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Former Rancho guard Justin Holliday overcomes adversity

Former Rancho basketball player Justin Holliday has spent life bouncing from hotel to hotel, apartment to apartment — searching for love and a place to belong.

After 18 arduous years, he might have finally found one.

Holliday, a 6-foot-5-inch scoring guard, was offered an athletic scholarship by junior college powerhouse Howard College this month. He will meet with the coaching staff in the next week for a final interview to determine if he indeed will be heading to Big Spring, Texas, this fall.

“I really didn’t have nothing,” he said. “Basketball really changed everything for me, honestly.”

Holliday sports an exuberant sense of bravado on the court and away from it. There’s the grizzled exterior he developed to protect his mother and two sisters, and there’s the kindred spirit within that he developed by caring for them.

He grew up in South Central Los Angeles, sans the father who abandoned him early in life. His mother worked odd hours to provide for her three children, often leaving them alone at the darkest, loneliest hours, and leaving him susceptible to the perils of the inner city.

Holliday half-jokingly said he became the man of the house when he was 7 and turned to basketball to provide refuge amid personal turmoil.

His family moved to Las Vegas midway through his freshman year, and he attended Valley, where he disregarded school work and was expelled for fighting with classmates who challenged him.

He played AAU basketball for the Las Vegas Punishers despite no experience at the high school level and earned a reputation as a top-notch local hooper before transferring to Clark with hopes of playing for the Chargers. The academic issues persisted, and he was ineligible there, too.

“Not knowing how to listen to people messed up a lot of things for me,” Holliday said.

Rancho afforded him an opportunity to recover scholastically, and he led the state with 25.4 points per game in 19 games during the 2016-17 season.

“Getting in a structured environment allowed him to see ‘I can do a lot more if I do it like this,’” Punishers coach James Feltus said. “Toward the end of the season last year, he started to calm down a little more. There’s still a growing process.”

Holliday finished his fifth year of high school at Rancho a few weeks ago, thanks to apex classes that allowed him to recover credits. He was barred from playing high school basketball this season, though, and chose not to appeal the ruling.

Fine by him, he says.

School and college are more important, after all.

“He’s had some obstacles and things that happened, but I (helped) him to see you have to do things different,” said Rancho athletics secretary Prudence Jackson, whom Holliday cites as a major reason for his success.

“You can’t do it the street way, you have to do it the educational way, the wise way.

“He listened.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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