Meghann Morhardt (@Meghannmo14)
When Jacen Holloway was in middle school, he had a decision to make.
Follow in his brother’s footsteps and pursue football or choose a different path and focus on basketball.
Watching his older brother, Taiyir Wilson, play at Temple and Millersville, Holloway knew that he wanted to follow his brother’s example while still making his journey unique.
“He helped me a lot with just being who I am today as a person and the athlete I am today,” Holloway said. “He always pushed me hard, but since he played football, I just didn't wanna do what he did. I wanted to pave my own way.”
Holloway grew up admiring his older brother, watching his games, playing with him at home, and learning from his experiences. An eight-year age gap enabled Wilson to push Holloway out of his comfort zone and force his younger brother to mature as an athlete at a young age.
“He would always push me to go work out with him,” Holloway said. “I complained and I just never wanted to when I was younger, but I know now that it all made me stronger and helped me become a better athlete.”
Devon Prep's Jacen Holloway recently committed to Army. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
His decision to focus on basketball, while slightly unexpected, did not come completely out of the blue as Holloway had been playing since he was three years old. But once the choice was made, Holloway was all in.
Following the example of his brother, Holloway put in the hard work to improve, beginning his time at Devon Prep as a freshman with minimal varsity minutes and entering his final year with a commitment to play a year at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School followed by four years at West Point.
“Around seventh grade, I started taking [basketball] more seriously,” Holloway said. “And once I met Coach [Jason] Fisher in eighth grade, he brought me to Devon and he helped me develop my game a lot.”
Fisher, Devon Prep’s head coach, was impressed not only with Holloway’s skill, but also his character on and off the court. The mutual respect that the two shared led Holloway to Devon Prep, a step that seemed natural to his progression as a player.
“I don’t think we ever sat down and talked about him coming to Devon, it just kind of happened,” Fisher said. “He’s a very tough young man and that’s something we pride ourselves on at Devon, so he just fit the mold.”
In his first season at Devon, Holloway struggled to break into the lineup and did not see consistent minutes. The 6-4 small forward prioritized basketball over football two years prior and had not yet developed the skills needed to have an impact at the varsity level.
With a football background, Holloway had the strength and athleticism but he had to work hard to make himself into a skilled basketball player.
“He used to just get by on his strength,” Fisher said. “And he’s still strong, but he’s added pieces to his game every year that have just made him awesome in all facets.”
Holloway saw more time as a sophomore, primarily serving as the team’s sixth-man, but his most significant jump in skillset came as a junior.
After a summer spent with Jonathan Guarente, owner of JDG Basketball and head coach at Church Farm, Holloway had the confidence to be an offensive force for Devon. With the improvements to his game, Holloway was able to show his true abilities and get the attention he was looking for.
Holloway increased his overall offensive productivity jumping from 6.7 to 13.7 points per game, but the most noticeable difference was his presence on the perimeter. As a sophomore, Holloway attempted less than two three-pointers per game, but as a junior, he attempted 4.4 per game and knocked down 40 percent of his shots from distance.
“He's worked exceptionally hard on developing his jump shot,” Fisher explained. “The more dimensions you have, the more difficult you are to guard. It changed the way other teams have to defend him and that opened up a lot of other things.”
Army head coach Jimmy Allen and his staff attended Devon Prep’s January matchup with La Salle and they were impressed with Holloway’s performance.
“They know that I am able to play their style of basketball,” Holloway said of the Black Knights’ staff. “They like to play fast and that’s how we play in high school. I think that’s one of the main reasons that they recruited me.”
He was invited to their elite camp in June, but was skeptical because the Army was never something that he had considered.
“Before the elite camp, I didn’t want to go to Army at all,” Holloway explained. “I didn't know a single thing about the school, but I played great at the camp, so I stayed in contact with the coaches. They were able to teach me a lot and really help me learn about the school.”
Holloway’s misconceptions about what it would mean to attend Army were quickly resolved through more conversations with the coaches and his official visit on Aug. 30.
“I was able to see what a normal day looks like,” Holloway said. “I met with the coaches, met the team at practice. I also met with the prep school coach, Coach Wilson, since that is where I will be next year.”
Holloway’s first scholarship offer came from local Division II Chestnut Hill in mid-June at the beginning of the live period.
After Holloway attended Army’s Elite camp, Allen’s staff made the trip to Philly Live to see him play again. Within a few weeks they made the scholarship offer official to give him a second program to choose from.
He made up his mind on his official visit to West Point, announcing his commitment on the same day.
“The hardest part for me was finding the right fit,” Holloway said. “I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, but when I went to Chestnut Hill and then to Army, I just felt the difference.”
The United States Military Academy Preparatory School is a common step that recruits take so they can have an extra year of development before beginning their official collegiate eligibility.
Holloway will spend his first year on a team with three or four other recruits as well as walk-ons and the rising senior is motivated to make the most of this experience.
“The way Coach Wilson explained it is all of the recruits will be playing a lot, 40 minutes per game,” Holloway explained. “I’ll get lots of shots up, lots of practice, and we have a 30-game season playing great prep schools and junior colleges.”
As someone who had little knowledge of Army and its program, the prep year will allow Holloway to get accustomed to the lifestyle of being a student-athlete, especially at a school where it is about more than just basketball.
The extra responsibility that initially caused some hesitation from Holloway eventually became a driving force for his commitment.
“There are so many benefits for a person going there,” Holloway said. “It’s so prestigious and there is so much that I can get out of it not just as a player, but as a person. [...] Especially after my visit, it just felt like the right place for me.”
Getting the most out of a program and school like West Point requires hard work and determination, qualities that Fisher has seen Holloway demonstrate time and again.
“Going to one of the military academies is a life changing experience for anyone,” Fisher said. “I think that he has the personality, the disposition, the mindset to excel there. [...] It will be a tough transition, but he has put in the work to be able to make that transition.”
The path that Holloway chose in seventh grade has led him to this point and he is excited to begin his next chapter. But first, he wants to enjoy his senior year without the pressure of recruitment looming overhead.
“It feels good to know where I will be for the next five years,” Holloway said. “I’m excited to go through my senior year without stress and just have fun with it. It’s really a great feeling.”
With his Devon Prep squad preparing to defend their state title, Holloway will look to make another leap and put himself in an even better position to enter his collegiate career.
“I think he’s going to have a great year because he has really put in the work,” Fisher said. “His ceiling is so high and he’s only scratching the surface of his potential. It’s going to be exciting to watch.”