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Wilkinsburg's Holden back to help hometown

Know this about JR Holden: Humility is a way of life.

"Always been a gentleman. Always been very supportive of others," said John Giammarco, director of the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Summer Pro-Am League.

Holden, a Wilkinsburg native and former professional basketball star in Russia, is back in Pittsburgh with an eye on helping his hometown. Through a foundation in his name, Holden will stage the For the Love Charity Basketball Game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Wilkinsburg High School.

In conjunction, he is offering 22 scholarships worth $1,000 apiece to anyone who writes an essay of between 250 and 500 words on how his memoir, "Blessed Footsteps," inspired them. The autobiography details his life in inner-city Wilkinsburg; how his mother encouraged him to accept a football scholarship before the 10th grade to attend the prestigious Linsly School in Wheeling, W.Va.; his college career at Bucknell; and his rise to prominence in pro basketball overseas.

"It's going to be $5 to get into the game, and that will go to the foundation," Holden said. "The money isn't going in anyone's pocket. You can't reimburse me because I'm already giving out the scholarships through my foundation. This is truly about giving back to my community."

A former Olympic point guard for the Russian national team — he has dual citizenship — Holden spent 13 years as a pro and helped lead vaunted CSKA Moscow to the Russian league championship in June. The former Russian professional Player of the Year said he's currently working on plans to help fund a meals program for elementary school students in the Wilkinsburg district beginning in the fall.

Saturday's game will feature rising high school stars from the area as well as pro players acquainted with Holden, including former college and current pro players Trajan Langdon of Duke, George Washington's Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Eastern Illinois' Henry Domercant.

They'll face a team of former neighborhood stars who played alongside Holden, mainly on Pittsburgh's Hill District courts. Scheduled to play are Nehemiah Brazil, Sam Clancy, Chaz McCrommon, Jack Higgins, Wayne Copeland, Heath Bailey, Darius Newsome and Josh Marks.

Holden, 34, will be a coach. He announced his retirement from pro basketball following the Russian championship.

"I don't want it to be about me," he said. "I've been blessed with opportunities. I want to give some opportunities to others. I want to show kids that the world is limitless. If you don't make it here, it doesn't mean you can't be successful in another place."

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