UT copes without Holliday, Thomas

Rockets keeping injured players involved


Reese Holliday and J.T. Thomas were at practice Monday, making crisp passes to their teammates and offering words of encouragement just like any other workout.

But that was the extent of the University of Toledo freshmen's involvement, as they are relegated to nonplaying roles with the Rockets for the remainder of the season because of foot injuries.

An MRI last week discovered Holliday had been playing with two stress fractures in his right foot for two-to-three weeks, while Thomas once again fractured the bone in his left foot Feb. 3 at Buffalo that was found to be partially broken in October.

With the rookie guards sidelined, it leaves UT to compete in its final four regular season games with just five scholarship players.

"It's something we have to deal with," UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said. "We're certainly going to keep working, and I think it gives other guys opportunities to step into [expanded] roles. For the guys that are hurt, they're doing a good job rehabbing, and they're still a big part of this team."

To keep them involved, the UT coaching staff has Holliday and Thomas be the passers in shooting drills, and both are included in team huddles and are still coached the same as if they were playing.

"They like to still keep us active in practice and everything," said Holliday, who has been wearing a protective walking boot on his right foot. "They don't want us to just stand on the sideline the whole time. They want us to still feel like we're a part of the team."

Since Thomas had a little bit of a head start on learning how to cope with a season-ending injury, he's been able to pass on some advice to Holliday.

"I've told him just to stay as vocal as possible," Thomas said. "Especially in practice, to stay in tune to what's going on and help the guys that are still in there as well."

Thomas also missed much of the preseason and UT's first two games due to his foot injury, but he's tried to remain positive and not let his situation get him down.

"Basically I just look at this whole season as a learning experience," he said. "Facing a lot of adversity should prepare me for the rest of my college career here."

The Rockets (4-23, 1-11 Mid-American Conference) have faced plenty of adversity already in just one game without Holliday. They were outrebounded 36-22 in a 75-58 loss to Eastern Illinois on Saturday and also had just five offensive rebounds and five second-chance points.

Holliday was averaging a team-best 6.6 rebounds per game, along with 2.39 offensive boards per contest, so replacing his presence in an already depleted lineup could be next to impossible.

"I don't know if you can with our personnel," Kowalczyk said. "He was leading the league in offensive rebounding when he got hurt. The guys that are taking up some of his minutes -- Anthony [Wright] and Justin [Anyijong] -- our biggest concern with them is transition defense, so I don't want them going for offensive rebounds. They can't go to the offensive glass and get back, whereas Reese is capable of doing that.

"Reese was our one guy who we knew would go in and get us extra possessions. You have to pick your poison. The biggest thing is I don't want to give up easy points in transition. But at the same time, now we have to find ways to score."

For Holliday, the initial disappointment of his injury has worn off, and he's already looking to the future.

"It's just a minor setback," Holliday said. "I'm trying to stay positive. It's all good. I wanted to finish out the year strong and end on a good note, but it happens.

"We know we're building something good here. [Almost] everybody comes back, and we're going to try and have a much better season next year."

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.