JACOB Holmen couldn’t feel any more at home in Kalgoorlie or be as committed and passionate about the Goldfields Giants in his third SBL season, but all that takes a backseat to his desire to have some success for the big Texan.
Holmen is captain of the Giants in his third season with the club and in the SBL, and he still has fond memories of the stirring run the team made in 2015 after an 0-8 start to make it all the way to the semi finals.
Last year’s seven-win season left him with a point to prove so he was always going to come back in 2017. Now with eight games remaining, the Giants have their work cut out at 6-12 to end up in playoff action, but Holmen remains buoyant at the possibility.
Holmen continues to be one of the best and most versatile players in the league putting up 26.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists a game shooting 47.7 per cent from the field, 35.6 per cent from downtown and 74.4 per cent at the free-throw line.
But he’s not at the Giants for his numbers. He wants to win and after getting a taste of it two years ago and then a disappointing 2016, he doesn’t want to experience another SBL campaign not ending with a post-season.
The Giants do need to keep winning to make that happen including this weekend’s road double against the Joondalup City Wolves and Stirling Senators.
“Last year we went 7-19 and you never want your last memory that people have of me in the SBL to be that way. I don’t want them to think of me as a 7-19 player just trying to get stats when I want to win. I want to compete and I think my guys know that, and that’s why I’m here,” Holmen said.
“For the last six weeks I feel like we’ve been in the playoffs and every week has been win or go home. We’re just trying to get that message across to the guys to come out and play as desperate as possible.
“We are 6-12 and you can start to get down when the weather gets cold at night when you come to practice, but I can’t let those negative thoughts creep into my guys’ heads. We need to come out and fight as hard as we can for this town. It’s about pride.”
The combination of feeling at home in Kalgoorlie, enjoying playing at a club in a city who is right behind the team and where you are a big deal has all been a big factor in Holmen remaining with the Giants for a third season.
On top of that, he wouldn’t trade his teammates for anything and he couldn’t be happier with his initial decision to make the journey to Kalgoorlie back in 2015.
“What has kept bringing me back is the people, man. Brandon Holloway is actually going to end up being a groomsman at my wedding coming up in October so the people here are phenomenal. My teammates, I love them all to death,” Holmen said.
“I just love the family feel, the community feel and the whole environment. I grew up in a small town back in Texas so it’s really similar to that for me. With coming out here to Australia to play, I didn’t want a metropolitan feel. I wanted a family environment since I am so far away from my family and that’s why I keep coming back.”
Holmen likes the feel of the city and it’s not too different to back home in Texas for him in a lot of ways, aside from the food he misses. He does feel like it’s a situation as close to being a professional as you can get while being in the SBL that can’t be replicated in Perth.
“I talked to (Jay) Bowie after he left (after 2015) and granted he’s had more wins at Willetton, but we talk about the environment in Kalgoorlie and when you’re winning, there’s no place like it,” he said.
“We go out to do school visits and things all the time and it still makes me laugh that when we go to the grocery store, a random kid will see me and whisper to his parents ‘Oh my god, it’s Jacob.’
“You’re not going to get that in Perth with the Wildcats being there and with it being such a metropolitan city. But out here you can go anywhere and be easily recognised, and I enjoy that.”
Following his North Texas college career that ended after the 2013/14 season, Holmen has made his mark on the Giants in his three seasons. The respect he is held in is shown with him being captain and continuing to deliver big numbers, but more importantly outstanding leadership on and off the court.
He had no idea what to expect of Australia, Kalgoorlie and the SBL three years ago. But when he arrived, he quickly grew to enjoy the city and then after a slow start in 2015 on the court like his team, really got going.
Following the 0-8 start, on the back of the trio of Holmen, Bowie and Mathiang Muo, the Giants rolled all the way to the semi finals and perhaps missed a real grand final chance up against the South West Slammers.
Holmen enjoyed that season so much that he wanted it to continue. When it didn’t happen in 2016, he was desperate to come back this season to have another crack at it.
“Three years ago I had no idea what to expect. I had Googled Kalgoorlie and that’s pretty much all you can learn about the place is from that. Then when you get out here and actually see it first hand, it’s a bit of a culture shock. But now I love it and wouldn’t change it for the world,” Holmen said.
“In that first year I didn’t know what was going to happen and we ended up starting 0-8 and there was a chance of me going home because I wasn’t performing well enough. But we strung it together and figured it out, and I thought we would then have most of the core back the next season but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
“I was here again but it didn’t go how I wanted so coming back this year was more about loyalty and trying to get these guys to come up to my level so that we can make a playoff run, which I still believe that we can. We saw it happen in 2015 so why not now.”
That run the Giants made in 2015 was special given the slow start. But once Muo arrived, they had perhaps the best three-man punch seen in the SBL in some time before they went on to knock off the Geraldton Buccaneers in the quarter finals.
It’s a season Holmen will never forget and it’s something he hopes they can come close to replicating in 2017.
“That team in that first year was phenomenal, it just took us a while to find our feet. I think we were 0-5 when Mathiang came in and we were playing the Wolves here and he had like 32 points and 17 rebounds,” he said.
“After that we lost three more, but they were close losses, and we finally started winning and we figured it out. Mathiang is probably one of the most confident people I’ve ever met. We were 0-8 and he was walking around telling us we were going to win a championship. That type of belief is contagious.”
Holmen remains one of the best players in the SBL and there is no reason whatsoever he couldn’t deliver impressively in the NBL if a club gave him the chance.
The 6’8 big man can play inside and out, is a strong rebounder and defender, can carry the ball, set screens and make plays when the games are on the line.
He’s also an outstanding leader so comparing his traits to some imports in the NBL last season, he would have them covered and clubs could do worse than looking at him for 2017/18.
He is also just 25 years of age with plenty left in him, but he’s also got a great mind for the sport and would love to continue being involved in basketball beyond his playing days.
That’s why there’s so much left up in the air about where his future lies once this season with the Giants ends.
“I know I can’t play forever and the SBL is a great league, but if I want to move on with my life I would love to have an NBL shot or go to the NBA, I’m going to take any of those opportunities if they come,” he said.
“I’m not too sure what’s happening once this season finishes. I applied to be a player development intern for the Dallas Mavs so I can try and go ahead and get into that US coaching circuit.
“But after this season if that doesn’t happen, I’ll go home, talk to my family and continue to workout. If I come back to Kal, I’ll come back, but I’m not too sure about that yet.”
Another thing making Holmen’s future a little unclear is the fact that he’s getting married in October.
While where the honeymoon will be is the current biggest dilemma, longer term Holmen knows that he can’t live in Kalgoorlie in 2018 for a third straight year without his wife.
She did join him back in 2015, but being able to find a situation where she could join him with a job in 2018 looks set to be a deciding factor in whether he’s back at the Giants for a fourth season or not.
“We’ve been planning for it and she hates that I’m not home right now for it, but we’ve been saving up money for it and talking every day,” Holmen said.
“The biggest thing right now is where we are going to go for this honeymoon. We have narrowed it down to the Dominican Republic or Jamaica, but the one thing for sure we know is that it’s going to be the Caribbean.
“She came here with me in my first year because she had just graduated college, but after that she found a job working in the States. The thing with working out here is that it’s tough with an American partner.
“If I had an Aussie partner, I’d stay out her forever but that’s not the case. I would love to stay out here forever and get permanent residency but with an American partner that’s been the toughest obstacle for us to overcome and to get her out here, and finding a job. I’d love to come back but we’ll have to see.”