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Sophomore guard/forward Eddie Holland III fights to drive past an Iona defender during the team's season opener at Hynes Athletics Center in New Rochelle, N.Y. on Nov. 7. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

In March of 2018, when Penn won the Ivy League Tournament at the Palestra, a young high school basketball player was completing his freshman campaign at Friends’ Central High School, a mere 16-minute drive away.

That player was Eddie Holland III, a Philadelphia-area native who is making his case to be a new key player for the Quakers.  

Holland proved an immense pivot in his game following his first year at Penn. As a freshman, Holland III slotted minutes in just seven games, totaling 21 minutes. The longest he played was in the season opener against Florida State; he played seven minutes. In this season so far, he has amassed 92 minutes across the same number of games.

So, what has changed?

Someone unfamiliar with the Quakers might assume a huge roster shake-up, where graduates and transfers left holes to fill in the rotation. But that's not the case here. The Quakers' roster has largely kept its key players from last season.

The answer, per coach Steve Donahue, is all about Holland III's own development.

“He’s worked on his game physically. He’s stronger — more complete athletically,” Donahue said. “More than that, I think he’s more used to the nuances of college basketball: guarding different positions [and] quicker guys. I think that’s been part of his maturation in particular this fall, making the coaches trust his defensive instincts.”

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil Sophomore guard/forward Eddie Holland III attempts a shot against Iona during the game at Hynes Athletics Center in New Rochelle, N.Y. on Nov. 7.

Holland III found learning the offense to be incredibly helpful, and it set him up to be more impactful once the team started in the fall.

“Just getting more experience with the offense helps you find where you’re going to get your shots, [and] where you can get other shots. And just being more comfortable in the offense lets you be more comfortable on the court,” Holland III said.

His primary goal in the summer was to improve his three-point shot, knowing how integral it has been to the Quaker offense. Throughout the summer, he worked with his trainer, Troy Daniels, who has helped Holland III ever since he started playing basketball in sixth grade.

Holland III can still maintain a close partnership with Daniels because of his proximity to home. Holland III is a native Philadelphian, which means that he grew up rooting for the 76ers — even during the dark days when they could only muster a 10-72 season — and that he gets to play at an elite level close to home.

“Definitely an important decision for me was making sure my family — as well as my close friends and coaches — can come to my games. And obviously being from Philly, going to Penn made that very possible,” Holland III said. “I’ve gotten a lot of support during the home games.”

Philadelphia is a special place to play basketball, something that Holland III feels shaped his love for basketball today.

As Friends’ Central High School is located in the Greater Philadelphia area, the city's love for basketball permeated into the school's athletic program. Friendss Central features a basketball program that served as the platform for numerous basketball players’ careers.

The Class of 2001 – 20 years before Holland III graduated — featured Hakim Warrick. Warrick played collegiate basketball for Syracuse University, where he captured the 2003 NCAA Championship after blocking the potential game-tying three. A more recent notable graduate of Friends’ Central is De’Andre Hunter, the former No. 4 overall draft pick of 2019 and the 2019 NCAA Champion.  

There’s a bit of a pattern here that may hopefully continue.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil Sophomore guard/forward Eddie Holland III makes a free throw against Towson during the game at the Palestra on Nov. 13.

Donahue and his coaching staff had noticed Holland III early at Friends’ Central. They followed him through the pandemic, and eventually identified him as someone who could lace up for the Red and Blue.

“Eddie’s put in a lot of work, and I give him a lot of credit that he’s never came in feeling sorry for himself — for his situation — and has worked hard to help him in position in terms of getting in the rotation,” Donahue said.

Donahue also lauded Holland III and his other teammates for their dedication to the team and how the culture at Penn steers players away from the transfer portal that nowadays feels more like NBA free agency.

Another attribute of Holand III that Donahue thinks shines is his composure.

“I think he’s very comfortable on stage, under the lights, in the moment. He doesn’t make mistakes out of nervousness.”

Holland III never looks to run away from the challenge. Rather, he wants to run towards it. He wants to compete.

“The competitive energy,” Holland III said when asked about what he loves most about basketball. “Just the ability to get out there and be able to perform your best, sometimes your worst, and learning new things about the game, learning new things about yourself in times of adversity and times of success.”

And after a freshman season spent primarily on the bench, Holland III is embracing his sophomore season with open arms: every triumph, every defeat, and everything in between.