January 13, 2017 10:12:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Aric Holman had to do something he had never done as a freshman with the Mississippi State men's basketball team: He had to sit.
Holman arrived at MSU in the summer of 2015 as part of a group of freshmen that was expected to make an immediate impact. But Holman had micro fracture surgery on his left knee to correct a patellofemoral disorder prior to the 2015-16 season and missed the first 10 games.
Holman said sitting out was one of the toughest things he had to do, but he made his MSU debut in December 2015 and played 21 games as a freshman.
As a sophomore, Holman has earned a spot in the starting lineup and has become one of MSU's most reliable players. Holman will look to continue to produce at noon Saturday (WCBI) when MSU (11-4, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) plays host to Texas A&M (9-6, 1-3) at Humphrey Coliseum.
"It was a big change for me just watching the game from the sideline to being able to go out there and experience it," Holman said. "That's why I worked as I hard as I could to come back last year, so I could get that experience in the second half of the season so I would be more comfortable playing, showing leadership, showing improvement just like everybody else for this sophomore season."
Holman started three games as a freshman and averaged 1.9 points and rebounds per game. Holman is averaging 10.3 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds in 15 games (14 starts) this season.
Holman dealt with the knee injury while at Owensboro (Ky.) High School and thought he could play through the pain in college like he did in high school. But he changed his thinking after talking to MSU coach Ben Howland.
"Coach Howland recognizes health is a big issue in this sport," Holman said. "He really took advantage of that and helped me out. He basically sat me down and told me if I want to play longer in college, I have to get this fixed right now. I really thank him for that."
Holman averaged 15.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.9 blocked shots in leading Owensboro to the 2015 Kentucky state championship. He was a finalist for the 2015 Kentucky Mr. Basketball.
Howland said Holman's play has benefited from the surgery.
"(It) has really changed his game because he's really playing pain free for the first time in a number of years," Howland said. "Aric's improved a lot from where he was a year ago -- a lot of it's strength, a lot of it's experience. I've been pleased with his development since his arrival here at Mississippi State."
The 6-foot-10, 222-pound forward is third in the SEC in blocks (33) and blocks per game (2.2). He had 14 last season.
"Just seeing the ball, getting to the middle when the ball is opposite," said Holman of why he has been so successful blocking shots. "The main thing is being in the stance. That's what I have problems with -- being in the stance."
Although a natural forward, Holman has had to play center due to the Bulldogs' lack of front-court depth. Freshman Schnider Herard has started the last three games and has pushed Holman to the four position (power forward).
Holman's teammates have seen his versatility. That was evident as Holman recorded his second double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) Tuesday in an 84-78 win at Arkansas.
"He can dribble the ball and he can shoot it," senior point guard I.J. Ready said. "Aric does a lot for the team that doesn't always get on the scoreboard, whether it's contesting shots, rebounding, or blocking out. He does a great job. Without Aric, I don't know how far we would be this year."
Although Holman scores most of his points in the paint, he can shoot from the perimeter. He is 6 of 23 from 3-point range on the year, but he is 3 of 5 in wins at LSU and at Arkansas. Howland said Holman has the green light on any wide open 3-point shot because he puts the work in.
"(Sunday) he came in and before we started our walk-through upstairs, he was up there getting a half an hour of shots up and a number of them were working on threes," Howland said. "It's good that he puts some time in and works on his game."
Holman doesn't feel like he has made big progress from last season because this is where he was supposed to be all along.
"I feel like I'm still the same guy and I still have a lot more potential I can grow into," Holman said. "I'm healthier, I feel more confident, but I still have a lot more to improve on."
n In other basketball news, MSU announced that freshman point guard Lamar Peter's father, Walter Sterling, passed away Wednesday night. Sterling was 44.
MSU didn't release the cause of death. A team spokesperson said Peters is expected to play Saturday.
The New Orleans, Louisiana, native is averaging 10.1 points per game and has started the last two games.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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