High School Sports
Justin Holt: Turning his game and his life around
Seattle Times staff reporter
TACOMA — While his Lincoln teammates huddled around the trophy, Justin Holt was lying down on the court at the Tacoma Dome.
Front and center while parents took photos, Holt rested his head on his left hand while he gripped a basketball with his right. It was a centerfold pose after Holt finished his high-school career with a second consecutive Class 4A state championship. It was the final bow of the season for The Seattle Times' boys high-school state player of the year.
The 6-foot-6 senior averaged more than 22 points, nine rebounds and three steals as he completed a three-year turnaround with his game and his grades. As a player, he led the defending state champions to a second straight title with his chest-to-chest defense. As a student, he took four summer-school classes last year so he could graduate this spring. In just three years of playing organized basketball, he earned a basketball scholarship to Oregon State.
"He's the kind of player who's going to make me look like a better coach," said Ritchie McKay of Oregon State.
In February, Holt set a West Central District scoring record with 45 points. In March, he finished third in scoring at the Class 4A state tournament, third in rebounding and first in steals.
His championship game against Ferris wasn't his most remarkable offensively as he scored a season-low five points. But his defense never stopped or stuttered as he guarded the opposing team's top scorer for the third straight game. First it was Garfield's Brandon Roy. Then Stanwood's Marcus Steele and finally Ferris' Sean Mallon, who scored only four points in the first half but finished with 20.
After guarding Mallon in the championship game, Holt pointed at a silver-dollar-sized scab on his right knee and bruises on both thighs.
"I need to take a little break," he said.
This Saturday, he will play in Portland as one of 12 Washington seniors on an all-star team that will play Oregon's all-state seniors. The quick turnaround is something with which Holt is familiar.
As a freshman, he didn't attend school much. His father was absent and his mother suffered from substance abuse and domestic violence. As a sophomore, Holt started turning around his grades and turned out for basketball. He had long arms, huge hands and giant potential as a scorer. His defense was easier to measure.
"There wasn't any," Lincoln Coach Tim Kelly said. "That's typical with a kid with a lot of talent. (Offense) that's the only side of the floor that you play on. Defense, that was the thing that was lacking."
And defense is the bedrock of Lincoln's team. The Abes don't even touch a ball for the first three or four days of practice in November. They run the mile. They run the steps at the Lincoln Bowl. They run lines. They run so much that Kelly places trash cans around the court.
Holt worked himself into one of the best defenders on the team with his combination of size and speed. He had eight steals in one half against a team earlier this season.
"He anticipates very well," Kelly said. "He reacts and breaks people's backs by coming up with a steal and then the dunk."
And maybe more than just a dunk since Holt is a showman who treats the court as his stage. He flashes wide eyes of disbelief when he is called for a foul. He put his finger to his lips to shush opposing fans.
And as his teammates gathered around the state-championship trophy, Holt took center stage by laying down in front. He had earned a moment to relax.
Danny O'Neil can be reached at 206-515-5536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.