Any athlete will tell you injuries are tough, not only physically, but also mentally. Dealing with any injury is difficult, but those that sideline athletes for a full season are certainly the worst.
Graduate student Troy Holston knows that all too well. His sophomore and senior seasons ended before they began, both from knee injuries sustained in the summer.
Two separate season-ending injuries might discourage a lot of people, but not Holston. Sure, it was difficult, but he knew he’d bounce back and become a better person and player because of the challenge.
The 6-foot-4 guard was rated a three-star recruit by Scout, Rivals, and ESPN, and decided to spend his undergraduate years at South Florida. It was a natural choice, given that he had known then-head coach Stan Heath for a few years.
Tampa, Florida, had become Holston’s “second hometown” after moving there from Queens, New York, in eighth grade. Playing college ball close to home also meant Holston’s mom could come to most of his games.
“She says her life is revolved around my life with basketball and she loves watching me play,” Holston said with a laugh. “She knows it’s a passion of mine and she just loves to watch me play.”
His mom went to some of his away games when he played at South Florida, so traveling to see Hawks games hasn’t been a problem for her this season.
Holston played in 29 games with 11 starts his freshman season, averaging 7.9 points per game, good for fourth-best on the team. He also ranked second on the team in three-pointers made with 39.
“At first, I was just adjusting to college, and then once I got into my groove, I started making shots and scoring and started getting on a roll,” Holston said. “I told coach, ‘Coach, listen, even though I’m a freshman, I want to be the leader of this team next year,’ and I just took over. He allowed me to do so.”
In the final nine games of his freshman season, Holston scored double-digit points eight times, and recorded his first career double-double. He was ready to carry that momentum and leadership into his sophomore year. That plan got put on pause following a would-be routine summer workout.
Holston was playing defense, guarding a guy when he got bumped and took a step back. Then, his knee popped. He knew something wasn’t right, and later found out he tore his ACL in his left knee.
Sitting out his sophomore season was tough; Holston wanted to be on the court with his teammates. He made the best of the situation, though, and watched from the sidelines, taking in the game from a new perspective.
“Watching the game from the sideline was a plus because I got to see things in a different view than from the court,” Holston said. “Playing on the court is very different from seeing them play. I think I got to learn and mature more off the court.”
Holston worked with the trainers at South Florida multiple times a day and was cleared to play about a year after tearing his ACL. Coming back to the court after missing a season with an injury can be tricky. Holston never had any doubts, though. He was still confident in his playing abilities and wanted to prove he was healthy and ready to contribute.
Getting back into the groove of playing was Holston’s primary focus heading into the 2016-17 season, and it paid off. He averaged 9.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in 26 contests, 19 of which he started.
After leading the team with 54 three-pointers made, Holston seemed primed for another strong season. Then, in a summer workout, it happened. Again.
“I was doing ball handling drills, but going backwards,” Holston said. “I took a step backwards and I felt a tick in my knee. It didn’t hurt at first, but it felt weird. Then, I couldn’t straighten my knee, so I was like, ‘Okay, there’s something wrong.’”
Holston had torn his meniscus in his left knee, the same knee that suffered the torn ACL. He had to sit out the 2017-18 season.
Despite him missing two seasons, many schools recruited Holston to finish out his collegiate career as a graduate student. A few days before Holston graduated, Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli reached out, asking if he still had a shot at bringing Holston to Hawk Hill. Holston built a strong connection with Martelli, and that bond was Holston’s primary reason for choosing St. Joe’s.
When he arrived on Hawk Hill, Holston was eager to get back on the court and prepared to help the team the best he could.
“I can bring a leadership role to the team,” Holston said. “Playing in the American Athletic Conference, we played some really good teams that make it to the tournament every year… I shoot the ball pretty well. I think I can score from anywhere on the floor. One thing I need to work on, probably, is being more explosive like I was in high school.”
While his injuries hampered his explosiveness, Holston feels he’s getting back to his old form. Combine that with his previous collegiate experience and sideline perspective, and Holston is ready to be a key contributor for his two seasons on Hawk Hill.
The past few years haven’t always been easy for Holston, but he’s grateful for the lessons he’s learned and the support he’s received. It would have been easy for Holston to give up after the first or second injury. Instead, he kept pushing.
“It’s tough, but now that I look back at it, it made me who I am today,” Holston said. “I’m a stronger me, mentally, physically, and spiritually. I fought through a couple hardships and I made it out. It teaches me a life lesson for things that come your way that try to stop you from doing what you’re trying to do… All those things enhance more, like being appreciative and thankful and waking up every day just to be able to move and have an able body.”