Friday, April 25, 2008

Links and insight on Amber Holt

I've been a little behind on this day the last few days, but here's the Bulletin's training camp coverage thus far (listed with dates):

Friday: Rookie Holt is soft-spoken, hard-nosed
Friday: Camp invitee Page impressing Sun coaches
Thursday: 'Old' rookie Gahan looks for home with Sun
Wednesday: Revitalized Raymond has second chance in Connecticut
Tuesday: Once 'stale,' Sun start anew in training camp
Tuesday: Quest to replace Douglas begins in camp

Some more on Holt: I asked every member of the Sun coaching staff about how the first-round draft pick compares to Nykesha Sales, who she may replace in the team's starting lineup, and they were decidedly split, though they did acknowledge there are some similarities there. Watching her the last couple days in practice, she just seems to move like Nykesha; she has the ability to play tough down low and takes contact much like the former UConn star did. She's versatile like Sales, though at this point, she doesn't have the range that Sales has. That said, Holt may be able to play more positions because of her experience both playing the point in junior college and the power forward position at Middle Tennessee State. Here' a few takes on Holt:

Sun coach Mike Thibault: (On her compared to Sales) She does (have similarities). She’s similar-sized, maybe a little stronger through the shoulders. Keesha had better shooting range at the same age. But they’re about the same height. Amber may be a tad bigger, but not much. She may be a little bit more of a post player than Keesha was.

But I have huge expectations for her (Holt) defensively. I think she knew this when she got drafted. She prides herself on her defense. Here’s a kid that drew 80-something charges in two years of college basketball. That’s really hard to do, especially when you consider she played a lot of minutes and was the leading scorer of her team. That’s doing a lot on both ends. ... She understands getting up and playing people.

(On conversations he's had with Holt) I talked to her before we drafted here, we interviewed her and told her what we expect and what we’re looking for. And I talked to her when she got her. Not anything lengthy. I expect the same thing from all of them: good defense, great effort, run the floor, let the offense, don’t force things and for the most part, she’s done that.

Sun assistant coach Scott Hawk: We knew that she was a very good defensive player, we knew that she was a good rebounder for her position. So we expected her to be those things. We’re not surprised that she’s good defensively, we’re not surprised that she rebounds the ball well. And it’s consistent what she’s shown her last two years of college.

(Are there similarities between with her and Sales) I don’t see it. If that’s what you see, I understand. I don’t see that stuff because you’re talking about a young kid. You’re not talked about a kid with the body of work that Nykesha does. Because by the time I got to work with Keesh, she was a seasoned veteran and had a accomplished so many things already.

But no, she’s Amber.

Whatever wings player you have, there are certain things you expect as far as being able to shoot the ball with some range and being able to handle it a little bit. But again, you play to everybody’s strengths. Amber’s Amber. She’s not Keesh. Obviously there will be a lot of similarities that will occur because of the area of the floor they play on. But Coach Thibault’s very good at identifying your strengths and getting you to places on the floor where you can really take advantage of those. And that’s what he’ll do with Amber.

Sun assistant Bernadette Mattox: (On Holt's adjustment to team and pro level thus far) The thing is, she’s learning our system, our style, so therefore, that part slows her down or anybody, just learning and thinking a lot. She’s everything we’ve expected at this point.

She may not take an opportunity that she did in college because she knows, ‘Oh, I have that opening.’ Here, she has to kind of look at first, and by then, it’s gone.

(On similarities to Sales) I think the strength of the lower body (is similar). But I think she was asked to do more in college than Keesh because Keesh was probably surrounded by a little bit better players. So she can play a few more positions than Keesh can. I mean, she played point guard in high school. That’s why she’s so comfortable handling the basketball.

When I asked Holt herself if she saw similarities between her game and Sales, she laughed, saying, "That's a first."

"That’s your opinion," she said, before thinking about it for a moment. "A little bit. I can, just a little bit."

Note: The coaches saw Holt play in person as many as four times this past season alone, with Thibault taking in her performances against LSU and Maryland, Hawk also in Maryland and Mattox watching in games against Tennessee and Western Kentucky. Here's a rundown of what she took from the Tennessee game, in which Holt netted 28 points:

She had to guard(Candace) Parker a few times because her post player got in foul trouble a little bit … and she held her own. They put (Alexis) Hornbuckle on her early and they had to get her off. She did a good job on her. Amber still well against those big teams. And that’s what you want to see because at this level, those are the players she’s going to be going against every day. She showed that she belonged.

Keys for Holt in training will be to extend her range beyond the 3-point line (she made 20 as a senior) while also continuing to improve her ball-handling, which is good at this point for a post-player. Holt also counted defense as something to improve upon, though the Sun coaches raved about that part of her game and under Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Insell, she has experience playing in an up-tempo, pressure-oriented defense.

Also, a final note on Holt I wish I got into the story but didn't have room for was her on-court demeanor. Holt touched upon it herself ("all about business") but Tamika Raymond may have described it best.

"Her face," Raymond said, as she slowly swiped her hand in front of her nose, displaying an unchanging expression the whole time. "All I want to see is if someone can knock her out or do something because that kid is stone-faced. And that’s good for a rookie."

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