I had a developing story take most of my time Wednesday, which is why I didn’t post a follow-up to an interview I had with Ryan Hollins.
But I’m back.
Several coaches who took part in the Ryan Hollins’ three-day basketball skills camp stood out, among them: Thomas Scott, son of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott. Thomas played at Pasadena City College and served as an assistant to Gamal Smalley, now the Muir boys basketball coach. Also in attendance was Horace Wormley. The 2002 Muir graduate went to PCC before earning All-American honors at Vanguard. He went on to play with the L.A. D-Fenders of the D-League and is now playing overseas in Germany.
But the one coach I did talk to was Don Grant, now the head coach at Chino Hills. He was intriguing to me because I learned he was the same coach who cut Hollins from tryouts his freshman year.
Grant coached at Muir from 1997 to 2003. He recalled Hollins’ eagerness to improve. He did, and with it came a growth spurt, too. Hollins was a 6-foot-4 freshman. Grant said it seemed like each month Hollins grew an inch, and by the time he was a sophomore, Hollins was an impressive 6-9, albeit a bit lanky.
“He averaged four points and jumped up to 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds per game his senior year,” Grant said. “His improvement was as drastic as I had ever seen as a coach.
“When he stopped growing he was able to gain body awareness and body coordination. He grew his freshman year — from the time we cut him to the time he finished. He grew to 6-9 his sophomore year and 6-10 his junior year and 6-11 his senior year.”
What made Hollins standout wasn’t just his natural athletic gifts. He’s humble and has his priority straight, a lot of which he owes to his upbringing.
“Ryan has some really good parents,” Grant said. “His dad and mom were always on top of his academics. Ryan had very good grades; only had one bad grade in his life, and it was a D, and his dad said ‘If you get another one you’ll never play basketball.’
“He was very mature. His perseverance and ability to work hard is why he is where he is. When a kid gets cut there’s a blaming game, but Ryan was like ‘Give me something I can work on and I can practice because I will make it.”
As I stated before, I’m a big fan of Ryan Hollins. It was his two free throws with 19.7 seconds that helped UCLA pull off a dramatic comeback against Gonzaga in the 2006 NCAA Regional semifinals. I told him and his parents as much when I met him Tuesday afternoon during the second day of his basketball camp. We talked about various subjects, many of which I wrote about in Wednesday’s paper.
Hollins, a second-round (50th overall) selection in 2006 by the Charlotte Bobcats, also played for the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves before he was traded this offseason to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
We got to talking about other things, like playing for Byron Scott, his journey throughout the NBA and his ‘Stang Pride.
From The Sidelines: Talk about your career at UCLA, specifically that 2006 season when you guys surprised an entire nation.
Ryan Hollins: That 2006 year is something special. It was hard work paying off. We had an opportunity and we were ready to make a deep run. Everything didn’t go perfect that year, but we went on to make it all the way to the championship game. What a thrill.”
FTS: You made two huge free throws against Gonzaga with 19.7 seconds left to put the Bruins within one. What was going through your mind when you headed to the line?
RH: It’s crazy you ask that question because the funny thing is I can honestly say nothing was going through my head. My mind was blank. That game will always be special to me because it was a testament to hard work. You shot a bunch of free throws and you have the moment in your hand, and there I was doing it. We had a goal in mind. (UCLA) coach (Ben) Howland came here and we all sold ourselves to our teammates and became successful.
FTS: Byron Scott just recently was named coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. You gotta be excited to play for a Laker legend.
RH: Playing with coach Scott is going to be great. The fans are to still be behind us, and we’re looking forward to making a run. I know that coach Scott has done some good work with big men, like Tyson Chandler (in New Orleans). I definitely know I can submit myself to his teaching and learn the game and play the kind of game Chandler played.
FTS: I’m sure when you first stepped onto an NBA arena as a pro you must have been in awe of the feeling. I’m sure these kids are in awe just seeing you here on the same court with them. But I have to imagine you still have those rookie-like emotions sneak up on you once in a while when you look back on your road to the NBA.
RH: Everything goes so fast, but every once in a while you do have those moments. When you sit back and say you’ve made it to a certain point. I look around practice and the jerseys and really appreciate it and soak it all in. I’m still working harder to get better, and I’m not satisfied, if that makes any sense; I want to get better. But I am appreciative of where I am and that I can step onto an NBA arena and throw on an NBA jersey for a living.
FTS: Your basketball jersey No. 15 was retired here three years ago. It’s going up on the wall and will join the likes of Stacey Augmon (No. 32), Eric McWilliams (No. 33), Jacque Vaughn (No. 11) and Tye’sha Fluker (No. 50) as the only Muir basketball players to have their numbers retired. What do you think about that?
RH: It’s an honor, because at John Muir you know it’s not just another jersey being retired. There’s so much pride and tradition in Pasadena.”
FTS: Speaking of tradition in Pasadena, when you were here Muir was good in football and basketball. Football is still a power here, but basketball has given way to Pasadena. What are your thoughts on that?
RH: I know what’s going on. I know with coach Smalley things will turn around. I’m very confident in that. I see the interest he has in the kids and the tradition, he wants to keep it alive. And if he needs anything from me he definitely can hit me up.
FTS: Do you keep up with the Turkey Tussle?
RH: (laughs) Yeah, I still check and keep tabs on the Tussle. I’m kind of sick of wearing this red in this gym right now, but we’ll establish this as burgundy, not red. I’m happy to know we still have the (Liberty) Bell.