Less than 24 hours had passed since Belmont’s thrilling overtime win over Murray State in the finals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament when Tyler Holloway checked his phone.
Among the numerous congratulatory text messages, one in particular really stuck out to Holloway, Belmont’s director of basketball operations. Even though the pain and hurt of losing a meaningful and close game still lingered, Murray State’s second-year head coach Steve Prohm wanted to congratulate Holloway — a former shooting guard for the Racers. Prohm also sent a “first-class” email to Belmont coach Rick Byrd.
“For him to send that text, it almost caught me — not caught me by surprise but it made me take a step back like, ‘Wow,’ ” Holloway said. “He just lost this huge game and chance to make the NCAA Tournament. But still was so proud of what we were able to accomplish and what me being a former player was able to accomplish. … So just the fact that he took that time to write that message meant a lot to me. But that is just the guy he truly is.”
Saturday night provided a surreal moment for Holloway.
During a four-year career at Murray State, he scored 1,083 points and finished as the school’s all-time leader in free-throw percentage and second in 3-pointers made. As a freshman, he helped the Racers to the OVC regular-season and tournament titles and into the 2006 NCAA Tournament, where they nearly pulled off an upset of No. 4 seed North Carolina.
After his senior season in 2009, he spent the summer in Murray, Ky., to finish his degree. It was during that time he got to know incoming freshmen Isaiah Canaan, Ed Daniel and Stacy Wilson. Four years later, Holloway was on the Belmont bench trying to will the Bruins to a victory over Canaan, Daniel, Wilson and Prohm, who joined the Murray staff as an assistant during Holloway’s sophomore season.
“It was definitely bittersweet,” Holloway said. “When I was at Murray that is what you tried to get to — the conference finals, the OVC Tournament. It was always such a big deal [at Murray]. Those people there expect championships so it was definitely weird. Obviously the competitor in me and me being at Belmont now, I wanted to win very, very badly. The relationships I have been able to develop with our players here, I just wanted it for them more than anything.”
Holloway arrived at Belmont in the fall of 2009 in pursuit of his master’s degree in sports administration. He spent the first year as a graduate assistant to associate athletics director Steve Barrick and helped out in operations and facilities management.
“After that first year, it ate at me,” Holloway said. “There was no way I could be away from this game.”
So Holloway met with Byrd and top assistant Casey Alexander — now the head coach at Stetson — to see if he could lend a hand. After serving as a graduate assistant during the 2010-11 season, Holloway was hired full-time as the team’s director of operations.
The native of Decatur, Ala., helps out in player development, scouting, recruiting and — perhaps his greatest strength for the Bruins — video analysis. Those tools, along with a creative offensive mind, have Byrd believing Holloway is ready to be an assistant coach.
“He has a good mind for the game and he has the perfect demeanor. He is very likeable,” Byrd said. “I believe our staff would pretty quickly say he may be more indispensable than any of us because of his knowledge of the video stuff and how to do it and how to make it work. So he is going to be a really good basketball coach. I’d love for him to be a full-time assistant on our staff someday if the opportunity presented itself.”
For now, Holloway excitedly awaits his fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament and third straight with Belmont. The Bruins will learn their first-round matchup and location during the selection show on Sunday. Belmont will host a public gathering on campus, starting at 4 p.m.
The journey to this Big Dance was far more different for Holloway, especially since it came at the expense of his alma mater. Holloway admitted it was actually tougher returning to Murray last month when the teams met in the regular season. It was the first time he had been back at CFSB Center since leaving and his first time sitting on the opposite bench.
But as the memories flooded to the front of his mind, he couldn’t help but think how fortunate he was to be associated with two tradition-rich programs.
“I couldn’t ask for two better programs to both play for and now to be a part of the coaching staff,” Holloway said. “To be able to have rings as a player and as a coach, that is something special that I’ll always — always — be able to look back on and know how blessed I was.”