COLUMBIA — It wasn’t much of a secret.
Anyone who spent time around the Hickman girls basketball team this preseason instantly saw what freshman Jade Holly was capable of. A lights-out shooter with speed and quickness and most importantly confidence always has a chance to make the starting lineup.
Her coach knew that. Her teammates knew. But Holly wasn’t so sure.
She admits to thinking about the possibility of starting. But a freshman playing guard for the varsity team in the first game of the season? Holly refused to get her hopes up.
“I thought practice has been going pretty good,” she said.” I know I work hard enough, but who knows?”
Coach Tonya Mirts knew for a long time.
“I’ve known since the first day of practice,” Mirts said. “I think everybody on the team knew she was starting maybe but her. She’s phenomenal. She’s a freshman phenom.”
It wasn’t until Thursday’s shootaround, just hours before her first high school game, that Holly discovered the news. She stepped right into the Kewpies front line and scored 19 points in Hickman’s 53-48 victory over Helias.
“Here’s the deal. You haven’t seen the best of her,” Mirts said. “Honestly, this was poorest I’ve ever seen her shoot it. I think that the nervous jitters, the up-and-down pace, her conditioning isn’t quite there yet. If we get penetration and get her a little closer, I don’t see her missing. I really don’t.”
It took Holly no time to adjust to the level of high school play. She scored 14 of her points in the first half, but said she had been anxious all day at school daydreaming about the game.
“Oh my gosh, I was nervous,” Holly said. “My heart was beating really fast. I was just ready to get to the game and get playing. My mind was on the game all day. Thinking about what I was going to do and how it was going to go.”
It couldn’t have gone better. Holly drained three 3-pointers including one with just less than five minutes remaining in the game that gave Hickman an advantage that it never relinquished at 43-41.
“She really puts in a lot of hard work and the speed and quickness is really her biggest asset,” her father Mark Holly said. “It’s her willingness to work. We put in a lot of time outside the gym here. After practice we’ll go and shoot another 200 shots.”
The extra effort and time spent practicing with her father is what Mirts thinks made her the player she is today.
“He has developed her and she has a great talent,” Mirts said. “This is a gift for a coach. She’s a player that loves the game and works tremendously at her skills. That’s tedious. It takes a lot of time. For some kids they just get up and play, but they might not have taken 2,000 shots. This kid probably shoots 500 shots a day.”
With just one game down in Jade Holly’s four-year career, Mirts was giddy thinking about the road ahead.
“Doesn’t that sound fun?"