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Summer league spot gives Holt a shot to join NBA roster

Ex-Jesuit star hopes solid play will gain attention from execs


Photo Credit: COURTESY OF SAINT MARYS COLLEGE - Guard Stephen Holt, who went from Jesuit High to the Saint Marys Gaels, got a shot with the Atlanta Hawks Las Vegas Summer League team, and hopes to parlay that into an NBA training camp invite as he launches his bid for a pro basketball career.NBA summer leagues, for most undrafted players especially, are all about making a good impression and passing that initial test.

Former Jesuit High star Stephen Holt appeared to do just that this summer in Las Vegas, where he played for the Atlanta Hawks' summer team in mid-July.

Holt wasn't flashy or spectacular, but the 6-4, 195-pound combo guard may have showed enough skills and steadiness to merit an invite to an NBA training camp — the Hawks' or another team's — this fall.

Even if he makes it to camp, of course, it'll be an uphill battle for Holt to earn a roster spot. But for Holt and a lot of former collegians, it's one step at a time, and sometimes one option at a time. And Vegas was a step in his professional progression.

"The whole experience has opened up some doors," says Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett, who helped Holt get his summer shot but admits, "It's not easy making it in this league, and I'm not acting like I know how the NBA process works."

Holt was named the 2010 Oregon Class 6A player of the year after leading Jesuit to a 25-2 season and second consecutive state title.

He went on to be a key figure at Saint Mary's, a West Coast Conference school in Moraga, Calif.

On NBA draft day this year, Holt's name wasn't called. But about 45 minutes after the draft, Holt's agent called, saying the Hawks had a summer league spot for him.

Holt got advice going in from former Saint Mary's teammate Matthew Dellavedova, who made the Cleveland Cavaliers a year ago as an undrafted free agent and backed up All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving during the 2013-14 season.

"Be in the best shape of your life," Dellavedova told him. "Never leave your hands on your knees (as if to look tired). And enjoy the process."

Holt got to play in all five of Atlanta's summer games, and he finished with decent numbers: 8.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 steals in 23.8 minutes per game, shooting .455 from the field.

His best outing might have come in Atlanta's second game against the Trail Blazers. Holt helped the Hawks bounce back from a 91-76 loss to defeat Portland 88-65. He scored 15 points (5 of 10 field-goal shooting) and added five rebounds, two assists and one steal in 27 minutes.

Bennett says that game may have been an eye-opener for some NBA team executives.

Holt, Bennett says, "can absolutely play in the NBA, and he's playing with a chip on his shoulder — he's from there (Portland) and they (the Blazers) didn't give him the time of day — and he always comes through when he has a chip on his shoulder."

It was Bennett who paved the way for Holt to get an opportunity in the Las Vegas Summer League. He called an old friend, Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer, and "asked him for a favor — to look at a guy who was being overlooked and had a lot of talent and played a great senior season."

Bennett says he told Budenholzer that "he wasn't going to get a good kid — he was going to get a great kid."

A big key for Holt will be to develop his game at both ends of the court, showing he can shoot and score and handle the ball as well as play in-your-face defense. He boosted his offense as a senior, when he was asked to be the Gaels' team leader and point guard and came through with 15.2 points per game and 44 percent shooting from 3-point range.

Holt left Saint Mary's as the school's No. 10 all-time career scorer, and he ranks No. 2 in steals. The Gaels went 23-12 his final season, and he scored a game-high 24 points in his last collegiate game, a 63-55 second-round NIT loss to Minnesota.

"A great kid who works really hard," Dellavedova says. "He sacrifices for the team and will fill whatever role and do whatever it takes to win.

"I think 'Holty' has done a great job" of showing what he can bring to a pro team, Dellavedova adds. "He's looked very composed and comfortable, shot well and defended well. I'm excited to see what happens in the next phase of his basketball journey."

Atlanta returns starting point guard Jeff Teague and backup Shelvin Mack. Kyle Korver is at shooting guard. So Holt knows earning a place with the Hawks, or anyone in the NBA, won't be easy.

"It's a cutthroat business," he says. "People want to win now and see their players produce. I'm embracing the challenge and not ever nervous when I play in front of NBA executives. I just try to stick to my strengths and help the team win.

"I bring a lot of intangibles. I've always taken pride in my rebounding and steals."

If his bid for an NBA team fails this year, "overseas is what I want to do," he says. "I'm using basketball as an early platform to build relationships and make money. I have a degree in business to fall back on later in life. I want to go into coaching or owning a business."

His No. 1 motivation always will be to win.

"That's been my background ever since I touched a ball," he says "I've won championships at every level I've played at. I want to bring that mentality to any team I play for."