The Indiana Hoosiers have endured a more lively offseason than most. The player pipeline in and out of Assembly Hall has ebbed and flowed like some volatile whitewater rapids since late March, but it appears Tom Crean has finally steered his crimson and cream ship into steadier waters.
Three-star class of 2014 power forward Emmitt Holt committed to the Hoosiers early Wednesday morning, filling the final roster spot. Holt has been brought on to do more than simply fill a quota; the 6-foot-7 [Note: Holt is sporadically listed from 6'7" to 6'9" depending on the recruiting site.], 225-pound big has been brought in to fill a pressing need.
— EAZY E (@holt_real) August 20, 2014
Who is Emmitt Holt?
Crean was in need of a hired gun to do the dirty work this season, a forceful presence that makes an opposing team think before they physically engage. The Webster, New York, native will do just that.
Holt isn’t a high profile acquisition nor is he a hybridized, modern stretch four. The 18-year-old won’t be found straddling the three-point line or knocking down mid-range jumpers, two things fellow freshmen forwards Tim Priller and Max Hoetzel are keen on.
Holt’s game is a call back to gritty 90’s NBA hoops, a savage landscape filled with bigs just as willing to use their fists and elbows to move you out of the way as they were their derriere. He’s not as mean as Charles Oakley or as ruthless as Dave DeBusschere — sadly, they don’t make em’ like that anymore — but Holt brings grit, fearless rebounding and elite shot-blocking to a team desperately in need of all three.
Holt threw up a monstrous line during his senior season at Webster Schroeder (NY): 19.8 points, 14.6 rebounds and 5 blocks per game. The momentum carried over to the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL), with the PF putting up an impressive 11.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game against some of the best high school talent in the country.
Notably, Holt went off for 23 points (10-for-11 from the field), 12 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in a gut-wrenching 58-57 loss to Team CP3, a team that features 6-foot-10 PF Harry Giles, the No. 4 player in the Class of 2016. It was a powerful performance that serves as a summertime vignette of the feats of dominance Holt is capable of.
Can Holt fill the hole in the middle?
Indiana will live through its guard play this season, likely starting a three-guard rotation of Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, Troy Williams and sharpshooting freshman James Blackmon. Senior transfer Nick Zeisloft, sophomore shooting guard Stanford Robinson and freshman guard Robert Johnson will all find themselves playing heavy rotational minutes in an up-tempo offense.
Unfortunately, the Hoosiers may just die by their front line play. Indiana lost 52 percent of their total team rebounds last season with the departure of seven players, including Noah Vonleh, the one true patroller of the paint on the roster.
The Hoosiers’ recent trek Beyond the Wall (Sorry, if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan.) featured five different starting lineups, an indication that Crean is still playing master tinkerer with his crimson-clad hardwood soldiers. Eight different players started the five games: Ferrell (5), Williams (5), Blackmon (5), Johnson (4), Davis (2), Zeisloft (2), Priller (1), and Hoetzel (1).
Seven-foot freshmen Jeremiah April is massive, but he’s also a massive work in progress and currently recovering from a left ankle injury. Starting such a raw product at center would not only be a foolish gamble, but it would conspire against a roster constructed to play fast.
This leaves Crean with the roller coaster ride known as Hanner Mosquera-Perea — visa issues kept him stateside during the Hoosiers’ tour — and the unproven Devin Davis as his two “viable” bigs. The true viability of starting a junior and sophomore who combined to average less than 20 minutes and six points per game last season is dubious, at best.
The New York kid was brought to Bloomington for just this reason. It’s unlikely Holt will start immediately after missing so much time with the team this summer, but with the severity of the forward situation, Crean will be looking to insert his newest recruit’s vital rebounding and shot-blocking skills into the lineup early on.
Holt exudes that “old school” persona, a valuable asset to have in heated Big Ten play. This is a conference where the rivalries are ancient and real, an atmosphere where the animosity hangs in the air over the court like a beautiful basketball storm cloud.
Holt provides the intensity and the size Crean needs to compete without sacrificing any speed. The PF isn’t a jaw-dropping athlete, he doesn’t run the floor like a gazelle outfitted in Nikes and he won’t be steamrolling down the court on a solo fast break after ripping down a board.
Despite that, Holt has an excellent understanding of spacing and where to be. He knows how to exploit lax defenders and find open lanes. He’s a little quicker than most opponents give him initial credit for, which is usually acknowledged after two or three vociferous dunks.
Emmitt Holt isn’t a program changer. He isn’t a one-and-done prospect or a polished NBA product. He’s a throwback to the era when big men exchanged blood and sweat in the post, where a block was a form of disrespect and a rebound over another big was a source of pride.
Emmitt Holt isn’t a superstar, but right now, he’s just what Indiana basketball needs.