Being 6’11” makes a lot of things difficult. Walking through doorways, driving cars, buying clothes. Being in college only presents more challenges for a young man trying to sit comfortably in a classroom desk built for people a foot shorter or trying to find a dorm room bed where his legs don’t stick out of the end like a baguette in a grocery sack.
For Aric Holman, now a sophomore on Mississippi State’s basketball team, the problems didn’t end there. As he continued to out-grow his classmates over the years, Holman neared the end of high school in Owensboro, Kentucky, convinced there was going to forever be one more complication from his great height: dating.
“Where I came from, anywhere in Kentucky, you didn’t see any tall girls,” he said. “Like, 5’10”, maybe.”
Then he got to college, where his men’s team at MSU shared a court with one of the best women’s basketball programs in the country. There, he discovered members of the opposite sex who, if they couldn’t quite look him straight in the eye, could at least get pretty close.
“I wasn’t expecting to see girls as tall as them,” Holman said. “You’re like, OK, now maybe I’ve got a chance.”
“A chance” might be the best way to describe it. A small chance. A minimal chance. More of a pipe dream, really, to hear the story from Ketara Chapel, the 6’1” senior forward who had no intentions of dating anyone at all, let alone a basketball player, during her time at MSU.
“I didn’t want to date anybody,” she said. “I don’t have time for a relationship.”
Or so she thought, anyway. Chapel and Holman have now been together for more than one year.
“Everybody that had tried to talk to me, I was like, noooo, I’m not gonna talk to you,” Chapel said of her first couple years on campus. “I’d turn them down. But I don’t know, there was something special about Aric.”
Holman knew her reputation, knew her lack of interest in dating as she focused on school and basketball. But after he met her, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. And considering their two teams were sharing the same facilities day-in and day-out, it was hard not to run into each other on a pretty regular basis. In fact, as one might expect, that’s exactly how they had met in the first place.
In the summer of 2015, Holman was a quiet freshman, brand new to Starkville and ready for his first season of college basketball. Having just arrived, Holman didn’t have many friends yet as he sat on a training table deep in the bowels of Humphrey Coliseum and watched two of his older teammates joke around with a tall girl from the women’s team who Holman had to admit was pretty cute. Then, for some reason, she came over and talked to him.
Perhaps to reiterate the distance she was keeping between herself and the two seniors talking to her, she stepped aside and told them she wanted to talk to her friend Aric – her “friend” who she had never met.
“I was like, hold up, you don’t even know me, why are you coming at me like that,” Holman remembered, teasing Chapel as he relayed the story.
“I just needed somebody to talk to,” she was quick to explain.
That, however, was in July, and the two didn’t go on their first date until after Christmas break that year. Even if Holman was a welcomed sight for that moment in the training room, Chapel still had no interest in dating him or anyone, despite Holman’s piqued interest from that first conversation. Each attempt at approaching her after that day seemed like wasted effort, a fact his teammates were quick to point out.
“Every time they saw me talking to her, they were like, ‘It’s over, don’t even try, bruh. She’s not gonna talk to you.’”
Luckily, Chapel’s teammates were a bit more supportive. Despite her initial wariness, she was convinced to let down her guard when a pair of her teammates vouched for the tall freshman.
“They said, ‘Give him a chance, he’s a sweet guy, he’s not like everyone else and all the other boys,’” she recalled. “So, I gave him a chance.”
Fortunately for them both, her teammates were right, and his were quite wrong. All that’s happened since – days spent watching movies together and nights full of watching each other’s games – is a matter of history, and all that’s left to come is property of a promising future. What’s important to them both is that, against great odds, they found each other and that each saw something in the other they considered quite special indeed.
“There’s a lot,” Holman said, trying to explain what it is he like so much about Chapel, “but I would say the main thing is how independent she is. She doesn’t have to depend on me for me anything. She can get stuff done on her own. I really respect that about her.”
“How sweet he is,” Chapel said, turning to look at Holman as she answered the same question. “He’s kind. Even though he doesn’t talk that much – like, I have to initiate every conversation – but he’s a real gentleman. He makes me laugh.”
And yes, despite his tendency to remain tight-lipped, Chapel has managed to open up the otherwise quiet Holman.
“When I talk to her,” he said, “I can talk to her about anything.”
Being 6’11” has its challenges, sure. But it isn’t always so bad.