Even the most knowledgeable Shocker fan may not know Fridge Holman’s given name, which is understandable since coaches, teammates and the media hardly ever use it.
In fact, Holman’s bio at Wichita State’s athletic website, goshockers.com, is more than 40 lines long, but you’ll find no mention that he was born in Queens, N.Y., as Jerome Holman, same as his father.
He’s just Fridge.
Holman was tagged with the nickname at an early age. “The story’s kind of embarrassing,” he says with a grin. “When I was really, really small, I hit my head on the refrigerator. I had this big knot that wouldn’t go away for months. My mom got tired of telling the story: ‘The fridge, the fridge, he ran into the fridge.’ So everyone started calling me Fridge, and it just stuck.”
So that sets the record straight.
But Holman, the Shockers’ senior point guard, says there are rumors floating around campus about how the nickname came about. One explanation comes courtesy of teammate Jamar Howard.
“Jamar, my buddy, he tells everyone it’s Fridge because my game is so cold,” Holman says, still grinning.
Cold? While there are many ways to sum up Holman’s game, “cold” is far from accurate. Exciting, exhilarating, fast-paced — all those descriptions fit. Rushed, frenetic, slightly out of control — those also fit when he pushes the ball up the court a little too quickly. But that’s his way. Because, while you can take the boy out of New York City, you can’t take the city out of his game.
Holman was born in Jamaica, Queens, but raised in another borough, Brooklyn. Growing up, he spent a great deal of time in the summer playing hoops at a basketball court just around the corner from his house.
Located at St. John’s Street and Fifth Avenue, the court was a popular spot, attracting hundreds of players, but it featured no frills. “We called it the Sun Dome, because there was just one court and no trees, so it was like the hottest court in America,” says Holman from a cushier spot, shiny new Charles Koch Arena. “At the Sun Dome, there were so many players that if you lost you had to wait a long time to get back out there. It was rough, lots of competition. But it made me a better basketball player.”
Holman’s path to WSU was a rather windy one. He was a prep star at St. Patrick’s High School, averaging 22 points and six assists a game while leading his team to a state championship. He signed with Miami (Fla.) but ended up at Trinity Valley Junior College in Texas, where his impressive numbers (17.9 points, 7 assists per game) caught the eye of the Shocker coaching staff.
After completing his associate’s degree at Butler County, he arrived at WSU last season. His presence created interest; the Wichita Eagle described him as perhaps “the most hotly anticipated point guard prospect for WSU since Cal Bruton in the mid-1970s.”
Early on, everything worked out perfectly for Holman. His academics were in order, he earned a starting spot and, with Holman dishing out 18 assists and averaging more than 30 minutes a game, the Shockers started out 2-0.
Then, disaster. In late November, minutes before the team left for a game at Oral Roberts, Holman was fighting through a screen when he broke the fifth metatarsal on his right foot. Coach Mark Turgeon reported that Holman’s season was over.
“The worst part is, he’s such a great kid,” Turgeon told the Eagle. “He’s worked so hard to get back where he is academically. It’s one of those things where you say life’s just not fair sometimes.”
Turgeon’s right, of course, life isn’t fair. But it can also offer pleasant surprises, as was the case with Holman’s season. He healed and rehabilitated quicker than expected and shocked many by returning to action against Northern Iowa on Feb. 8. In the next game, a victory against Evansville, he chipped in nine points and three assists in 15 minutes.
In the following game, WSU posted its biggest victory in years, upsetting nationally ranked Creighton in front of a rowdy crowd, and Holman enjoyed a coming-out party of sorts with 10 points and four assists, several of the highlight-film variety.
And consider that Holman was nowhere close to being 100 percent. The foot injury limited his conditioning, so he returned to action rusty and a little chunky, weighing 190 pounds. For that reason, he says he feels strongly that fans have yet to see the “real Fridge.”
Before WSU’s first exhibition game on Nov. 3, Holman was down to 178 pounds and feeling “lightning quick.” He’s healthy, lighter on his feet, so what can fans expect from the real Fridge? A little playground basketball, to be sure, left over from his days in Brooklyn.
“I’m not a trash talker, but I can get in a guy’s face if that’s the way someone wants to play,” he says. “Back home, nobody takes no trash, and that’s what I bring. I also got a little flash to my game and I play up-tempo. When I first got out here, the way I passed the ball, nobody had ever seen that.”
Assistant coach Mike Rohn says, “Fridge is always gonna be creative with the way he plays. Instead of making the two-hand bounce pass, he might make the no-look pass with his left hand. He’s talented enough he can make those kinds of plays.”
Rohn says WSU is counting on Holman to provide significant defensive pressure up front this season. But his primary responsibility is to run the offense. “We’re hoping he can lead the league in assists and be in the top 10 in the country — he’s that talented of a passer,” Rohn says. “He has to make us go. He’s the battery.”
The Shockers, picked to finish first in the Missouri Valley Conference after going 18-12 last season, feature a talented group of returning players. Check out Holman’s appraisal of several teammates:
• Randy Burns, a junior guard, led the Shockers in scoring (15.1) last season. “He’s a guy who brings it every day. He never takes a day off. He can shoot, and he’s strong. Plus, he’s my roommate, so we’re tight.”
• Senior Aaron Hogg, the Valley’s sixth-man of the year, averaged 12.2 points a game last season. “A silky-smooth shooter. He doesn’t care about getting any pub, doesn’t care about starting. He just gets the job done. A great sixth man.”
• Jamar Howard, an intense 6-5 junior forward, was voted the MVC’s co-preseason player of the year. Last season, when he averaged 14.2 points, he was first-team all-conference and the Valley’s defensive player of the year. “Man, what can you say about Jamar? Best player on the team. Hardest worker on the team. He’s the best defensive player I’ve ever seen in my life.”
• Rob Kampman, a 6-8 junior forward, fought through foot and ankle injuries but still chipped in nearly eight points a game. “He’s a great shooter, and an on-and-off-the court leader. He tells guys what to do, but not in a mean way, in a teammate kind of way.”
• Paul Miller, a 6-10 sophomore center, averaged 7.4 points and 4.7 rebounds a game, earning a spot on the all-Valley freshman team. “Big Paul is getting better every day. We tell him every day that he needs to be a force for us this year.”
The Sporting News College Basketball Preview joined other national publications and picked the Shockers to win the MVC. Further, it tabbed Burns and Howard as player of the year candidates. The magazine also recognized Holman’s importance to the team, concluding that “Jerome Holman might be the key to it all.”
High praise, indeed, but Jerome?
Please, it’s Fridge.
Everyone knows that.