It was the sweet shooting stroke that first caught Eric Loudis’ attention. Then he looked even deeper, and when he saw the poise Tobias Holmes displayed in pressure situations and that raw desire, the Schenectady High School basketball coach became even more convinced.
Holmes, he believed, was ready to make the grand leap forward.
“It’s a tough adjustment to go from modified to varsity, and I knew he was going to make some mistakes, but it was his time,” Loudis said. “He reminds me a lot of Eddie Stanley, maturity-wise.”
Stanley was projected to be the next star for the Patriots, but never got a chance when a senseless shooting took his life after his sophomore year, at the age of 15, in June 2011. Holmes got his chance at the age of 14.
“There were no guaranteed spots, but as soon as I got here, I had confidence that I could make it,” said Holmes, a 6-foot guard. “Making the varsity team was my first goal. Now my goal is to do whatever it takes to win a sectional title.”
Holmes is the first eighth-grader to play for the Schenectady varsity, and even more, he’s been starting for a team that has won six of its last eight games and has surpassed last season’s victory total.
“I’d rather have him do it now. Get some experience,” said Loudis. “The next couple of years, he’ll be ready to roll.”
Holmes is a scorer more than anything else at this juncture of his career, and just two games into the season, he put on a show with 18 points in a 79-54 win against Amsterdam. His output included four three-point baskets, his high total, so far.
Holmes’ had a 34-point game with the Schenectady modified team.
“In the Amsterdam game, he showed he belonged when he hit all those threes in the first half,” said Loudis “If he was struggling, I would have bumped him down. His stats speak for themselves.”
“I didn’t realize he was that good until he came out,” said Schenectady assistant coach Joe Loudis, Eric’s dad. “He’s got to work on things. He needs to take care of the fundamentals, but for an eighth-grader, he’s phenomenal. He’s got range. That’s his forte. He’s a shooter, and he does a lot of other good things.”
Holmes leads the Patriots with a 13-point scoring average. He reached double digits for the 11th time Friday with 11 points in a win over Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons.
“I do what I can to help the team,” said Holmes, who attends the Schenectady Career Leadership Academy. “It was tough to walk into this situation as an eighth-grader. I didn’t really know how I’d fit in. I’m feeling more relaxed the more we play.”
Holmes came close to a double-double with 21 points and eight assists in a win against Bishop Maginn, and collected 20 points when Schenectady ended a 17-game losing streak against rival Christian Brothers Academy.
Holmes nailed a game-winning three against LaSalle to cap a 12-point night, and with 18- and 13-point performances, earned a spot on the Arthur Hilliard Memorial Basketball Tournament all-star team when the Patriots outlasted Columbia and then gave state-ranked Scotia-Glenville a scare.
One of his finest defensive games came in a win over Albany, when he was asked to play down low in the Pats’ 3-2 zone rather than his usual top wing. He ended up with 10 rebounds and blocked two shots to go with nine points.
“We were missing two big men, and I needed him to step up and play physical and be active,” said Eric Loudis. “I like to have him up top on defense so he can get in transition, but I felt he was the best guy we had for the job. His presence on the back line was a huge part of our win.”
His long-distance accuracy has been important to the Pats’ success all season long. Holmes has more threes than any other Patriot with 29, and he’s made at least one in all but one of his games. His last-second bomb lifted Schenectady over LaSalle, 54-52, and his 20 points in the next game helped the Pats end their long drought against CBA, 63-58.
“He was a couple of steps behind the line when he hit that three at the buzzer,” Eric Loudis said of the LaSalle game. “That’s an eighth-grader making a big shot with us down one. That was a big changer for us this year.”
“I’ve always wanted the ball in my hands at the end of a game. I crave those moments,” Holmes said. “I’ve always wanted to score, but I’ve become more of a team player. I think the Bishop Maginn game was one of my best because I scored a lot and got the [eight] assists. I played good ball.”
“He’s always had the ball in his hands,” said Eric Loudis. “I’m playing him more as a two [off guard] than a one because we have [Brandon] Langston. That’s one of the adjustments he’s working on. He doesn’t need to carry the entire load.”
Holmes’ first 15 games have been a roller coaster ride, filled with some great highs and some lows that come with youth. In a recent loss to Catholic Central, he found himself on the bench for long stretches after struggling against the Crusaders’ pressure defense.
“I know there are things I can get better at,” Holmes said. “Decision-making and finishing … and free throws.”
“He’s always been bigger, faster and stronger than the kids he played with. This year has been kind of a reality check,” Eric Loudis said. “He’s playing against older guys, and some are bigger than him and some have superior skills. He can be something special, but he’s not there yet. He has to work if he wants to be the next Willie Deane or Jason McKrieth.
“I tell him, ‘If your shot is off, what else are you going to bring to the table?’ The offseason is when you become a better player, and I believe he’s willing to make the extra effort.”
Before Holmes, McKrieth was the youngest Schenectady player in class terms to make a signficant impact. That was in the 1997-98 season when, as a freshman, he came off the bench as a defensive stopper for the Patriots’ first state championship team. McKrieth was a senior star when Schenectady claimed its second title.
“My uncle [T.L. Little] played for the state title team,” said Holmes. “Maybe that will be us someday. As we go through the seasons and go through the years, we’ve got to stick it out and stick together, and then you never know.”
Holmes is part of a promising group of young players in the Schenectady system. Langston is a sophomore, and 10th-grader Neftali Lind joined the varsity eight games ago after pouring in 40 points against Columbia at the Hilliard JV tourney.
Four more sophomores and nine freshmen play for the school’s undefeated junior varsity team, including ninth-grader Davon Barkley, who scored 44 points in a recent win over Catholic Central.