Japanese pro basketball star, a Green Valley grad, flees disaster

Basketball has given Chris Holm a ride through college, a career and a chance to travel the world.

But the game the Henderson native has loved all his life was put in perspective over the past week.

Holm, a 2002 graduate of Green Valley High School, has been playing professional basketball in Japan with the Sendai 89ers since the fall of 2008.

When a magnitude 9 earthquake struck Japan on March 11, Holm and his teammates were on a bus at a truck stop during a road trip, about 30 minutes outside Sendai.

“It just kept going and getting stronger. It went on for like two minutes,” Holm wrote in an email before he returned to the United States on Friday. “We felt safe, but we were looking outside and the overhang on the gas station was rocking up and down so furiously and people were running out of the restaurant.

“After that, we heard about the tsunami coming and, shortly after, phones went down. None of the guys could get hold of their families for like seven hours. It was just unreal.”

Holm, 26, eventually was able to reach his wife, Tara, who lives in Lakeville, Minn., to let her know he was safe.

After days of wondering when he would be able to return to the U.S., Chris Holm finally caught a flight from Tokyo and arrived in Lakeville on Friday.

“It was amazing to see his face,” Tara Holm said.

The Holms were married in Sendai in September. Tara Holm said watching televised images of widespread destruction throughout the region has been devastating.

Japan’s National Police agency reportedly said more than 7,700 people were confirmed dead as of Saturday because of the earthquake and ensuing tsunami.

“Hearing and seeing everything on TV, it was heartbreaking to see Sendai like that,” she said.

Holm’s 89ers were one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams in the Basketball Japan League this year, but the rest of their season has been canceled.

Holm, a 6-foot-11-inch, 265-pound center, was averaging 14.4 points and 13.4 rebounds for the 89ers, who held the conference’s second-best record at 24-12.

The 89ers were one of three teams, along with the Tokyo Apache and Saitama Broncos, whose seasons were called off in the wake of the disaster.

“They’re having rolling blackouts, so that would be tough with scheduling,” Holm said.

Basketball has taken a back seat, however, as Holm feels fortunate he and his teammates are safe, and thankful for the good will being shared by people coping with the disaster.

For example, the team the 89ers were scheduled to play the weekend of the earthquake, the Niigata Albirex, provided a dormitory for players to stay during the crisis.

Holm, who lives in Boston during the offseason, said he and his American teammates were able to reflect on their fortune while they figured out when they could return home.

“We felt very fortunate,” he said. “A lot of things could have gone differently. We had a lot of time to sit around and talk, like, ‘It could have gone differently.’ ”

Holm left Japan amazed by how people have already begun the effort to rebuild.

“They are all very resilient,” he said.

Holm said he plans to resume his playing career when possible. For now, he’s grateful to be home.

“It was a long and draining week,” he said. “Just getting out of there was a long day.”

After graduating from Green Valley, Holm played two years at Rhode Island before transferring to Vermont. As a senior in 2006-07, he averaged 10.6 points and 12.2 rebounds to lead the Catamounts to a 25-8 record.

“We always thought down the road he would be a player,” said Jim Allen, Holm’s former coach at Green Valley. “He worked so hard when he was in high school, and he always had a great attitude.”

Contact reporter Tristan Aird at taird@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203.

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