UCLA Basketball: Aaron Holiday’s growth as a leader

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 23: Aaron Holiday
NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 23: Aaron Holiday /

Despite turnover from nearly all of last year’s core and loss of depth due to an off-the-court scandal, UCLA guard Aaron Holiday has helped lead a young, depleted Bruin team to the top of the Pac-12 standings.

After being one of the nations best 6th-men last year, UCLA basketball’s Aaron Holiday has returned to the starting line up to be the captain of the Bruins, and has established himself as one the best point guards in the nation.

Taking the Helm

After last year’s campaign UCLA lost floor general Lonzo Ball and most of the other starters to the draft and graduation.  Further complicating things, the Bruins lost three of their new players due to off-the-court scandal, leaving the team deprived of depth.

In what would be a difficult situation for any program, head coach Steve Alford turned to Holiday to guide the team and right now the Bruins seem to be pointed in the right direction.

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To date, Holiday has helped lead UCLA to a 13-4 record, which includes a win over then #7 Kentucky, and has produced signature moments like his game winner against Wisconsin.  He has also led the Bruins to 1st place in the PAC-12,  in which UCLA is wrangling league opponents by an average of 19 points in wins.

In recognition of his play Holiday has been placed on the top-25 Wooden Award watch list, given to the most outstanding player in college basketball.

Related Story: Jordin Canada and Monique Billings Named to Midseason Wooden Award List

“Losing and Leadership”

Despite these successes, things haven’t always been easy for Holiday this season.

Against Michigan the Bruins blew a lead late in the game, due in part to sloppy turnovers committed by Holiday.  In the following game against Cincinnati he totaled more turnovers than assists, contributing to the ugly home loss.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Holiday himself was the first person to criticize his performance, stating that it was “my fault” in a postgame press conference and latter added “I gotta play at my best for us to win”.

This wasn’t always the case for Holiday, who in previous years could rely on other players to carry more of the burden.  Now if he has poor performance it will likely be reflected in the loss column.

However, Holiday has embraced the mantle of leadership and is taking a larger role both on and off the court.  Guard Prince Ali has noted that Holiday is “a lot more vocal now” than he’s been in years past during games.

Holiday’s leadership clearly extends beyond the hardwood.  If you watch postgame interviews, you’ll see that younger players often take their cues from Holiday on when to speak, and just like on the court he tries to get his teammates involved in the process.

Looking ahead

The ceiling of this team is dependent on the evolution of its budding roster, which falls on the upperclassmen and coaching staff to facilitate.  If the team continues to improve every game, this could be a very promising season and I’m looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.

Next: UCLA Football- Projecting the Starting Lineup for 2018

If you want to see Aaron Holiday and the rest of the Bruins be sure to come to Pauley Pavilion Saturday January 13th at 7:30 PM, or watch live on the PAC-12 Networks.