Tired, sore and fighting back tears, Chayla Lewis left the Friendly gym after the first day of basketball tryouts in November 2010 and soon called her two best friends, Janay Carter and Breanna Brown, for a pair of frank, heart-to-heart discussions.
All three sophomores were expected to play important roles on the varsity team, but the first taste of life under Coach Carroll Holmes had them re-thinking the future.
Brown said all the running made her feel like a member of the cross-country team. Carter wondered if Holmes believed in water breaks. If one high-intensity workout took such a toll, how were they going to survive an entire season?
“I must admit I thought about quitting,” Lewis said. “I was like ‘Is basketball for me?’ I didn’t even know. I was like ‘Chayla, Do you really want to do this?’ ”
Lewis, Carter and Brown stuck with it, trusting the man who won 390 games in 22 years as the boys’ coach at Archbishop Carroll knew what he was doing. Now seniors, they all expect to play in college and can appreciate their tough-love leader more than ever.
The 20th-ranked Patriots (20-4) meet No. 14 River Hill (22-3) in a Maryland 3A semifinal Thursday at UMBC.
A former DeMatha standout on the court, Holmes, 57, inherited a six-win team and has increased that total in each of his three seasons, hammering home the same principles that delivered two Washington Catholic Athletic Conference boys’ titles at Carroll.
“I only know but one way to coach,” Holmes said. “Certainly, you’ve got to be sensitive enough that they are females, but they’re basketball players first.”
Holmes molded his philosophies with influences from several giants of D.C. basketball and has spent much of the past 35 years passing on that knowledge to subsequent generations, emphasizing high-pressure defense and rebounding above all else.
Holmes grew up on 63rd Street in Northeast, honing his game on the hardscrabble courts at nearby Watts Branch Park. At DeMatha, the 6-foot-3 forward earned the nickname “Chairman of the Boards” for his furious work on the glass.
As a senior in 1972-73, Holmes earned second-team All-Met honors, playing alongside future NBA players Adrian Dantley, Billy Langloh and Kenny Carr. That team went 30-1 with its lone loss to Dunbar of Baltimore.
“What’s made him such a good coach I think is what made him a good player: He makes everybody around him better,” former DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten said. “He parked his ego at the door. It never bothered him that some of the other guys got more attention. He was always a team man above anything else.”
After an injury-plagued college career at Northern Illinois and American, Holmes began teaching physical education at Carroll where he served as the junior varsity coach for Jack Bruen, taking the head job when his mentor moved on to Catholic University.
“I was a young guy then,” Holmes said. “I was an intense, aggressive player, so that’s the way I coached.”
In more than two decades at the Northeast private school, Holmes became known for his tough practices, fiery demeanor and kind heart. The Lions won WCAC titles in 1989 and 1993, and the school produced a steady stream of college standouts, including Lawrence Moten (Syracuse), Charles Harrison (Georgetown/Wake Forest), Derrick and Cedric Lewis (Maryland) and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (Georgetown).
George Washington University Coach Mike Lonergan was a reserve point guard for Holmes, and former assistant Jimmy Patsos led Loyola (Md.) to last season’s NCAA tournament.
“He held us to the fire to make sure we were the best we could be,” said William Liggins, a three-year starting point guard under Holmes who is now an assistant at Cesar Chavez.
Holmes stepped down at Carroll in late March 2003, and a year later moved back to teaching at an elementary school closer to his Mitchellville home.
Upon joining the physical education staff at Friendly, Holmes became a boys’ basketball assistant and was in charge of monitoring the cafeteria in the mornings. He’d regularly eat breakfast with a group of girls’ basketball players, and after former coach Tiffany Miller-Bevins resigned, they urged him to apply.
“I said, ‘You’d better be careful what you ask for,’ ” Holmes jokes now.
While Holmes had coached his youngest daughter, Cidney, in youth basketball, the job represented his first foray into leading teenage girls. He badgered longtime friend Walter Clark for tips, and the Wise coach’s only advice — “Just treat them like the boys.” — has guided most of his decisions over the past two-plus years.
Friendly reached the Maryland 3A West final in each of his first two seasons before breaking through on Friday. The Patriots allowed 10 first-half points in a 61-28 victory over Westlake that clinched their first state berth since 1997.
During Tuesday’s practice, Holmes showed the gruff side his former players remember best, critiquing shooting form and chastising players for a lack of intensity. He stationed a manager at the gym’s main entrance with orders to keep out unwanted distractions. “There’s no time to be tired,” he hollered more than once during the brisk hour and 40 minute workout.
But there are noticeable differences, too. The session ended with a player-led prayer at midcourt, and then the Patriots hurried to the sideline and gathered around the scorer’s table. Holmes peeled back the aluminum foil on a round pound cake he’d baked for the girls, and watched smiling as they happily dug in.
“We’ve calmed him down a little bit,” said Lewis, the team’s leading scorer who has signed to play at Central Connecticut State. “He’s been around us girls, and he’s got a little soft side now. It’s only right that we’ve rubbed off on him because I know he’s rubbed off on us.”