Once Curtis Holland III switched gears, and it is very apparent whenever Curtis Holland III switches gears, the scattered crowd clung to each movement that took him from behind midcourt to soaring above the rim.
First came a measured crossover dribble that forced his defender to shuffle backward. Then came a knifing crossover that forced that defender to spin in place, and now the Southern guard — all 6 feet, 3 inches and 205 pounds of him — was bounding through the open floor like a runaway freight train. Three more dribbles, coupled with reaching strides, got him a step inside the free throw line and he rose up with the ball cocked behind his head.
Another unsuspecting defender stood helplessly under the rim as Holland went to dunk the ball through it. But his attempt caught too much of the back rim, and it lipped out before flying toward the ceiling of Riverdale Baptist’s gym Monday night. Yet the play was so smooth, and Holland jumped so high, that even the “almost dunk” drew a reaction from most of the fans: Three teenage boys sprung out of their seats, hands over their mouths, and toward a side door. Southern Coach Will Maynard, watching his team from the back row of the bleachers, laughed and said, “Wow. They really got lucky.”
But Holland never wiped the same stone look from his face. He was left unimpressed. He’s working on that.
“I do need to take more control of games and, as coach tells me, recognize when I am the best player on the floor. I sometimes don’t give myself enough credit for that,” Holland said Monday. “But I also have been out to prove that I’m not just a highflying, dunking guard. I’m getting there.”
It’s just one misconception that Holland, a class of 2018 prospect, has been shaking off these last few months. He doesn’t play for one of the area’s marquee AAU programs. He is a public school player in an area headlined by one of the country’s best private school leagues that brims with star private school guards. And still he has every ambition to grow a list of three scholarship offers, which started with High Point in March and then welcomed IUPUI and Mount St. Mary’s later in the spring.
Playing AAU basketball for The District — out of the spotlight offered by Nike, Under Armour and Adidas on the “shoe circuits” — he has also drawn interest from Towson, Delaware, Maryland-Baltimore County, Louisiana Tech, the College of Charleston and, most recently, St. Bonaventure. He took an unofficial visit to Towson a few weeks back, Mount St. Mary’s two weeks ago, and was at High Point and College of Charleston this past weekend. A trip to Maryland-Baltimore County could be in the near future, and then Holland will have a chance to attract more colleges with his rare blend of speed, size and feel for both guard positions.
“I think it just motivates me, to be honest,” Holland said of his unconventional recruiting process. “Knowing that I’m not on the biggest circuit, it just motivates me to work harder just knowing that coaches aren’t going to automatically see me just because I’m on a certain team or playing in Nike’s league or something like that. When they come to see me, a lot of times it is planned that way and they are zeroing in on just me. You have to perform.”
The Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area is arguably the most talent-rich basketball hotbed in the country. That talent stretches across county lines, from private schools to public schools, and into a smattering of AAU programs in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. But it’s still easy, given such high success rates, to look at a few streamlined paths to Division I basketball: By playing in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (or another prominent private school league) and on a “shoe team” on the AAU circuit.
It’s a tested and trusted formula, but a player like Holland also shows it’s not the only one.
“Ten, 15 years ago, when I was in high school, a guy like him would have no shot given his school and AAU program,” Maynard said Monday. “You had go to a few hand-picked high schools to play the best AAU ball, and only a handful of high schools would get any college attention during the season. Now coaches are always keeping an eye out for that sleeper player, a guy who may be a big fish in a small pond, doing things a bit differently. They’re keeping an eye out for a guy like Curtis.
“Now if Curtis can really realize how good he is and recognize that he can fully take over games, it’s going to be scary,” said Maynard. “He’s that good.”
But before he could really lift his game to a Division I level, he had to diversify it.
Holland built a small social media reputation with his ceiling-scraping hops and thundering dunks. They made their way onto Twitter and, like that, he was that unassuming guard from Anne Arundel County who could catch the ball well above the rim and throw it down. But people assumed that was all he did.
“I wanted to call to see if you could do more than dunk,” Holland remembers a Louisiana Tech assistant saying through the phone during this past high school season. “Can you?”
“In my head I was like, ‘Woah. Really?'” said Holland, who is trying to become the fourth Southern player to go Division I in the last seven years. “That really opened my eyes, and I realized that I had to work on other parts of my game and make sure that it wasn’t just all athleticism and highlight-reel dunks.”
Now he is being targeted by colleges for his offensive and defensive versatility. Holland displays precocious patience as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, uses his 205-pound frame to excel in traffic and his athleticism to elude defenders all over the court. He possesses the skill set of a prototypical “combo guard,” who can score at all three levels (from the perimeter, midrange and inside), push the pace of the game and set up a half-court offense. He can also defend point guards, shooting guards and wings without any problem.
But on Monday, after Southern’s eventual loss to Capitol Christian in the Falconers Summer League, he stayed coy about the finer points of his game.
Those subtle moves he pulled, like a step-back three or double-crossover to get to the rim?
“Just working on one-on-one moves so I can get my opportunities,” he said, before catching himself sounding like all those other go-to scorers. “But I only want to do that when the rest of the offense breaks down.”
How about playing point guard on offense and center on defense, manning players five or six inches taller than him, because Southern was without its usual big man?
“I had never done that before,” he said, smiling lightly. “Did I hold my own? I don’t know.”
Was he impressed with anything he did in the 32-minute game?
“Not really,” he sighed. “I’m working on that.”
» Gonzaga guard Josh Watts received has been offered by Navy, he announced in a tweet Sunday. Watts, a 2019 prospect who plays for Team Takeover on the AAU circuit, now has offers from Navy and Columbia. He is expected to be paired with Notre Dame commit Prentiss Hubb in the Eagles’ backcourt next season.
» Loudoun Valley guard Jordan Miller has been offered by Navy, he announced in a tweet Sunday. Miller, who is in the Class of 2018, now holds Division I offers from Towson and George Mason. The 6-foot-4 lefty scorer received interest from Mount St. Mary’s, Radford, College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina during this past high school season. Miller plays AAU basketball for D1SA Spartan Elite, a program based in Leesburg, Virginia.
» Freedom-South Riding guard Zyan Collins recently took an unofficial visit to Mount St. Mary’s and is planning to visit Towson in the near future, Freedom Coach Justin Powers told The Post. Collins, a rising senior who plays with Miller on D1SA Spartan Elite, is 6-foot-1 and averaged 18.4 points per game this past high school season. Freedom-South Riding was recently at a team camp at Richmond University, and a coach told Powers that Collins is “definitely a Division I guard.” Richmond, however, is not offering any guards in the Class of 2018 given the current makeup of its roster.
» Episcopal forward Zach Pfaffenberger picked up an offer from Mount St. Mary’s late last week, according to multiple reports. Pfaffenberger, a 6-foot-9 workhorse with an outside shooting touch, previously held offers from Sacred Heart, Binghamton, New Hampshire, Canisius and Youngstown State. He is in the Class of 2018.
» Chapelgate Christian center Jason Murphy took an unofficial visit to Virginia Tech Monday, Chapelgate Christian Coach Frick Fierson told The Post. Murphy, who is a 6-foot-9 prospect in the Class of 2019, has also taken unofficial visits to Georgetown and West Virginia. He has a scholarship offer from Old Dominion, and has also received interest from North Carolina, Maryland and Central Florida, according to Fierson. He plays for Team Melo on Nike’s AAU circuit.
Catch up on basketball recruiting in the area …