Particularly informed local basketball fans knew about Tra-Deon Hollins before he was taken by the Mad Ants in the first round of last month's G League draft. He was dubbed the “Man of Steal” in a Bleacher Report article in January 2016, after he totaled 23 points, 13 assists and a school-record eight steals for Nebraska-Omaha in an overtime loss to IPFW.
Hollins went on to lead the nation in steals that season, when he averaged 3.97 per game, and finish second as a senior last season, when he had 3.34 per game.
Although he has been a defensive masterpiece – he totaled 234 steals in 64 games for Omaha, on the heels of a 4.1 average at Central Community College (Nebraska) – Hollins knows doing it in the professional ranks could be a tall order.
“It's been going really well. It's different from college, but I think I'm doing pretty well,” says Hollins, a 6-foot-2 guard. “I've been learning the length and the size, the speed of everyone at this level. Everybody was not as big and fast in the Summit League, so coming in here was a little eye-opening. But I think I'm up for the task.”
In the Mad Ants' 115-99 season-opening loss Saturday to the Long Island Nets, Hollins played 14 minutes, made 4 of 7 shots for 10 points, and had two steals, four rebounds and an assist. His debut was overshadowed by Walter Lemon Jr., who scored 34 points on 13-of-28 shooting for the Mad Ants.
The Mad Ants will have their first home game of their 11th season at 7 p.m. today at Memorial Coliseum against the Greensboro Swarm (1-0).
“Having a defensive point guard on the floor is going to help us,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey says. “It's something that we needed last year. It's going to be good to have him just be a workhorse who can do whatever we need at the offensive end and the defensive end. Those little things all add up.”
As IPFW fans can tell you, Hollins was a star in the Summit League, where he was the 2016 Transfer of the Year, 2016 and 2017 Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time first-team all-conference selection.
So far with the Mad Ants, he's been humble.
“I'm learning a lot from the older guys, the guys who have been around and played in this league before,” he says. “So I'm just listening and soaking everything in.”
Hollins should get plenty of playing time at the guard position, along with Lemon and Stephan Hicks, especially with Indiana Pacers prospect Edmond Sumner recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries.
“I'm just going to wait my time,” Hollins says. “Whenever my number is called, I'll be ready. Whether I'm playing early or late, I'm just going to be here and ready to work hard.”
Though he averaged 13.4 points, 6.6 assists and 5.2 rebounds last season, Hollins knows the Ants are counting on his defensive tenacity.
“I'm like a glue gun,” he says. “I do everything that a lot of people don't like to do. I stay down and try to play defense, and then I try to set my team up by making the right play.”
Maybe Hollins is just being coy, but when asked if there is a particular art to getting as many steals as he does, he says, “I just try to be in the right place at the right time.”
As for being the G League's Man of Steal: “Our coach has a good defensive scheme, so I'll try to bring what I did in college to here.”