By Maurice Patton
After playing together since eighth grade, Gene Holmes and Jayden Lockett are set to part ways for the 2020-21 basketball season.
Holmes committed recently to Bryan College, an NAIA program in Dayton, Tenn., while Lockett announced Saturday he will sign with NCAA Division II Benedict College in South Carolina. Lockett had previously committed to Oakwood University in Huntsville before rethinking his situation.
As sophomores, the pair helped Columbia State earn a Tennessee Community College Athletic Association tournament championship and a berth in the NJCAA nationals that were canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“A key to our team was the guys we had returning,” Chargers coach Winston Neal said. “Gene and ‘J-Lock’ led that. They won in middle school, they won in high school and they won in junior college, and there’s a reason for that: They’re winners. The way they conduct themselves, their work ethic, their high character, their toughness, their ability to do a lot of things well – we won (43) games in two years with those dudes. There’s something to that.
“They were perfect players for us, on and off the court. I was privileged to be able to coach them. We had zero issues with them, on the court, in the classroom, in life. Whatever they decide to do, they’ll be successful at it.”
Prior to their arrival at C-State, Holmes and Lockett’s East Nashville squads compiled a sparkling four-year record of 106-22.
Both are expected to step into leadership roles with their new programs, with Holmes continuing his point guard duties and Lockett likely to assume such.
“I haven’t really seen them play, but I’ve been talking to the coaches about their play style, and it really fits me,” said Holmes, who accepted a full scholarship at Bryan after entertaining offers from various NCAA Division III programs – which do not award athletic scholarships.
The only Charger to start all 33 games en route to a 23-10 finish this past season, Holmes averaged 8.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.7 steals per contest, leading the squad in the latter two categories.
“They should have a pretty good squad, but they needed an older, mature leader,” Neal said. “Gene checks that box. He fit everything they needed, and I think he found a great fit.”
Playing in a balanced attack – no C-State player averaged more than 10.5 points per game – Lockett managed 9.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 steals despite missing four games with a broken jaw. He doubled his scoring average in the conference tournament, contributing at an 18.7-point clip over the Chargers’ three wins to earn Most Valuable Player honors.
“Oakwood was close to home,” he said of his initial decision. “My family could come see me, it’s (a Historically Black institution), they’ve got good academics. It felt like a good decision at the time. But once they weren’t offering me a full ride, I didn’t want to deal with what I would have without a full ride.
“Benedict was actually the first school to contact me and the first school to offer me. I always had my eye on them. They’re bringing me in at the ‘1’ and ‘2’. They want me to have the ball in my hands, lead the team. I’m excited to take on a bigger leadership role. I’ve played the ‘1’ before, in middle school, sometimes in high school, so it wouldn’t be anything new to me, leading the offense.”