An undersized point guard and a formidable scorer, who overcomes his minuscule stature with heart and talent, reaching his prime well past the age of 30, is a combination hard to find anywhere.
For David Holston, the ladder to success has been a rather long one to climb up. Coming off from a High School in Auburn Hills, where he earned all-county and all-state honors, Holston was not offered a single college basketball scholarship. Even when he embarked on the college venture with Chicago State University (CSU), it was for an institution with no athletic conference affiliation.
Being undersized is an understatement when it comes to one of the shortest players currently at work in Europe. Whether his official height is 5’6’’ or 5’7’’, top-level professional basketball has higher requirements, at least on paper. The court is usually a different story and David Holston knows that he can make history in the next few days, if JDA Dijon Basket wins a European title.
The French side is getting ready for the Final Eight of the Basketball Champions League which will be held in Athens between September 30 and October 4, 2020. The OAKA Indoor Hall, homecourt for previous winners AEK Athens, will be the venue. However, no fans are expected to attend. Their opponent in the quarter-finals, Turk Telekom from Turkey, has several former NBA players on the roster, like Kyle Wiltjer, Tyler Ennis and Sam Dekker.
“I’m just trying to prepare my mind for the Final 8. Athens is a nice city and I can’t wait to get back. It’s going to be cool, even without fans”, Holston told TalkBasket.net over the phone from his house in Dijon. A place he calls home, since he’s getting ready for his fourth season with the team, which most likely will not be his last.
Coach Laurent Legname has found a gem of a point guard, who operates both as a gifted scorer and a floor general when the situation calls for it. Holston’s latest “masterpiece” came at Dijon’s last game, a 81-74 win over Asvel Basket, reigning champions of the French LNB and Euroleague participants. With the visitors leading 12-0 after less than five minutes of play, Dijon evened the game in the second half and in the fourth courter the undersized American guard stepped in big-time. After all, that’s what he does best: 16 points, including four daggers and a total of 5 assists, proved enough to knock Asvel down for good.
That game was just the latest perl in the collection of great performances for the wondrous baller, who also led Dijon to the French Cup last February. Lifting the first trophy in his career whetted Holston’s appetite for more crowns. As chance would have it, his first and biggest goal lies ahead of him.
Besides, the 34-year-old veteran is no sleeper anymore. In 2019, he was named the MVP of the French League and is averaging 12.3 points – 6.9 assists on 40% behind the arc in the BCL. Holston finished his collegiate stint with 19.6 points, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game. The 2009 NBA Draft came and went, thus paving the path to Europe.
Turkey and Germany were good, but France worked best for him. Holston’s 2017-18 season with Dijon pales in comparison with his achievements over the last two campaigns, but was enough to persuade him to come back to a city mostly famous for its mustard. Now, Dijon boasts a basketball team that aims to the top in every competition – and David Holston is one of the main reasons for it.
Q: How has the season been so far for you and Dijon?
A: Good. Our coach prepared us to be in good shape. We already played a game to qualify for the F8. We’re practising really hard and I think we’re going to be ready.
Q: What do you think of the BCL hosting a F8 to finish off last season?
A: It’s pretty cool, in order not to let the last season go to waste. We still got a chance to compete for a title. We did a very good job last year and being rewarded for it is very good. We have the opportunity to play on a big stage.
Q: I saw that you had a considerable crowd with you in the game against Nizhny. The question is: Do you prefer to have some fans at the OAKA Indoor Hall, even if they were only AEK Athens supporters, or is it better with no fans at all?
A: It’s tough… I think everybody would say that they want to have fans. AEK fans are some of the best in Europe. So, it would probably be better not to have them in the gym when we play against them. On the other hand, it would have been a good atmosphere.
Q: If you were allowed to borrow a player from a BCL rival, who would it be?
A: That’s a hard question. But I’d say that the season MVP would be (Keith) Langford from AEK Athens, one of the best teams in the competition.
Q: I know you’re a student of the game and that you spend many hours watching basketball. What’s your view on the other teams comprising the F8?
A: Turk Telekom is a really good, talented team and we’ve been talking about them a lot lately. The point guard (Keifer Sykes) that they got made them even better. They also have Tyler Ennis and Sam Dekker, a very good shooter. We have to come ready to compete. I saw the Tenerife-Zaragoza game for the Spanish league and both were playing well. We played against Zaragoza and the way they move the ball and play with each other makes them a very tough team. It’s hard to beat them.
Q: Is there any team that stands out?
A: If it wasn’t us, I’d have to say AEK Athens or Hapoel Jerusalem. They have what it takes to win it all. It will come down to the team that’s hot and executes the best.
Q: Your former teammate Rasheed Sulaimon moved to Zaragoza in the summer. Did you talk?
A: We did, but not a lot. I just told him: “Congratulations and see you soon”. We’re all competitors, but we played together last season – a great year- and I want the best for him. I bet I’ll see him soon on the court. We’re both excited to be in the F8 and he was happy that we won our third game against Nizhny.
Q: Until February 2020, you hadn’t won any major trophies in your career. Now, after your first French Cup with Dijon, do you think that the BCL F8 presents you with the biggest challenge ever?
A: Yes. It’s a great opportunity; all I’ve been looking for. We have three games to play to get the title. I already won a cup and I want to win another one.
Q: What made you renew with Dijon until 2021?
A: It’s true that I had higher offers than theirs, but at this point in my career I mostly want to be comfortable. I like playing with the coach and the way he plays on defense and offense suits me a lot. I want to stay in a system that I know, since I have a good relationship with everyone in the club. It was an easy choice to make. I would like to play with coach Legname for as much as I can. So, I might stay with Dijon for the rest of my career.
Q: Do you feel underrated?
A: I’ve spent my whole career since High School, when I received no scholarships to go to college, with a chip on my shoulder. I always have been underrated. It’s hard to say whether I could have drawn the attention of big teams in Europe or NBA clubs, but the truth is that no Euroleague teams saw any interest in me. Maybe it just wasn’t for me. There’s nothing I could do about it. I was blessed to be able to play in the BCL and I want to keep doing what I love.
Q: Would you say you were bound for overseas since the beginning of your pro career?
A: Yeah, I had a couple of tryouts in the States, but I knew how things go and that my future was in Europe. Everything I did in my career was supposed to happen. I never look back.
Q: Apart of tons of self-confidence, what else does an undersized guard need to have in order to feel like a giant on the court?
A: A big heart. For me, that’s the main thing. You got to go out, fight every night and work hard.
Q: As a French league MVP at 33, would you call yourself a late bloomer?
A: I guess you could say that. I think I’m starting to get smarter, understanding the game a lot better and developing as a player. A lot of credit goes to my coach for helping me. I feel like the best years of my career are ahead of me. I still can play at a top level and take care of myself as best as I can.
Q: Why have you called Malcolm Delaney the best player you’ve faced in Europe?
A: Just because of the way he controls the game and handles every situation. He’s a big guard and a really great player. As far as Europeans, I like Teodosic and Campazzo, who is a short guy and will play in the NBA for sure. He has a good knack for the game.
Q: Your birthday is on January 26. This year you were celebrating, but I guess the mood changed upon hearing about Kobe Bryant’s death. How was it?
A: It was crazy! We were just finishing dinner, after celebrating a little bit. My teammates brought a cake and when they were about to leave, we all found out the news. We were in a room together, sad. It was a downer for everybody. After what happened, I didn’t feel like it was my birthday anymore. We were all shocked.
Q: You didn’t get to play against Kobe, but you faced off with Kevin Durant in college. What did you make of him back then?
A: That was a crazy experience as well, hearing all the hype about him and then seeing him on the court next to me. You could tell what kind of player he was going to be. It was a good experience for me because he’s the best player I’ve ever stepped on the court with, the best scorer I’ve seen up close and personal.
Q: Who was your role model as a player?
A: Growing up, I looked up to Lindsey Hunter, who played for the Detroit Pistons and the Lakers. He took me under his wings when Ι was little and worked with me.