On Path from G League to NBA, Aric Holman Will Lean on Lessons Learned in Baseball

Autumns have always been exciting for Aric Holman, and this one is no different. For one, his beloved New York Yankees were back in the Major League Baseball playoffs, though a six-game loss in the American League Championship Series to the Houston Astros left them short of a spot in the World Series against the Washington Nationals.

And, in an alternate universe, the 6’10” former high school pitcher might have been able to help his favorite team on the mound. 

“I consider myself a Randy Johnson, but I always wanted to throw like Aroldis Chapman,” Aric tells CloseUp360. “I feel like I could throw that hard.”

Despite that power in his pitching arsenal, which included a two-seam fastball and a four-seamer that “moved like a cutter a little bit,” he says, Aric touts his curveball as his best option.

“It was 3-to-9,” he says, referring to the path of the pitch by the numbers on a clock face. “It looks like it's coming at you and then it would just break.”

Right now, Aric has another battle on his hands far from the diamond: a fight for his future in professional basketball. Despite playing in Summer League with the Los Angeles Lakers and going to training camp with the Dallas Mavericks, he’ll start his career with the Texas Legends, the Mavs’ G League affiliate.

For most incoming rookies, starting off in the NBA’s minor league would seem far from ideal and anything but a dream. But for a former pitcher and undrafted free agent like Aric? He knows a thing or two about curveballs.

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Before he was a full-time basketball player, Aric Holman was a baseball pitcher who patterned his style after Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. (Amir Ebrahimi)

For a town of fewer than 60,000 people, Owensboro, Kentucky, has produced an impressive list of famous athletes and noteworthy sports figures. Cliff Hagan, who starred at the University of Kentucky before playing in the NBA and eventually earning induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, played at Owensboro High School. Former NBA veteran Rex Chapman and his father, Wayne, both grew up in Owensboro before reaching the league.

Brad Wilkerson, who played eight seasons in the MLB, and Bruce Brubaker, who lasted three years at baseball’s highest level, came out of Kentucky’s fourth-largest city. So did Larry Vanover, a veteran umpire who’s called more than 3,000 games. In addition, brothers Kenny and Mark Higgs played in the NBA and NFL, respectively.

But if Owensboro is known for anything, it’s motorsports. There’s Jeremy Mayfield, who starred as a stock car driver in NASCAR during the 1990s and early 2000s. And the Waltrip brothers (Darrell and Michael), the former of whom is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. And the Greens (David, Mark and Jeff) of NASCAR fame. Not to mention the Haydens (Nicky, Roger Lee and Tommy), who made their names in motorcycle racing.

Growing up in Owensboro, Aric developed a love for cars, though it had little to do with the city’s track record of professional success in motorsports.

“I love The Fast and the Furious movies, so seeing all those cars” inspired his affinity, he says.

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Aric grew up admiring classic muscle cars after watching The Fast and the Furious movies. (Amir Ebrahimi)

Aric came to admire classic muscle cars like the 1964 Chevy Impala, the Ford Mustangs from the late 1960s and the Chevy Monte Carlos that came out of the 1980s. 

But his “first love,” as he puts it, was baseball. It was the preferred sport among his friends in the neighborhood. For him, “it was just a different feeling,” he says. “And me being a pitcher, I got to basically be in control of the time of playing.”

On the mound, unlike in the inner city of Owensboro, Aric was the master of his domain. No bullets to dodge. No drugs to lure him into addiction, as they did to so many around him. Just him, the hitter and the ball.

His dominance as a pitcher earned him spots on Little League All-Star teams and, in turn, kept him away from the streets in the summertime.

“You go through phases of life that you can learn from,” he says. “It's just all about being mature enough to not follow that route. I'm blessed that I have the friends and family that I have.”

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Aric grew up as the youngest of five children born to Central and Janice Holman. Those two split, and Central remarried to Lynn Johnson when Aric was still in elementary school.

Aric’s parents did what they could to provide for their kids. Central worked a job with Texas Gas Transmission that he’d gotten straight out of high school, Janice worked as a chef and Lynn was the head bartender at a nearby country club.

But the Holmans still had their struggles. When snow storms swept through Owensboro, they would go days at a time without food and water while hemmed in by the elements.

“Stuff like that humbles you because you've been to the bottom, you've felt the bottom before,” Aric says. “So now it's, like, I cherish everything that I get because I know what it feels like to have nothing.”

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Aric overcame his fair share of struggles as the youngest of five children in his family in Owensboro. (Amir Ebrahimi)

There weren’t many role models around to show kids like Aric that it was possible to make it out of Owensboro in a bigger way. But he did get to look up to his siblings for some guidance. His brother, C.J., played basketball in high school. One of his sisters, India, excelled in basketball and volleyball. All of the Holman kids, including sisters Mauricha and Centrale, share similar physical builds.

“Tall and skinny,” he says, “just like me.”

That build, in part, lent him towards basketball. Aric picked up the game around the age of eight—around the same time he started playing baseball. But where that was a passion, hoops was more of “a hobby,” he says. 

Nonetheless, he showed promise on the court in a local church league called Upward Basketball, and played basketball and baseball through his time at Owensboro High School. Aric’s lanky frame grew—from 6’4” in eighth grade to over 6’6” as a freshman—to the point where hoops made more sense. But he insists it was his mind that led him from the field to the hardwood.

“With basketball, my IQ, I brought so much to the table,” he says. “So I feel like it would help me in the long run to the stage that I'm at now.”

Some of that fortitude came from baseball. Studying hitters and picking out pitches was one thing, but the ability to move past a bad inning helped Aric deal with the aftermath of missed shots and poor decisions on the court.

“Just that mental toughness, taking that from baseball and being able to control what I can control at that time frame and that part of the game,” he says. “I definitely took that from baseball right into basketball.”

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For all of Owensboro’s history in motorsports, and all of Aric’s love for baseball, there was no denying the pull of basketball across Kentucky. That also went for the Holman household, where Aric grew up rooting for the University of Louisville.

“There were Louisville Cardinal hats and jackets all around the house,” he says.

If basketball was his path, then Louisville would be the place to pursue it. But getting to a four-year university, much less playing for the Cardinals’ hallowed program, seemed like a pipe dream for Aric through most of his prep career. 

Despite keeping his baseball glove in his car (“Even going to basketball practice, just in case anybody wanted to throw,” he says), Aric started taking basketball seriously in high school and saw significant improvement as a result. Yet, though his game grew, he struggled to attract a single offer through his junior year .

“I'm thinking, Oh, man, I'm gonna have to go to JUCO or something,” he reflects, “even though I don't have no JUCO scholarships.”

That all changed in the summer of 2014. By then, Aric had started to generate some buzz on the adidas Uprising AAU circuit with Hoop Dreams, a club team based in Lexington. But he truly blew up at a tournament in Atlanta, where he showed out against the likes of Jaylen Brown and Josh Jackson, who went on to become lottery picks in the NBA draft.

Aric’s team didn’t come out on top, though he was no less a victor. He walked away with more than 40 scholarship offers, including one from Louisville.

“It was amazing, but I was still shocked,” he says. “The main question I kept asking was, ‘I get a full ride? Like, how much is it? Are they like $40,000?’ Whatever the school was.”

In the spring of 2015, Aric was riding high. He had just led the Owensboro Red Devils to their first state boys' basketball championship since 1980, and finished as runner-up for the title of Kentucky Mr. Basketball. He had also whittled those 40-plus offers down to a final four, with Louisville seemingly ahead of Xavier, Texas and late-coming Mississippi State, which had only just hired former UCLA head coach Ben Howland to take over its program.

So when Aric sat down in front of friends, family and classmates to announce his college choice, he sent shockwaves through the Bluegrass State when the cap he donned wasn’t Cardinal red, but rather Mississippi State maroon.

“Most of the guys from Kentucky go to Western Kentucky, Kentucky or Louisville,” he says. “I wanted to build basically my own brand, and I took that chance with Coach Howland, which made it easy looking at his resume and the players that he's developed.”

Coach Howland had, indeed, built a deep roster of NBA alumni during his time at UCLA—from Trevor Ariza, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook to Jrue Holiday, Norman Powell and Kyle Anderson. But he was new to Starkville, and Aric would be one of the crown jewels of an initial recruiting class that included Malik Newman and Quinndary Weatherspoon.

Playing fewer than 10 minutes per game as a freshman was an adjustment for Aric. But even for a kid from Kentucky, life in the Deep South was an eye-opener all its own.

“It helped me be a better man, a better person. It helped me mature quick enough because it was definitely a culture shock going there,” he says. “To be honest, Mississippi, some parts of that state, the little cities, are still behind dealing with life.”

That didn’t stop Aric from doing his part to give back, just as he had in high school lending a helping hand to Habitat for Humanity in Owensboro. He spent his spare time reading to elementary school students and taking part in community service projects.

“These are the families that dedicate to come and watch us play every night,” he says, “spending money just to watch another human being put a ball in a hoop.”

On the court, Aric emerged as a uniquely intriguing prospect: a big man who could shoot threes and protect the rim. As a senior in 2018-19, he helped the Bulldogs snag a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.

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This year's draft night was no dream for Aric, but landing with the Lakers as an undrafted free agent shortly thereafter seemed like it could be.

In addition to retired legends like Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady, Aric had admired LeBron James and Anthony Davis, his potential superstar teammates in LA. An Exhibit 10 contract hardly guaranteed a permanent place in purple and gold, though after showing promise with the Lakers in Sacramento and Las Vegas in July, he seemed assured of at least a shot to earn a spot in training camp.

Then, DeMarcus Cousins went down with a knee injury. Rather than clear the All-Star big man from their roster, the Lakers opted to waive Aric in order to open up a spot for another accomplished veteran, Dwight Howard.

Within days of Aric clearing waivers, the Mavericks claimed him to join their training camp. But after three appearances—during which he logged eight points, four rebounds and two made threes in just under 10 total minutes—the forward found himself waived again. 

Without an NBA team (and accompanying salary) to which to hitch himself just yet, Aric may have to wait to customize the Dodge Hellcat he bought over the summer, much less indulge his love of classic muscle cars.

By the grace of God, if I ever get some money that I can just spend on something, I'm definitely gonna build me a nice, little, old-school [car],” he says.

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After signing with the Lakers as an undrafted free agent and going to training camp with the Mavericks, Aric will begin his pro career with the G League's Texas Legends. (Amir Ebrahimi)

But Aric has his sights set on doing something much bigger than filling a garage. He already has his own line of apparel, emblazoned with his “AH’ logo. 

And for all that people back home have done to love, raise and support him, he wants to return the favor by inspiring the next generation in his community.

“That's the main thing I'm trying to do now, just let people see another way of life,” he says. “You can make it out of little Owensboro, Kentucky.”

Whether that’s driving cars, tossing baseballs or shooting hoops.

 

Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.