The first game introduction of his senior season didn’t go exactly how Nick Holmes had pictured it — not even close.
Ideally, he would be suited up with the starting five and ready to lead coach Danny Fisher’s new-look Overland boys basketball team on the path toward a potential third straight Class 5A state championship.
But when Holmes was introduced in front of a pumped up “O-Town” crowd for the Trailblazers’ 2016-17 opener against Regis Jesuit Dec. 1, he proudly wore his white No. 0 jersey, knowing he would spend the entire game — and season — on the bench for reasons totally out of his control. Just a few weeks earlier, Holmes was diagnosed with a treatable form of bone cancer that would make playing the game he loves too risky during his senior season.
The news about osteosarcoma might have made some players retreat, but Holmes decided he would stay with the team, even if it meant staying off the court. He made sure he was at practice and present for the team’s opener, which helped to calm the uncertainty he felt inside.
“It was big (to be introduced); knowing that I can’t play, things like that keep me involved with the team and it still makes me feel like I’m part of the game,” Holmes told the Sentinel.
“I had to let the team know that just because this is going on with me, nothing stops. We still have games to win and a lot of adversity to go through. I’m just trying to be a leader off the court and just translate things that Coach Danny says from a player standpoint.”
Holmes’ jarring diagnosis of a tumor growing on his hip came after the family took him to see a doctor after a period of time near the beginning of the school year when he went through relentless soreness.
His father, Julian, told BasketballColorado.com’s Matt Langley that the family believed Holmes might have just landed on his hip awkwardly, but it soon became obvious he needed to see a doctor. The timing was fortuitous.
A couple of somewhat inconclusive MRI scans prompted a biopsy, which led to the diagnosis of osteosarcoma. The outlook was good, however.
I will beat this cancer…
— ☃️Nick Holmes⚡️‼️ (@ShifTHolmes0) November 22, 2016
“They let us know that this is definitely treatable and curable because we caught it pretty early,” Holmes said. “Because we caught it early, hopefully I won’t have to do any chemo or radiation and this next big surgery (to remove the tumor) will be it.”
Holmes’ parents had gone through a similar situation before, as Holmes said his mother, Nicole, won a successful bout with Hodgkin Lymphoma — another treatable form of cancer — around the time he was born. She has begun to share her experience with her son.
On the outside, the family has received cards in the mail and constant well-wishes, but sports have given Holmes a boost that few others have. The outpouring of support from inside the walls of Overland and within a tight-knit prep basketball community have emboldened him in his fight.
Uplifting messages via social media from total strangers, support from other basketball teams such as Sand Creek and bracelets and “Nick Strong” t-shirts made by Overland students have showered Holmes with love.
“All the support has really calmed my nerves about all this,” Holmes said. “I wasn’t prepared at all.”
As a coach, Fisher has had many players deal with challenges, but this particular one really cut him to the core.
“It’s so tough, it’s something that is so far outside of any of our control, so it’s just about how we respond,” Fisher said. “All we want to do is put our arms around each other and keep the love. Everybody has just been so amazing.
“Part of that is a tribute to the kid that Nick is, a great young man, and to the great family he comes from, but the support of the basketball community and everybody has been just overwhelming.”
As important as basketball and the team has been, he easily keeps it in perspective.
The risk of a hip or leg fracture that could help the tumor spread took playing this season off the table for Holmes, a 6-foot-3 guard/forward who was expected to see a very significant role on a team that’s replacing the star-studded lineup — which included De’ron Davis, who is currently play at Indiana University — that made the Overland program the first to repeat as state champions in 5A boys basketball since Regis Jesuit (2009-11).
But he’ll “Respect the Process,” a mantra that the team has staunchly adhered to the last two seasons, and contribute whatever he can in other ways.
Overland players had enough motivation coming into the season given the program’s recent run of success and the target they figured to have on their backs, but they ended up with another rallying point from within their own ranks.
“That was a big loss, but we keep Nick in our prayers and we’re working for him,” junior Daijon Smith said. “It sucks that he had to find out the bad news right before the season, but it’s adversity. We just have to get through it with him.”
Holmes tried to dish out a few assists from the bench during Overland’s 71-63 victory over Regis Jesuit, as he watched the game through Fisher’s eyes.
It’s a much different look — watching rather than doing — but it should serve him well in the future, as he plans to get back on the court when his health is in order and give playing in college a try.
In the meantime, Holmes plans to be every bit the teammate he would have been while suited up.
Depending on the timing of his next surgery, Holmes hopes to travel with the Overland team to Las Vegas for the Tarkanian Classic Dec. 15-20 and be there every step as the Trailblazers battle through the Centennial League and into the postseason.
“Being away from playing basketball really sucks, but it gives me a chance to build my IQ for the game by watching and listening,” Holmes said. “Our conversations on the sideline when we played Regis is him (Fisher) communicating with me about the things I can see out there. It really changes my view.
“When I get back on the court, I’m going to feel like a new player.”
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel