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Seniors trying to finish up season as winners

With the men’s basketball team playing its final game of a disappointing inaugural Big East season Saturday night against No. 20 Georgetown, the program can only hope for a turnaround next season – but any turnaround will have to happen without the aid of guard James Holmes and center Solomon Jones.

The two seniors will finish their collegiate careers with hope to help USF win its first Big East game.

Holmes, who is averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game, is in his third year with the Bulls after playing one season at Schoolcraft College. Holmes also leads the team with 38.5 minutes per game, has started in 27 of 28 games this season and was the first player signed under coach Robert McCullum.

“James Holmes was actually the very first player that we signed during my tenure here,” McCullum said. “He and Bradley Mosley visited here together, I think, the first weekend in May of ’03, and they were kind of going back and forth in terms of which would be the first to sign, and I think James maybe beat him to it by a day or so.”

After starting only 12 games last season, McCullum is proud of how far Holmes has come.

“He’s grown as a player to the extent that he is one of eight to 10 Big East players on the ballot for the Big East’s Most Improved Player, so I think that’s an example of how much he’s improved his basketball game,” McCullum said.

Holmes’ accomplishments in the classroom have also impressed McCullum.

“I’m probably most proud of James,” McCullum said. “Just the fact that he’s overcome so many odds, to the degree that he’ll be the first member of his family to earn a college degree when he receives his degree in May.”

Holmes, who has potential to have a professional career overseas, has appreciated his time at USF.

“It’s sad and shocking at the same time,” Holmes said. “You finish up your career here at USF, and just to get through the tough years and make it to college and to play, it’s sad that you have to end your career.”

Jones, who is second to Holmes in scoring, averages 12.9 points and is first on the team with 9.9 rebounds. He is finishing his second season with the Bulls after playing two seasons at Daytona Beach Community College.

“It’s shocking,” Jones said. “Four years of college basketball almost gone. It comes so quick. Your parents always tell you, ‘It will be here before you know it, so take advantage of every opportunity you get.’ And now it’s here.”

Jones will take part in the Portsmouth Invitational in April, where he will be observed by NBA scouts.

“Last night at the UCONN game I think he couldn’t help but improve his (NBA) stock the entire game, but especially the way he played in the second half, against the best team in the country,” McCullum said.

With all the speculation about McCullum not returning next season, Holmes and Jones made it clear that they enjoyed playing for the coach.

“He’s a heck of a guy,” Jones said. “I think he really made something out of me and James. (He) turned us around and showed us how to be a leader, on and off the court.”

Added Holmes: “I came here a young man – a kid – and I think (I’m leaving) a man, learning to take on responsibility and handle responsibilities on and off the floor. So I’ve definitely learned a lot (from McCullum).”

With Athletic Director Doug Woolard having put an end to the rumors of McCullum’s departure, McCullum and his team will look to have a winning season next year without the presence of Jones and Holmes.

“They both will be missed,” McCullum said. “I’m really proud of what they’ve given, not only to the basketball program, but the way each of them has represented the University in a first-class manner both on and off the floor.”