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StarBulletin.com

Morning Owl


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POSTED: Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mid-Pacific senior Marcus Holyfield knew that to have a breakout senior season, he would have to dedicate himself in the offseason. Though he had been a three-year starter for the Owls, he knew that he would have to make some drastic improvements to his game if he wanted to have a special fourth and final season.

So he set his alarm for 6:30 a.m. Every day. In the summer. And he pushed himself farther than he had ever thought possible. Under the guidance of his father, Anthony, and with his brother Lucion at his side, Holyfield worked on his game and body throughout the summer. He ran 3 miles as a warm-up. He lifted weights for hours on end. He shot thousands of jumpers. He did countless drills to work on his quickness and athleticism. He played hours of basketball in the afternoons and evenings.

For 5 to 7 hours every day, he devoted his offseason to his senior season as a Mid-Pac Owl.

“;What I did was I prepared a lot over the summer,”; said Holyfield, who resides in Ewa Beach. “;This past summer was probably the last summer of my high school basketball career. ... I did a lot to prepare for this season because I knew this was a big season, and I guess I wanted to leave with a bang.”;

The 6-foot-2 guard has made his mark, averaging nearly 21 points and 13 rebounds in Interscholastic League of Honolulu play this year. But he hasn't been able to lead Mid-Pac past ILH powerhouses Kamehameha, 'Iolani and Punahou. The Owls were 11-11 (5-7 ILH Division I) going into last night's league playoff game against the Buffanblu.

“;It's really good to see,”; Holyfield said, “;that all that hard work that you put in ... has really paid off.”;

MID-PACIFIC HAS NOT had a winning season the last three years. But Holyfield is the main reason the Owls have fought their way to a .500 mark entering the playoffs. He's the catalyst as the team's primary scorer and top defender.

When he struggles—like he has the last two games against Kamehameha and Punahou, thanks to an untimely flu bug—the team follows suit. Against ILH champion Kamehameha on Feb. 17, Holyfield scored a season-low 11 points and Mid-Pac lost by 17 points.

On Saturday, in the regular-season finale, Holyfield scored 15 points in a 58-32 loss to Punahou. The rest of the Mid-Pac team scored 17 points.

“;So much of the weight of our success is on his shoulders,”; said coach Nathan Hu, a 1995 Mid-Pac graduate. “;And he has really taken that challenge, saying, 'I want to be that guy to lead the team every game, day in and day out.'”;

Holyfield prepared to take the team's reins with all those offseason workouts. He said he improved his conditioning, meaning he spends less time on the bench during the games. He said he improved his athleticism and strength. He said his mental toughness, forged by the discipline of waking up every day at 6:30 a.m., is better than it has ever been.

All that extra work has taken his high-flying game above the rim.

“;A couple of times in practice, he almost dunked on people,”; said Mid-Pac classmate and fellow tri-captain Cameron Roberts. “;It was super close, and a couple of times he actually did. People would contest it, and then he would just go up and it'd be amazing. It's Hawaii, so no one really does that here. (Dunking is) easier for him now.”;

THOUGH ALL THAT weight-room training didn't add many pounds to his wiry frame, his chiseled arms and strong game belie his thin appearance. He is now strong enough that when Mid-Pac faced national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy at the 'Iolani Classic in December, Hu gave the senior the tough assignment of guarding Keith “;Tiny”; Gallon, a 6-9, 320-pound behemoth who is ranked as the fourth-best center prospect in the country and the 14th-best overall recruit in ESPNU's Top 100 rankings. Gallon will suit up for Oklahoma next season.

Holyfield didn't back down. Even though he got his shot blocked three times on one possession and walked away from the scrum with a bloody lip, he kept attacking the supersized Oak Hill front line. He finished with a hard-fought 18 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals in a 74-44 loss.

“;I felt like he was the one guy on our team who really, truly could match up with those guys, their athleticism, basketball skills,”; Hu said of Holyfield. “;He guarded a 6-9 guy, and he held his own. He's done that throughout his career, especially this year. He's had to take on the role of guarding other teams' post players, bigger, heavier-set, stronger guys. To me, he's one of the best defenders in the league. Regardless of whether he's on the perimeter guarding the other team's best guards or a post guy, he holds his own. And Oak Hill was no different.”;

“;It was pretty fun that game,”; Holyfield said of playing Oak Hill, USA Today's third-ranked team in the nation. “;It's always good to have a challenge. I looked at it as something to help me get better, help the team get better, help prepare the team for the (ILH) season.”;