"Jrue Holiday, from UCLA, trying to fit in with new team in a new climate"

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Philadelphia 76ers top draft pick, Jrue Holiday is introduced during a news conference at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, the Sixers' practice facility, Friday, June 26, 2009, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ed Stefanski, the Sixers' president and general manager looks on at left.

PHILADELPHIA — Jrue Holiday is beginning his NBA career three years early, three hours ahead and 2,723 miles away from his Southern California home. Almost everything about his new life as a Philadelphia 76er is new, except for the pebble-grained ball he tends to clutch a little tighter because it's familiar.


The one-and-done UCLA guard is just 19 years old and a rookie adult, a rookie resident of the historic city and a rookie player on the team that considers itself lucky to have stolen the projected lottery pick with the 17th overall selection in this past June's NBA draft.


""Yeah, you could say I'm having some culture shock,"" said Holiday, cracking a smile before Sixers practice last Wednesday at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. ""I thought I'd spend my entire life on the West Coast.""


The Sixers are Holiday's third team in three years. The quick leaps from North Hollywood's Campbell Hall High to UCLA's Pauley Pavilion and to Philadelphia and the NBA have Holiday feeling quite like a lost intern in the city of Dr.
J. Holiday
spent only a freshman season — a mere 35 games — as a Bruin before bungee-jumping into the NBA draft.


The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder played outside his natural position because senior
Darren Collison
was a point, sliding Holiday to the wing, and averaged 8.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.6 steals. He became Coach
Ben Howland's
best defensive stopper.


""I have a pretty good fit here with the Sixers,"" said Holiday, who opens training camp with the team Tuesday. ""With (point guard
Andre) Miller
gone, they've got some opportunities.""


A proven unselfish player and smart passer, Holiday sees his potential role in new Sixers coach
Eddie Jordan's
two-guard, pass-and-cut motion offense. Jordan had projected starting point guard
Lou Williams
break from his offseason training in Atlanta to work out with Holiday a few months ago.


Sixers coaches liked what they saw from Holiday in July in the Orlando Pro Summer League, where he averaged 8.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists. But the roster carries five guards: Williams, Holiday, former Laker
Kareem Rush
,
Willie Green
and newcomer
Royal Ivey
.


Power forward
Elton Brand
, Holiday's acquaintance from his Clippers days, is fully recovered from 2008-09 season-ending shoulder surgery. Former Bruins 3-point specialist
Jason Kapono
, who bumped Holiday from a locker when the six-year NBA veteran arrived at the training facility, is also on the team that hopes to return to its first NBA Finals since getting swept by the Lakers in 2001.


""I've been in the league for a minute,"" said Holiday, who has been mentored by four-year veteran Williams. ""Lou told me that he didn't play much his first year and that the most important things are to keep my head up and pay attention to what the coaches say.""


Holiday doesn't know the bench. He started all 35 games as a Bruins freshman and every game at Campbell Hall, where he became the 2008 Gatorade National Player of the Year.


""Playing at UCLA in a two-guard system with Darren (New Orleans' first-round selection at No. 21) taught me that I can adjust,"" he said. ""They (the Sixers) already know I can play defense because I played for Coach Howland.""


The NBA has already taught Holiday that many decisions, from his playing time to getting traded, lie beyond his control. Getting picked 17th was a surprising welcome mat since mock drafts and draft-camp feedback had him expecting to be a lottery pick.


""I was a little disappointed that I didn't go high, but am happy,"" said Holiday, who has signed with the Sixers and, based on the NBA rookie pay scale, will make about $3.4 million over his first two seasons. ""This is the NBA. Everybody's good here. They're better, stronger, faster and jump higher, and I knew that the first time a veteran blew by me.""


Holiday grew an inch since last year, packed on more muscle and spends the bulk of his time adapting to change.


He packed one bag and moved last month into a three-bedroom condo in Bala Cynwyd, a Philadelphia suburban Main Line community that he still has trouble pronouncing. His grandmother, Ruthann, is staying with him ""because my parents didn't want me to be alone,"" he said.


Holiday has a new Cadillac Escalade, ""a pearly white ride with matching rims that I got for my birthday,"" he said, but he hasn't driven much or ventured beyond the 5-mile radius from his condo to the Sixers' workout facility and the team's training camp site at St. Joseph's University.


""(My brother) Justin and I were driving around a few weeks ago, looking at the old, brick buildings and the big, thick trees and thinking how strange everything is to us,"" he said. ""It was so different that we were joking that we expected King Kong to just jump out in the middle of the street.""


And they were in the suburbs.


Holiday can see Center City Philadelphia from a City Line Avenue bridge. He first came to Philly for a high school tournament his junior year. He was here long enough to have cheesesteak in South Philly, see the Liberty Bell, tour Independence Hall and sprint up the Art Museum steps with teammates.


He played his final college game upon the Sixers' home court at Wachovia Center, where Villanova thumped UCLA by 20 points in an arena that Holiday would have just assumed never visit again.


But Holiday is working at making Philadelphia his new home. He awaits a moving truck with his belongings. All he has right now are some clothes, a few family pictures and a small part — 40 pairs — of his extensive shoe collection.


He can feel the seasons change. The leaves will begin to change colors and fall. The temperatures will drop — a big adjustment for a lifelong Southern Californian used to year-round sunshine, palm trees and the idea that sub-60-degree weather means it's time to bust out the goose-down anorak.


For now, the rookie Holiday is making due with an Adidas sweatsuit zipped all the way up to his Adam's apple and finding comfort in the only game he has ever known.


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(c) 2009, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).


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