Back on the court

Former Farrell High star Marsell Holden handles the ball for Angelo State University, where he is now playing after a two-year layoff.

Editor's Note: Former Farrell High star Marsell Holden is playing basketball at Angelo State University in San Angelo Texas. The following story ran on the Angelo State website and is being printed with permission from the author Wes Bloomquist, director of news media, athletic communications, at the college.

By Wes Bloomquist

Marsell Holden scrolls through his phone looking at images of his son and mother for motivation.

His son, born 2 months premature, is now 1 and is a daily inspiration. His mom, who battled cancer, completed chemotherapy treatment two years ago and is a reverend living cancer-free. Marsell, out of school and away from basketball for two years, witnessed and supported them through their fight for life and is back on the court playing with a purpose as a starter for the No. 16-ranked Angelo State Rams.

Tough times pass. Tough people last.

"My boy and mom inspire me every day to fight through being tired or giving into those things that are not going my way," Holden said. "I talk to them and look at their pictures and remember the journey to where we are at right now. God took us on that journey for a reason and never left us. That gives me strength to keep pushing and helps me to believe that the best is yet to come."

Marsell was back in his hometown of Farrell, Pennsylvania with his mother throughout her chemotherapy treatment two years ago and at the hospital and at home as his son battled for life after being born two months premature. His dreams were on pause at that time and there were moments when he felt lost.

After playing three years of college basketball, he wasn't around the game anymore or enrolled in school. It was a torturous time for the decorated basketball star who was named the Pennsylvania High School Player of the Year after his senior season at Farrell High where he established the school's record with 1,913 career points. He had played two seasons at San Jacinto College and then transferred to Morehead State where he played one season of Division I basketball.

At San Jacinto, Holden followed his prolific high school career by becoming record-setter once again by hitting 204 3-pointers in his career and was named a junior college all-American and the Region XIV Player of the Year. At Morehead State, Holden hit 73 3-pointers to lead the Eagles and was fourth on the team with 8.4 points per game during the 2011-12 season.

Marsell Holden leads Angelo State with 16 3-pointers this season and is third on the team with 11.9 points per game. (Total as of a week ago. Marsell made 5 more treys in a game Saturday.)

Success was all he had ever known on the court, but when suffering struck his family the game's importance was diminished. He departed Morehead State and left basketball behind. He returned to his mother and the hometown where had been a star since an early age for his basketball talents. His mom, who was always there to support Marsell, now needed him more than he needed her for the first time in their lives.

"Words cannot express how grateful I am for having such a determined young man that has strived, prayed and worked so hard to stay focused to succeed," said his mother, Rev. Tiffany Holden, who is a reverend at Bethel A.M.E Church in Meadville, Pa. and also coached basketball in Farrell. "When the test came in our lives and I had to go through chemotherapy that was one of the biggest adversities we had to go through as a family and Marsell stepped up and became a man.

"He took care of his mother like never before. If he cried he didn't do it in front of me. If he was upset he did not do it in front of me. However, what he did in front of me was encourage me, pray with me and love me. All of this and that time allowed me to see his maturity and growth spiritually, mentally and physically, because this made him more determined to succeed. He wanted to now give me back all and more of what I have done for him."

Back in Pennsylvania and not playing basketball, Marsell suddenly found himself in the most daunting period of his young life. It was taking an emotional toll on him and draining 3-pointers had no effect on the situation. The emotions of seeing his mother battle cancer challenged his resolve. Seeing his son born premature and fighting for his life almost crushed him. But he endured, making the best of a tough situation and becoming a stronger person.

"I really thought at that time that it was the end of the road for me," Marsell said. "Both of those situations seemed impossible to get through at the time. Watching my mom struggle through chemo really humbled me and made me realize to appreciate the little things in life. To see how strong she is today is incredible. After a couple of months in the hospital with my son we now have a bad little boy running around. It was rough, but God is good."

Two years away from college and basketball and finally awake from two nightmares, Holden decided to make the most of his last year of eligibility by returning to school. Angelo State associate head coach Cinco Boone first became aware of Holden looking around for an opportunity to play when he received a phone call from Holden's former junior college coach at San Jacinto. Communication was opened and an offer was made last December to join the Rams this season. The decision meant moving to Texas for the second time in his life, but this time it would also force him to be away from his son. With a strong show of support, Marsell's mother encouraged him to return to school to complete his degree and is taking care of his son in Pennsylvania while he finishes his education and completes his collegiate basketball career.

"We are fortunate to have Marsell on our team," ASU head coach Chris Beard said. "He is a very competitive person and a great teammate. He brings a lot to our team with his shooting ability and quickness. Every person in this world has a story which has influenced who they are and what they stand for. Marsell is no different. He has faced some adversity and challenges in life and has continued to fight through things for his family and himself. Marsell is a winner. He will be very successful in life after basketball. We are proud to be coaching Marsell and to have him in the program."

Holden leads the Rams this season with 16 3-pointers and is third on the team with 11.9 points per game. He scored a season-best 19 points last Saturday in a win over Western State Colorado and also has an 18-point performance and six double-figure scoring games on his early-season resume. He hit a season-best four 3-pointers in a 14-point game against McMurry and has hit three 3-pointers in three games. After not playing for two seasons there may have been some rust as he went 0-for-4 from beyond the arc in the season opener, but the next night he was electric with three 3-pointers and the team-leading 18 points against Texas A&M International.

"Marsell brings a lot of energy to the team by always being positive out there," ASU teammate Chris Jones said. "He always has a great attitude and never stops working. He can shoot the mess out of the ball too."

Beyond his sharpshooting abilities, Holden has impressed his teammates with his competitiveness, drive and unselfishness on the court. He's one of five seniors on this year's team which includes fellow transfers Jones, Demario Mayfield, Raijon Kelly along with Tommy Woolridge who is in his second season with the Rams. That group, which came to ASU from all over the country, has built a strong bond together by sharing their stories with each other and understanding the journeys that each have taken.

"Marsell is a great guy who puts God first and then his son," Demario Mayfield added. "We all had different experiences before we got here but we're in this together. Marsell is a big part of our team and is a great guy. He's also a real good competitor on the court who is an elite shooter. He gets us going and keeps us positive throughout the game."

Holden and the Rams are only eight games into the season, but have already attracted national attention where they have earned a No. 16 ranking from the D2SIDA DII Media Poll and are one of the nation's top offensive and defensive units in shooting percentage on both sides of the court.

Holden and the Rams maintain that the team is a work in progress and that each day is being utilized to improve. With lessons from the past, a drive fueled by his family's recent obstacles and the knowledge that his collegiate career is down to its last season, Holden is focused on making the most of the opportunity in front of him and his teammates.

"I'm very grateful to finish my senior year here at Angelo State," Holden said. "The opportunity to be on the court with these guys is a blessing. There's nothing like being a part of something like this. I don't take it for granted and have put in a lot of work. The main goal is go out with a bang and win a championship. We are still trying to establish that chemistry that every team needs, but our talent level is there. It's an unselfish team that is working together because we all believe that we have something special here."

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