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The Mad Ants’ man of steal

November 22, 2018

The opponent’s eyes can play tricks on you. The hands can be cleverly faked this direction or that. Even the shoulders cannot be trusted if that’s where you’re looking.

When it comes to defending a dribbler in basketball : and looking for that all important steal : there’s really only part of that opponent’s body you can trust, according to the Mad Ants’ Tra-Deon Hollins, and he might know as well as anyone.

“I try to stay close and watch his waist. You can move all of this and all of that, but his waist : that isn’t going nowhere,” said Hollins, who was so adept at burgling the basketball in college that he was coined the “Man of Steal.”

Hollins, in his second year as a professional basketball player, went into Wednesday night averaging 2.2 steals for the Mad Ants, who played the Memphis Hustle at Southaven, Mississippi. Hollins came in ranked eighth in the G League in steals, after he ranked fourth last season, also with 2.2 per game.

His defensive prowess is what got him to the professional ranks : at Nebraska-Omaha he led the nation in steals in 2015-16 with four per game and 2016-17 with 3.4 per game, was the Summit League’s Defensive Player of the Year and was first-team all-conference : and it took much work for a player who may have been better on the football field in high school than the basketball court.

“I had to put a lot more work in for basketball,” said Hollins, who at Nebraska’s Omaha Central High School won four Class A basketball titles and also was an all-state receiver in football. “I actually had to become a gym rat and go put the time in, but football was one of those sports for me where I could walk on the field and be better than most (right away).”

Hollins, 23, seemed the logical person to ask when it came to the art of the basketball steal, though he admitted: “It’s really just losing myself in the game. I can’t even say that I get everything done in one particular way. I’m just playing basketball and whatever happens, happens.”

Hollins, 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, said there are things that made him good at football that correlate to his success as a defensive standout in basketball : reaction time, eye-hand coordination, acceleration, physicality, anticipating what your opponent will do, leaping ability and, oh, those hands.

One of the things Hollins does to improve is work with a tennis ball.

“It’s small, so I know if I can get my hands on that, then a basketball I’ll be able to get my hands on that, too,” he said. “I’ll throw it around, dribble it, anything that can make it come back down and go up, that’s what I’m looking for.”

Having as much confidence at the defensive end as the offensive end, where Hollins is averaging 7.2 points and 7.2 assists this season, doesn’t hurt.

“A lot of times, I’m the smallest guy on the court, so me getting my hands on (the ball) just totally deflates the opponents’ confidence,” he said. “My stealing it or knocking the ball away, it’s definitely a momentum booster for my team.”

Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey has coached some good defensive players in Fort Wayne, such as Trey McKinney Jones, Ron Howard and Ben Moore, and he said the key is knowing when to be aggressive.

“When to go for it, when not to go for it, that’s huge. There are obviously principles and rules that we have. We don’t want to gamble in certain areas and we don’t want to move strong side, just go for a steal. That plays into it, too,” Gansey said, adding it’s essential to show your hands and chest and make a play on the ball, otherwise fouls will be called.

As for Hollins’ tip about monitoring the ball-handler’s waist above all else, Gansey liked it.

“Guys can fake and jab and do all these other things, but their waist isn’t doing anything,” said Gansey, who coached the Indiana Pacers’ Summer League team this year. “So I would say, we close, touch and contain on our closeouts; we want to be square and not give any angles where we can get beat.”

Asked which basketball defenders he enjoys watching, Hollins said the Clippers’ Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley, and Brianté Weber of the G League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce.

“All of us are prideful,” Hollins said. “That’s something that we all share. To be good defensively, you’ve got to have some type of pride. That’s what all the guys I’ve named have in common.”

jcohn@jg.net

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