WVU basketball: New addition Holton must clear hurdles
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Junior college forward Jonathan Holton signed a grant-in-aid Monday to play for West Virginia, though he has legal issues to resolve before he can enroll. His coach at Palm Beach State College said the sophomore will need to hustle in the classroom, too.
"Because of his academic background, he has to finish in summer school in order to get himself eligible," Butch Estes said. "He has some work to do, but he has made some strides. He has to complete some courses and turn in some assignments. It will go into the summer."
To be eligible, Holton has to graduate from Palm Beach State with his associate degree. Additionally, a source involved with the recruitment told the Daily Mail Sunday that WVU told Holton it will honor his scholarship if he resolves his legal problems.
Following his freshman season at the University of Rhode Island, Holton was arrested and charged with two felony counts of video voyeurism. Two female students claimed they had consensual sex with Holton in separate events, but that Holton videotaped both encounters without consent. They discovered the videos on Facebook.
Holton disputed the charges at first and his lawyer at the time said, "An unauthorized third party accessed Mr. Holton's account without his consent and maliciously sent these images under his name."
Two days after the arrest, Holton was arrested again on a warrant for a robbery charge back home in Miami.
He was additionally charged with being a fugitive from justice and then a third felony after police discovered a laptop seized during the first arrest had been stolen from a URI residence hall eight months before.
Estes, now the head coach at Miami's Division II Barry University, said Holton has worked with a new lawyer, John E. Kirkpatrick, who works with an AAU program and a youth and family foundation in Miami. Estes said Holton has already done considerable work to resolve the problems, but he wasn't sure what Holton had left to do. Kirkpatrick could not be reached Tuesday. A WVU press release from Tuesday afternoon makes no mention of the situation.
WVU Coach Bob Huggins said in the press release that Holton was a "prototype Big 12 forward" who should give the Mountaineers "immediate help on the front line." Jucorecruiting.com ranked Holton No. 13 among junior college prospects. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Holton will have three years to play two seasons at WVU.
"Jonathan had a wonderful year," Estes said. "He has matured and he's been no trouble whatsoever. He's been obviously a great basketball player and he was great to coach. There were no issues at all."
Estes, a former Division I head coach at Furman and Presbyterian and a Division I assistant at North Carolina and Miami, had to do the same research last year that WVU and Huggins have done this year.
Holton was dismissed from the URI team after his arrests. He was a member of the Atlantic 10's All-Rookie team in 2012 after starting 26 of 31 games and averaging 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds. Estes worked in Miami as the Miami-Dade College coach from 2003-06 and then as a Hurricanes assistant in 2006-07 before taking over at Palm Beach State in 2010.
"I knew Jonathan back when he was in high school and when he went to Rhode Island, I saw him play after he committed and thought, 'Boy, did they get a steal. This kid is way better than Rhode Island,'" Estes said.
Estes said Holton's contacts reached out to Estes.
Palm Beach State is about an hour from where Holton was raised. Estes said he was impressed by the people surrounding Holton and reassured by their intentions.
"They really wanted to re-establish him," Estes said.
Estes said he told Holton and his people that Estes was mindful of Holton's past, but preferred to concentrate on the future, so long as Holton was committed to the same. That apparently worked because Estes said he later learned a lot of junior college coaches were using Holton's past as a way to intimidate him.
"He warmed up to the fact that some schools he was looking at made a big deal out of his past while we took the approach that, 'Hey, Jonathan you made a mistake, but that's behind you. This is an opportunity to go forward. We're not looking at the past. We're focused on the future,'" Estes said. "He appreciated that. There were other people who tried to make him feel bad about what happened. Other coaches gave him the, 'You better do what I say. This is your last chance.'"
Holton needed to complete some academic work so he could play for Estes. As Horton worked toward eligibility, Estes did his homework, too.
"We did all the background checks and I was assured all of the things from his past would be resolved," Estes said. "Talking extensively with the people in his background, I got nothing but good vibes about taking the chance to help him."
Holton started 22 of his 23 games for the Palm Beach State team that finished 29-3 and was ranked as high as No. 2. He averaged 17.5 points and 14.1 rebounds and shot 39.6 percent from 3-point range. Estes said the statistics are secondary to the larger point.
"We were awfully glad to get him, but it was a win-win for both of us," Estes said. "We were able to have a great year as a team and he was able to have a great year as a player, but he grew as a person. Does he have room to grow some more? Yes, no question. But I think that today, going back to last July 1 or whenever we started this process, he's become much more mature and a much better kid. I don't know if he's a better player - he was pretty good when he got there."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.