Indiana forward Mackenzie Holmes saves the ball from going out of bounds during a game at Tennessee on Nov. 14. Holmes is averaging 20 points for the 7-0 Hoosiers, who are ranked fifth in the AP Top 25. Wade Payne/Associated Press

Mackenzie Holmes remembers when she arrived at Indiana University, a Maine high school basketball star looking to take a massive step in her basketball career.

That was three years ago. For Holmes, that’s hard to grasp.

“It’s flown by,” said the former Gorham High standout. “This year has really snuck up on me, I can’t believe this is my fourth year playing for IU. It’s honestly surreal to me.”

It’s her senior year, but this doesn’t have the makings of an Indiana swan song for Holmes, who has helped lead the Hoosiers to a 7-0 start and the No. 5 ranking in the AP Top 25 going into Thursday’s game against No. 6 North Carolina.

She plans to use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to athletes because of the pandemic and will return to the team next season.

“That is definitely the plan right now,” said Holmes, one of 50 players on the preseason watchlist for the John R. Wooden Award, given to the nation’s top player. “To get the chance to play here another year is something that’s really special to me.”


In the three years since her arrival, Holmes has become more comfortable at Indiana and with the demands of playing Big Ten basketball. A 6-foot-3 forward, she is averaging a career-high 20 points this season, along with 7.4 rebounds.

“You play, then you get two days, then you turn around and you’re on a plane to go across the Midwest to go to another place. It’s just go-go-go, all the time,” she said. “I think as a freshman, you have that learning curve.”

She’s had a different learning curve this season, however. Ali Patberg, the Hoosiers’ longtime leader, graduated last spring. Now, as one of two seniors on the team along with a pair of graduate students, Holmes knew she had to become one of the team’s stronger voices.

“I knew I needed to step up and do more from a leadership position,” Holmes said. “I knew there were big shoes to fill there, and (grad student) Grace Berger and I both knew we needed to step up.”

Indiana Coach Teri Moren said she’s seen Holmes show more of her personality.

“She has grown and changed so much from the time that she was dropped off here in Bloomington,” Moren said. “She was timid, unsure, shy, all of it. Coming from Maine, I don’t think she knew at the time how good she could become here. … We could see the things that she had the potential to become.


“Now she has flourished into one of our leaders. … She has not been a stranger here, and I couldn’t have been able to say that a couple of years ago when she first got here.”

That growth has coincided with a return to form for Holmes, who was first-team All-Big Ten as a sophomore but was a second-team pick last year while dealing with a knee injury that required surgery and caused her to miss eight games. She was named the Big Ten’s Player of the Week on Monday after scoring 26 points against Auburn and 27 against Memphis.

Indiana forward Mackenzie Holmes shoots over Charlotte’s Jacee Busick during an NCAA tournament game in March. The Hoosiers advanced to the Sweet 16 each of the past two seasons. Michael Conroy/Associated Press

“I always take pride in my efficiency. I try to take shots that are high-percentage shots for me,” Holmes said. “In the past, if I missed a couple of shots, I’d get all worked up and I’d be hard on myself. But now, after missing a couple, I’ve been able to regain my confidence and keep that confidence in myself. I work on these things every day, so (I’m) confident that the next one will go in.”

She doesn’t miss often. Over her last three games, Holmes is 30 for 34 from the field.

“She is a very special talent, because she has extraordinary footwork, extraordinary hands, and she’s a worker,” Moren said. “She works every single day. She wants to be the best at her position. … I’d love to be able to take every ounce of credit, or (assistant coach) Rhet (Wierzba) would, for her footwork, but we can’t do that. That is God-given.”

With Holmes playing at a high level, her teammates have followed suit. After reaching the Elite Eight in 2021 and the Sweet Sixteen in 2022, the Hoosiers are showing themselves to be a front-of-the-pack contender, a notion they can further validate with a win over a 6-0 UNC team.

“It’s a great opportunity that we have in front of us,” Holmes said. “I think any (time) in nonconference we have the chance to play a top-10 team and a team like North Carolina, it’s going to do nothing but prepare us for the future.”

As for her future, taking the extra year would postpone the question of what awaits her after her playing days at Indiana.

“I’m not sure if it’s really sunken in yet,” Holmes said. “I don’t think it will until my career is over, kind of the accomplishments that we’ve had since being here. Things that not a lot of athletes get to do are things that I’m doing nearly every day.”

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