- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Maryland forward Tahj Holden was supposed to be a combination sixth man and spot starter this season.
Instead, two career scoring highs in four games have suddenly elevated his supporting role to that of leading man.
Holden's 20 points and nine rebounds were the difference in No.13 Maryland's 68-65 victory over N.C. State on Sunday. The Terps would have been humbled without Holden's persistent presence that has been overlooked.
Maybe Holden doesn't dominate around the rim with power moves, but he could be a major force if the surging Terps advance to their third straight Final Four. Maryland (19-7, 11-4) ends its regular season at Virginia (14-13, 5-9) Sunday.
"People expect Tahj to play a certain way," coach Gary Williams said. "He doesn't play the way most 6-11, 260-pounders play. He plays a very finesse game. He probably knows the game as well as any inside player I've coached. He learned the game like a guard. He knows what every player does on the court."
Holden is the consummate team player. He's not flashy and can disappear during blowouts when he leaves the scoring to others. He often spends practices tutoring successor Travis Garrison. So what if fans wonder how he can go from a then career-best 18 points against Duke on Feb.19 to none vs. North Carolina four days later? Holden knows he's the third scoring option at best behind guards Drew Nicholas and Steve Blake and doesn't take low-percentage shots.
"Not everybody likes everybody," Holden said. "You can find people who don't like Michael Jordan, so you'll find people that don't like Tahj Holden."
Center Ryan Randle can't always carry the Terps underneath, so Holden has been increasingly needed during late runs. Williams called Holden's experience "invaluable" during tense stretches, but the coach likes the senior's underrated leadership and humor even more.
Maryland announcer Johnny Holliday dubbed Holden the "unofficial mayor of College Park." He's also president of the student-athlete advisory council.
"Tahj will hit me up at some point for a political donation," Williams said. "He's going to run for office because he's the master politician."
Holden averaged 4.5 points over his three years, missing nine games in 2001 after he broke a foot early in the season. Holden started 10 games early last season before being replaced by Chris Wilcox, who blossomed into an NBA first-round pick.
An inconsistent start earlier this season again sent Holden to the bench for five games before he returned against Duke on Jan.18 when Williams moved to an all-senior lineup. The short stint as the sixth man made Holden play with more urgency. He understood his final chance would end soon.
"It could be over very quickly in the ACC and NCAA tournaments," he said, "so I play every game like the cliche 'It's my last' because it could be my last. I know where [the years] went. I can remember it all. It went by a little faster than I wanted to, but you're not going to be able to pause when things are good. I wish I could have stopped it when the clock hit zero on the national championship for three months."
Holden exits with a communications degree this summer and some prospect of making the NBA. However, he'll miss being the team elder.
"I'll never have the opportunity to be around guys my age and be good friends like we are," Holden said. "You get to the pros and guys will be 38, 39 years old and been in the league 10 years, and I'll be 22."
Meanwhile, Maryland is staggering its practice schedule with two days off because the Terps have no midweek game for the first time this season. All ACC teams have one midweek bye.
"I have some reservations," Williams said, "but the positive things are you're rested and work on things you may not have been doing particularly well. … You can't get a [nonconference] midweek game. Nobody wants to travel in midweek this time of year, and we're not going to travel."

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