The souvenirs have piled up for Ishmael Hollis in the last three years.
The Gainesville native and Flowery Branch High grad’s unconventional path toward his NBA dreams has not only filled scrapbooks, but recently led him back home — well, somewhat.
Following stints of playing basketball overseas, Hollis landed a spot on the Miami Heat’s Sioux Falls Skyforce G League team earlier this month, moving him a little closer to a lifelong dream.
“It’s so much better to play basketball back in the States, back at home,” said Hollis, who returned to his home soil after playing basketball in Europe and Australia from 2014-16.
The 25-year-old worked out with the team in training camp in September, where his athleticism and shooting ability garnered some looks from Sioux Falls coach Nevada Smith. And after one preseason game early last month, Hollis was told he made the cut.
Hollis has gone from being “the guy” overseas to now being part of a supporting cast among many former Division I stars and pro talents.
“I can see myself getting better,” Hollis said of the transition. “ ...For me, you do want consistency, you want to be with a team for a long, long time. But in the pros, it’s just such a business. You just gotta keep going with the flow. ... It’s part of God’s plan for me because each stop has gotten me better. It’s something to be thankful for.”
Hollis, who played at the University of North Georgia, is the only former Division II player with the Skyforce, meaning the 6-foot-9 forward is playing with a little chip on his shoulder.
“For me it was just proving I belong,” Hollis said. “There’s not many Division II products out there. The numbers are very low, so that’s working against me. But if I just keep working every day — they believe in me — if I just keep trusting the process that something great is gonna come from it. ... When it’s my time, it’s my opportunity. So just make the most of it.”
Hollis has certainly been one who relishes those opportunities.
A late bloomer in the sport, Hollis had to develop his basketball IQ from his early teens. By his high school career, he earned All-Area, All-State and All-American honors while averaging 17 points, seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks for the Falcons. During a two-year stint at North Georgia, Hollis was the Peach Belt’s second-leading scorer (19.8 points per game) and fourth-leading rebounder (9.1 per game) as a senior.
From there, Hollis took his career as far as Australia, where he averaged 29.5 points, 10 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game for the South Metro Pirates in the Australia State League back in 2014. During his travels across Europe — from Portugal to Luxembourg, Belgium — Hollis played in the Liga Portuguesa de Basquetebol (2015) before signing to play in the Basketball Club Bascharage, part of the Total League in Luxembourg.
The change in dynamics from a more tactical style play to the much faster scoring pace of the U.S. has only bolstered his resume.
“You know, people were watching me in every move that I made,” he said. “So whatever I did, other people followed. That made me more accountable for myself. So now that I am in position where I am not the leader, you still gotta hold yourself accountable. You still have to make sure you’re doing the right things, doing what’s best for the team.”
The experiences and the many sites along the way have been a blessing for Hollis.
Whether he was strolling through the Brussels (Belgium) Christmas Markets, feeling the soft sand between his toes on the beaches of Australia, gazing upon a beautiful Natural Wonder of the World like the Great Barrier Reef or even encountering some of Australia’s exotic and sometimes deadly wildlife, Hollis has seen it all.
“Australia in itself is unique,” he said. “Sometimes I would go to a gas station and see like, 100 kangaroos. So I feel like all of Australia, every day is just something new and crazy.”
Hollis recalled an unwelcomed visit from one of the world’s largest arachnids — the Huntsman spider — from inside his condo just outside Melbourne. In Australia, the Huntsman’s leg span could range up to 12 inches, making it the largest spider in diameter.
“I had to hit it like four or five times. ... It was the size of my hand,” he said with a laugh. “I was kind of freaking out because I’ve never seen a spider that big in my life.”
Despite the lack of playing time with Sioux Falls so far, Hollis is looking forward to sharing this new journey with his 8-month-old son, Peter Angelo. Hollis said he was able to break free from his travels to spend time with Peter over the summer. Peter Angelo was even in the stands for Hollis’ first G League game.
“I think for (my son) it’s going to be really special, you know? Just being around that his whole life,” Hollis said. “That’s gonna be his expectation. ... That’s gonna be what he knows from day one. Being close to home, and having my son watch is like, everything.”
Hollis plans to continue his progression in the U.S. and hopes others from Gainesville who share the same ambitions can see that hard work can pay off.
“Whatever goal they have, if they just work hard every day, it can be achieved,” he said. “I’m not a guy anybody expected to be at this point. Just stay down and keep going toward that goal. Trust me, you can make it out of Gainesville, and you can be whatever you want to be.”