Evanston’s Jaheim Holden has always had a scorer’s mentality, but as the season progressed the junior guard made a gradual shift away from that shoot-first approach.
The results have been overwhelmingly positive: The Wildkits boys basketball team tied for the Central Suburban South title and claimed its second straight sectional title to reach the 25-win plateau.
Evanston plays Lake Zurich at 8 p.m. Tuesday in a Class 4A supersectional at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
“I now know that I can help my team in other ways besides scoring,” Holden said.
Holden’s teammates have taken notice of the change.
“It’s happened over time where he’s grown up as a player,” said junior guard Lance Jones, who had 42 points in the Wildkits’ two sectional wins. “He’s not forcing as many bad shots and it’s led to more opportunities for me and others.”
Another beneficiary of Holden’s commitment to more liberal ball distribution has been freshman Blake Peters.
He notched a team-high 19 points in the Wildkits’ 69-57 win over New Trier in the Maine East Sectional final Friday. Peters, Jones (17 points) and Holden (16 points) combined to score 52 of Evanston’s points.
Holden scored 12 points in the second half, including back-to-back field goals on drives to the basket late in the third quarter after the Trevians pulled within six points.
It wasn’t a coincidence that Holden chose that juncture to attack the Trevians’ 1-3-1 zone.
“My coaches had told me to be patient and that my time would come,” Holden said of the consecutive buckets. “I like my ability to finish around the basket, so when I had opportunities like that, I knew it was time to make some plays for my team.”
Evanston coach Mike Ellis refers to Holden as a “scoring point guard,” and said Holden’s newfound willingness to play through others has resulted in Evanston’s offense running smoother.
“Growing up, it was always score, score, score for Jaheim,” Ellis said. “Now, he’s starting to figure things out. In the past, his play revolved around his goals. Over the past month or so, it’s been more about the team’s goals.”
Chief among those aspirations is to avoid a second straight supersectional loss.
The sting of last year’s 67-59 season-ending loss to eventual state champion Young never receded from Holden’s mind. Revisiting the heartache of the defeat has put a sizable chip on Holden’s shoulder during the season’s stretch run.
“That was devastating, and I told my coach that I was going to do everything in my power to finish the job this time,” Holden said. “Going into the playoffs, I had the mentality that we won’t be stopped. It’s definitely a time of the season when you have to be completely locked in.”
Holden’s commitment has resulted in an uptick in his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor.
He scored a career-high 29 points in Evanston’s 66-51 win over Notre Dame in the regional final, and he continually harassed both sectional opponents with his cat-quick hands on defense.
While team success is paramount in Holden’s mind, becoming more of a facilitator will likely pay dividends for him in the future. The Evanston resident is aware that there aren’t a lot of 5-foot-10 shooting guards playing on the next level.
“With me wanting to play Division I basketball, sliding over to point guard is what’s been necessary,” Holden said.
Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.
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