense; where to be on the court. I think he can be a phenomenal coach one day.’’
Holiday smiled when told of Romar’s comments. He heard the ‘future coach’ tag many times as he traveled the world trying to get to the NBA.
Hornacek is one of many coaches who appreciates Holiday’s understanding of the game and his work ethic.
“The good thing is that he is fundamentally sound as far as things we want to do defensively,’’ Hornacek said. “He’s always in the right help position.
“We [as a staff] talk all the time. He makes the right plays. He knows the right stuff. He doesn’t have things that always show up on the stat sheet but he is right there.’’
Holiday, who scored six points, grabbed one rebound and made one steal in the Knicks’ fourth straight win in The Garden, a 104-94 triumph over the Hawks on Sunday, doesn’t see himself as a coach, but that’s a long way for the 27-year-old.
The question of the day for Holiday is this: Where does he go from here?
His answer of preference is, ‘Nowhere.’’
“Of course,’’ Holiday said when asked about finding a basketball home in the Big Apple. “My whole career I’ve bounced around a few places, but I worked to get to where I am. Finding a home is something I want to do and hopefully it will be here.
“The Garden is legendary. The fans are great. It’s New York.’’
Yes, it’s New York. And if you make it here…
Holiday is making it by never forgetting what got him to the Knicks – effort.
With the Knicks leading the Pistons 104-102 in the waning seconds, Holiday tipped a loose ball offensive rebound to Courtney Lee. Derrick Rose converted a free throw for 105-102 win.
On the stat sheet it reads as ‘Team Rebound.’ But every player in the locker room knew who made the play.
“He’s a pro, man,’’ Rose said. “A lot of people overlooked him. I always felt he was pro. Great for the locker room. He’s a great guy to be on the court with. He listens. He’s young.
“I’ve watched him ever since college and was a big fan of his brother [Jrue]. Then, when I got to play with Justin, I was like, ‘Wow, it runs in the family.’ I’m a huge fan of Justin.’’
Holiday’s stats don’t jump off the page. He’s averaging 6.2 points on 41.9 shooting from behind the arc, 2.5 rebounds and has recorded 10 assists, seven steals and one blocked shot going into Tuesday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers in The Garden.
But that’s not the measure of Holiday. Roman recalled a night he had to tell Holiday to leave the gym.
The Huskies had just played a game and Holiday wasn’t happy with his shooting. After the game, he returned the gym to shoot, and shoot, and shoot. Washington had another game in two days. Romar told Holiday to get some rest.
“My Dad instilled in me a long time ago you can’t go out there and just chill and think things are going to happen for you,’’ Holiday said.
“But again, that road [to the Knicks] did help. It helped show me that this was the only way to get here. You can’t go out there and lollygag around. What you put in is what you get out.’’