photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu
By Jeff Uveino
ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — When Jaren Holmes graduated from high school, his principal gave him two diplomas.
One diploma was awarded to Jaren English, the familiar Romulus High School basketball guard who had led the Eagles to the Michigan Class A state semifinals. English, as he was known, would go on to play at Ranger Community College in Texas before transferring to St. Bonaventure.
The other diploma was awarded to Jaren Holmes.
And, while Bona fans got to know him as Jaren English last season, in his heart, he was already Jaren Holmes.
“I was always going to change my name as soon as I got settled,” Holmes said. “After junior college and signing here with the Bonnies, it was set in stone.”
Holmes’ desire to change his name came long before he arrived at SBU. His younger brother, William, had wanted to change his last name to reflect his mother’s since he was 15. However, the two were each in the middle of their respective athletic recruitment processes at the time.
For Jaren, it was basketball. For William, baseball.
“For my brother’s 16th birthday, he wanted to change his name,” Holmes said. “I didn’t know if I really wanted to do it because it was kind of shaky for me recruitment-wise. I didn’t know what my future held. I had gone by English my whole life.”
When the two went to their mother, Gia, with the idea, she had her reservations on the name change, as well.
“My mom thought it would be best to wait until we’re older so that my father couldn’t contest it and make sure that we keep the name, even though he hasn’t done anything for us,” Holmes said. “The type of person that he is, to have two sons directly 10 minutes away from him and you never see them for 21 years and 19 years, I knew the type of dude that he was. I knew that he would try to contest it just to be spiteful to my mom.”
Gia Holmes also required that if either Jaren or William wanted to change their last name to Holmes, the other would have to do so, as well.
“She didn’t want one son to have English and one son to have Holmes,” Jaren Holmes said. “She wanted to show that me and him worked together on this.”
Holmes recalled going out to dinner with his brother for William’s 16th birthday. As the two sat at their table, Holmes said, he found out just how much it meant to William to have his mother’s last name.
“(William) said, if you don’t want to do it, I understand,” Holmes said. “But this means more to me than anything in the world.”
His brother’s emotions, Holmes said, were powerful.
“He’s never been emotional when it comes to my father,” Holmes said. “When I saw him break down in that instant, I knew that this is what I’ve got to do.”
William Holmes’ baseball career had started to pick up at the time. He began getting scouted while playing at Western International High School in Detroit, and became aware that there was a good chance he would be drafted by a professional organization.
“I want to pay mom back, and I don’t want (our father) to have any ties to us in our careers,” Jaren Holmes recalled William saying. “That he can go and say, ‘those are my sons,’ and we have his last name.”
The two went back to their mother and told her that they were going to do it. Upon getting settled, they would each change their last name to Holmes.
Two years later, William was picked by the Los Angeles Angels in the fifth round of the 2018 Major League Baseball draft. After a year-long legal process, William changed his last name from English to Holmes. Jaren, while still committed to the agreement he made with his brother, would wait for his basketball career to progress before doing the same.
After a year at Ranger CC, Holmes arrived at SBU in the summer of 2019 with the intention of changing his name as soon as he could.
“As the first year came about, it was hard for me to do anything court related because I was in summer session and didn’t have the time to appear in court,” Holmes said. “Especially me being a first-year player here, I was trying to make a good impression.”
After a 2019-20 campaign during which he started 23 of 24 games played for SBU and averaged 11.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, Holmes knew that it was finally time to make the change.
“I let everybody that’s close to me know that my name was going to be Holmes next season,” Holmes said. “That was my main goal during this pandemic, was to make sure that my name was Holmes by the start of the season. I knew that (the fans and community) would accept me no matter what.”
Holmes’ court date, which would be held over Zoom, was scheduled for Sept. 30. His brother, mother and grandparents made the trip to listen to the hearing. As his family surrounded him in a hotel room, Holmes recalled the judge telling him that his request for a name change had been granted.
For the first time, he was legally Jaren Holmes.
“When the judge told me that, I saw my mom break down,” Holmes said. “My grandmother behind her broke down, and for the first time, I saw my grandfather cry. Everyone just kind of jumped on me, as if I was adopted. It felt like something had changed, but these are the same people that have been with me since day one.”
Holmes said that as his mom held him in that moment, he knew that he had done the right thing.
“That moment with my family was probably greater than any basketball moment I had ever been in,” Holmes said. “Bigger than any game I’ve ever played in. Bigger than any situation, bigger than any big shot. It just felt like my path led me to this and I was finally coming into who I was supposed to be all along.”
Holmes recalled the countless hours that his mother had spent helping her sons pursue their athletic careers. Her, along with Holmes’ grandfather and his late uncle John, he said, had collectively filled the role of father figure for Jaren growing up.
“My mother has done literally everything for me,” Holmes said. “Stretching herself as thin as you can think possible so that we can be happy. That right there, on a teacher’s salary, supporting two boys who play completely different sports… without her, I wouldn’t be playing here at Bonaventure.”
Just as Holmes’ family has supported and assisted him with his basketball career, they have encouraged him to follow another passion: broadcasting.
“When I was younger, I always watched ESPN,” Holmes said. “I loved sports. My mom and my grandparents always said, Jaren, you would be good at that.”
Holmes, now a sports media major, loves baseball as much as he does basketball. He grew up a Tigers fan, but now roots for the Angels because of his brother.
“I always knew I wanted to be a sports broadcasting major, and I always wanted to be a sports journalist because I love talking about sports,” Holmes said. “As I found out this year, what goes on behind the scenes is much broader and harder than I could have ever expected.”
Holmes regularly appears as a reporter and anchor on SBU-TV, the university’s student-run television broadcast that airs live each Friday while school is in session. He hopes that once he’s done playing basketball, broadcasting will be a way for him to stay involved with the game.
“I feel like I have a knack for it,” Holmes said. “For being on television and being on camera. Does it sometimes interfere with basketball? Yeah. But my mom never complained, so I’m not going to complain.”
Whether it’s on the basketball court or in front of the video camera, Holmes hopes that he can now carry on his grandfather’s legacy since changing his name.
“William and I see it as a chance to rebuild our family tree,” Holmes said. “It’s an honor to represent my mom, and represent my grandfather.”
Now in his second season at SBU, Holmes is optimistic and satisfied with where he’s at.
“Honestly, I couldn’t be happier,” Holmes said. “I love going by the name Holmes. My brother and I made a pact at that dinner that night that we would carry on that legacy no matter what. We would always be the men that our mom would try to raise us to be.”