AMHERST >> The biggest Minuteman can't wait to get out on the court this year.
Rashaan Holloway, all 6 feet, 10 inches and 280 pounds of him, is chomping at the bit to play for the University of Massachusetts. Sitting out last year will do that to a player.
"I waited a really long time for this moment," said the freshman from Elmer, N.J. "To actually say that I'm a Division I basketball player and to tell people that I actually played in a game, it's an experience that I've been waiting to happen since I was nine years old.
"My parents have been waiting for this moment. They're going to be here for my first game. My mom is going to be the loudest in the gym. That's how it's always been."
Holloway sat out last year as a partial qualifier. He was an ESPN three-star recruit, the No. 7-ranked player in the state of New Jersey and the No. 38 center in the region.
Holloway and 6-foot-9 forward Malik Hines both had to sit out last year as partial NCAA qualifiers. Both could be important pieces for a young UMass team.
The Minutemen open their season in seven days when they host Howard University (no relation) on Saturday at Noon in the Mullins Center. It's an opening-round game in the MGM Grand Main Event. UMass will also play Central Arkansas at home on Nov. 19, before heading to Las Vegas for games against Clemson on Nov. 23 and either Creighton or Rutgers on Nov. 25.
While we haven't seen Holloway and the Minutemen play yet, just one look at the freshman center screams low-post presence.
"It's a learning experience for me," Holloway said to me during UMass' media day on Monday. "Everything overseas, everything basketball-wise for me is a learning experience. I'm just learning and when I learn, I express it on the court."
When you are a partial qualifier, you can't really work with your teammates. UMass could have used the size of Holloway or Hines to back up the now-graduated Cady Lalanne and now-senior Tyler Bergantino.
But while they couldn't play, they could watch and watch some more.
"We watched every practice, every game that we could on TV. We'd sit there and talk about what it's going to be like when we play. If we play together, how much fun it's going to be," the thoughtful but soft-spoken Holloway said. "Our connection became really strong.
"We learned how maintain school and basketball."
When kids go off to play sports in college, many times they want to get on the court or the field right away. The NCAA says "no" to players like Holloway until their academics are in order. But in the eyes of the freshman center, the NCAA might have done him a favor.
"It feels like I needed it. It's a part of college," he said. "If every freshman did that, I would recommend it. If they have that choice, I'd say take that year and just learn.
"It can make you into a better person and a better basketball player at the same time. I've gained a lot of character."
And if he develops some low-post moves to go with that character, UMass coach Derek Kellogg and his staff might have a really good frontcourt weapon in another year.