WHEELERSBURG — Tanner Holden, after only his freshman season, is proving that Wright State was his right move.
That’s because Holden, the former Wheelersburg High School star, has completed his first season with Wright State University’s men’s basketball team —and it simply couldn’t have gone much better.
Holden had an excellent freshman campaign, starting in 30 of the Raiders’ 31 games —averaging 12.1 points and six-and-a-half rebounds per game, which were second and third on the squad respectively.
As a team, the Raiders captured the Horizon League’s regular-season championship with a 15-3 conference record, part of a 25-7 overall mark with a 14-2 home tally.
Had Wright State won the Horizon’s conference tournament, in which it was the top seed before being upset by fourth-seeded University of Illinois-Chicago, the Raiders would have received the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Although that didn’t happen, Holden having such an impactful and positive freshman season did.
It all started with summer practices, before the Raiders took a 10-day trip to Italy in August — taking advantage of the NCAA rule which permits a program an overseas trip every four years.
“My first year at Wright State was eye-opening for me. To be a true freshman coming into a winning program where I wasn’t supposed to play that much coming into the season to being an impact player was amazing,” said Holden. “It’s just a testament to show what hard work does because throughout our summer workouts and trip overseas to Italy, I really focused on trying to develop myself into a player that coach could trust and count on in big moments.”
And, it didn’t take long for Wright State head coach Scott Nagy to demonstrate that trust in Holden.
In his debut against Central State, he scored 21 points —the first of what was 20 double-digit scoring games including 14 in the Horizon League.
The six-foot six-inch 185-pounder posted three double-doubles, including season-highs of 27 points and 17 rebounds in Wright State’s mid-December victory over Mid-American Conference foe Toledo.
In averaging 28.6 minutes per game, he made 139 field goals on 224 attempts for 62-percent, while also sinking 83-of-134 free throws for the exact same percentage.
From three-point range, Holden hit 13-of-30 for 43.3-percent.
A Horizon League all-freshman team member, Holden had 202 rebounds, 51 assists, 13 blocked shots and 41 steals.
“Tanner had a great freshman season and was everything and more that the Wright State coaching staff had hoped for when they signed him. His IQ, high-skill level and versatility made him a perfect fit for an otherwise veteran team returning,” said Wheelersburg boys basketball coach Steven Ater. “I talked to (WSU) assistant coach Clint Sargent last week and they are expecting Tanner to progress his game even more and become more of a scoring option, as well as serving as a point/forward at times. He played all spots on the floor this season except point guard, and I think with some more growth in his game, he can serve that role well next year too.”
Ater explained that often times his Pirates played on the same nights as Wright State, but ESPN3 or ESPN+ allowed him or any fans in general to watch his games or highlight replays.
“I got to watch Tanner practice once last summer before their trip to Italy, and then saw an early-season game against Kent State,” said the coach. “Once our Wheelersburg season started, it was tough to catch another game because we played on a lot of the same nights.”
Holden said his days as a Pirate prepared him well for life at Wright State.
A standout two-sport athlete, Holden was a three-time Division III all-Ohioan in basketball, including his final two seasons as a member of the all-state first team.
As a junior, he averaged almost 18 points and 11 rebounds per contest, while scoring 27 points per game as a senior — and being named the Southeast District Division III Player of the Year.
In both instances, Wheelersburg won Division III Southeast District championships, and was regional runner-up to Harvest Prep in his senior season.
For football, he was the 2017 Division V Co-Offensive Player of the Year in the state — and was so important to the Pirates’ state championship club that fall.
“I feel that my years at Wheelersburg playing not only sports but in the classroom as well, the coaches and teachers were always pushing you to do better than your best. They were always there, so you were on top and they didn’t stop until you were. So I felt like I was well-prepared to go into college and take care of business,” said Holden. “My parents and sister played the biggest role before I ever committed. They were always guiding and helping me better my game each and every day and I couldn’t thank them enough for that.”
Of course, Holden himself had a lot to do with his own success.
“They love how coachable and versatile he is and I think they have a chance to win the Horizon League again and hopefully make the NCAA Tournament this time around. He’s a special player with an incredible coaching staff at Wright State,” said Ater. “Really happy he has found a second home there and can’t wait to watch him as a sophomore.”
His freshman season could have, in addition, included an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament — as the Raiders were clearly a big-time “bubble” team thanks to the upset loss in the conference semifinals.
A National Invitation Tournament ticket was more likely, but both scenarios became a moot point — once the postseason tournaments were canceled due to the threat of the novel coronavirus.
Holden held out hope for an NCAA Tournament bid before the cancellation, and expressed sadness for the Wright State seniors which didn’t get to play in one of the postseason events.
“The beauty of it is you never know how Selection Sunday will turn out. We were hoping we would land a spot (in NCAA Tournament), but we were more leaning towards a seed in the NIT, which is still a great experience,” he said. “When it got canceled, I was extremely sad for our seniors, because it was so unexpected and they had worked so hard to have their season and careers end like that.”
Fortunately for Holden, his college career is just beginning.
So far so good with Wright State being his right move.
“I would like to improve my confidence shooting, then get bigger, stronger and faster. With all of those together, I feel like I have a good chance to make an all-conference team and get some individual recognition along with team recognition,” he said. “But my main goal would be to win the regular-season title and the conference tournament to make the NCAA tournament and win a game.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved