A well-kept secret and a sassy text: Mackenzie Holmes’ brother was going to surprise her in Maine, no matter what

  • 12/01/2023 7:52 am in

Cam Holmes was supposed to be in Illinois.

He was supposed to be doing his job as a graduate assistant for Illinois State women’s basketball, on the sidelines for their Thursday night home game. He was supposed to be keeping up with Indiana women’s basketball from afar. He was not supposed to be in Maine, and he was definitely not supposed to be in Portland at Cross Insurance Arena.

Mackenzie Holmes thought she knew what to expect Thursday night.

She knew Cross Insurance Arena would have a lot of Indiana fans. She knew a vast majority of those fans would be her friends and family from her hometown of Gorham, just 30 minutes away. She knew she would finally get to share her home with her teammates, she would get to reconnect with old friends and she would have one of the most meaningful nights of her college career.

She didn’t know one of the people who had been by her side since day one, who had been present for the most important games of her career, would be there cheering her on as she led Indiana to a 67-59 victory over the University of Maine.

Then he showed up on the sidelines.


Cam Holmes has been an integral part of his younger sister’s basketball career since the two were children. From playing pickup basketball in the driveway to matching up against each other on the court in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, the Holmes siblings rarely went more than a few days without competing in one way or another.

Just two years apart, the duo fed off the other’s drive and determination to win and never gave up without a fight — literally.

“We would always have competitions, playing games, and we would always fight with each other,” Cam said. “From when we were 10 and 12 years old until when I graduated from high school, we would play one-on-one a couple times a week. It would be Dad reffing and it would always end in her crying or us fighting about a foul or just something going on.”

Cam maintains he never lost a game to Mackenzie, but admits when he saw how talented his sister was becoming he decided to call off the competition. But that wasn’t the last time the two would match up on the basketball court.

It was just the beginning.

When Mackenzie visited Indiana her junior year of high school, Cam was right alongside her. A couple looks and a short conversation later, they realized their goal of attending the same college was a very real possibility.

“He fell in love with it,” Mackenzie said. “They were super welcoming to him as well, so it happened to be a school that both of us really fell in love with.”

Cam, who played basketball through high school, quickly got involved in the Indiana women’s basketball program as a practice player and manager. In the four years he was there, he went up against Nicole Cardaño-Hillary and Grace Berger and played a vital role in developing many Hoosiers.

But of course, the most important player he helped develop was his sister.

Cam and Mackenzie always matched up well — there’s a reason they grew up playing against each other. His size and physicality allowed him to play as the four or the five in Indiana’s practices, posing a viable threat for Mackenzie in the post and forcing her to play hard. At first, it felt just like it did when the two played together back in Maine. But as Mackenzie kept working and growing, Cam began to realize just who he was going up against.

“When I realized the player she was beginning to become and the impact she was having, I was like ‘Jeez, five or 10 years ago we were doing the exact same thing just playing against each other and now she’s an All-American, she’s an All-Big Ten player,’” he said. “This happened before my eyes without me even fully realizing it.”

Back in high school, when Mackenzie first started tagging along to Cam’s high school AAU practices, playing just so the team could have more players on the bench, he didn’t think she was ready to play at that level.

“It was definitely very weird at first, before I knew how good she was,” he said.

By his senior year, his opinions had changed. He saw the talent and potential his sister had, a direct witness to what Mackenzie’s determination and hard work did for her game. When she reached the collegiate level and started playing solid minutes for Indiana, Cam started to understand how high his sister’s ceiling truly was.

It first started to sink in when he saw freshman Mackenzie go against the now 2023 WNBA Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston when Indiana played — and beat — South Carolina in 2019. Mackenzie played a total of 16 minutes, scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds.

Cam was in shock.

“It was just unbelievable to me,” he said. “That’s where it was kind of like a pinch-me moment.”

But the most memorable moment for him, the time he realized Mackenzie had everything necessary to play at the highest level, came in 2021. NC State rolled into Bloomington as the No. 2 team in the country led by Elissa Cunane, who was the post player everyone was talking about.

“(Mackenzie) wouldn’t have said it, but she was definitely really tired of hearing it,” Cam said. “Throughout the entire game she outplayed her, she outscored her by double digits, she blocked her shot, she had probably one of her best all-around games I’ve ever seen her play up to this point, even though she might not have set a career-high in scoring or anything like that.”

Mackenzie finished with 24 points, four rebounds and one block. Cunane, who fouled out of the game, ended with 11 points and seven rebounds.

“I just saw her completely dominate someone who was considered the best post player in the country,” Cam said. “That was kind of like a ‘she’s arrived’ moment… in that moment everything kind of came into the scope of, even though we lost the game, she belonged at this level and she should’ve been an All-American.”

Now, Mackenzie is an All-American. She’s known for her ability to race up and down the court, her smooth footwork and her unmatched determination and competitiveness. Those qualities were things she worked hard to develop at Indiana, and Cam was right there alongside her pushing her every day.

“He’s been nothing but supportive of me throughout my whole entire career,” Mackenzie said. “It’s not easy going against each other every day in practice, but he never took anything personally. He knows that college basketball is a grind and there’s days that I get frustrated, and he kind of just helped me develop, helped me grow in my time here.”

The competition between the Holmes siblings in practices was as intense as it could get. Mackenzie always gave 100 percent, but she turned it up even more when she went against Cam.

“You could always just tell she took pride in every single possession for the three years that I was a practice player, from the very first day we got there to the very last practice I had with her,” he said. “The little mind games definitely worked for her, just to kind of realize the competitiveness she needs to play with.”

Cam is no longer at Indiana, unable to push his sister every day in practices, but he still impacts how she plays. Or at least, he hopes he does.

“She needs to treat everyone in the Big Ten like she did me,” he said with a laugh. “All of the great players she’s played against and all of the ones she’ll continue to play against, she just needs to put my head on their body when she’s going against them.”


Before she ran out onto the floor for warmups Thursday night, Mackenzie waited for a text from her brother. He had reminded her the night before that he had his own basketball schedule, and wouldn’t be able to make the trek to their home state to see her play.

“He was being sassy with me,” Mackenzie said. “He didn’t text me before the game. I was kind of hurt. And then we ran out and I saw him and I was like ‘Oh!’. It was a little bit of a shock.”

Later, as Cam sat in Cross Insurance Arena, hearing deafening cheers for his sister, it wasn’t for the first time. The entire Holmes family — and much of the town of Gorham — is familiar with the arena, as it’s the same court high school state championships and AAU games took place on. It’s where Mackenzie first felt what it was like to win big and where she started showing everyone around her who she was.

“We were starting ‘She’s a freshman’ chants in that gym,” Cam said. “It’s honestly surreal.”

Back in September, Cam couldn’t find the words to encapsulate what it would feel like being back in that gym. He knew he would be flooded with memories, but expected the reality of the situation wouldn’t sink in until he was there and watching Mackenzie play. Even then, though, the words to describe the experience would likely be hard to come by.

Really, how can you explain what it feels like to get to surprise your little sister for one of the most meaningful games of her life? To see her lead one of the top teams in the country on the same floor where she made a name for herself in the first place?

Sometimes you can’t. All you can do is smile and hug her as she comes running over to you after the game. And that’s exactly what Cam did.

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