Damian Hollis has the size – a 6-foot-8-inch, 215-pound frame – and pedigree – his father, Essie, played in the NBA – to suggest he was predestined for basketball success.
Yet according to the standout senior forward, who averaged more than 13 points and a half-dozen rebounds per game last season, the sport did not come easily to him – a fact he uses as motivation.
“Growing up, I got demolished on the basketball court,” he said. “So it’s like my payback now.”
Prior to his freshman year of high school, Hollis was more interested in the baseball diamond, playing on his high school’s varsity team in his first year at the school. But that summer he went to Spain for five weeks with his father, who was a former star at St. Bonaventure and had a stint on the Detroit Pistons.
In those five weeks, Hollis said, he crammed in everything he knew about the sport.
“At that point, basketball was just so pure,” he said. “I just played so much and I needed to learn and be immersed in the sport.”
There was, of course, pressure to succeed, but Hollis said he has learned to use that pressure to his benefit.
“I use the pressure my dad puts on me as fuel,” he said. “I take the energy and use it on the court to get better.”
In sixth grade, Hollis picked up the saxophone. It was the latest expression of a love of music that began with his parents listening to jazz during his childhood – Essie even played in a band – and continued with his music teachers handing out plastic recorders in elementary school.
Then in junior high, Hollis dropped the saxophone and began to shift his focus.
“I started leaning away from the band-geek thing and more towards the jock side,” Hollis said.
Yet music and basketball are not kept separate in Hollis’s life; he intertwines them to create a perfect balance. He said that before each game he tries to take a cold shower and have a music session filled with a guitar instrumentalist or Jimi Hendrix.
“Jimi doesn’t move with the music,” he said. “He just feels it.”
This past summer, Hollis suffered from some hereditary heart problems that hindered his ability to train and work out. He said that his listening to some of his favorite musicians like Edit, Infected Mushroom, Pretty Lights, and various reggae bands prevented him from going crazy.
“I have music to match every way I’m feeling,” he said.
Hollis’ devotion to his roots can be seen on the 12 aesthetic tattoos carefully designed on his arms, wrists and back.
“Big Sister” reads one tattoo written in Chinese, a nod to his mother’s heritage. Hollis’ sister Kiara has a tattoo in the same place that says “Big Brother.”
“We see how sometimes people leave their parents or get separated,” Hollis said. “This is our way of promising each other that we’ll always come back to each other.”
His dedication to his family is one of Hollis’ many motivations for continuing to play basketball.
“My mom is partly the reason why I try so hard in basketball,” he said. “So I can lift her off her feet so she doesn’t have to do anything for the rest of her life.”
One summer when Hollis was in Jamaica playing basketball he added another tattoo to the compilation: the symbol for “grateful” in Chinese.
“I am so grateful for the opportunities that I have,” he said. “I could have been anywhere in the world at that time. There are so many bad things that could happen, but nothing happened to me. I always try to be appreciative.” u