Indiana forward Mackenzie Holmes (54) shoots against Purdue in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023. Credit: Michael Conroy / AP

Gorham’s Mackenzie Holmes always looked forward to the high school basketball tournaments.

But it wasn’t just playing in the tournament.

“They gave us ribbons that got us into any game we wanted to. So I would just sit there watching games all day. I couldn’t wait for the tournaments,” said Holmes.

Holmes and her Gorham High School teammates won back-to-back Class AA state championships in 2016 and 2017.

But now she has another title on her radar.

Holmes and her 26-1 Indiana University Hoosiers are the No. 2 team in the country and are seeking an NCAA championship.

The 6-foot-3 forward is in the running for the National Player of the Year as the nation’s sixth-leading scorer among players at the 350 Division I schools, averaging 22.6 points per game. She is second in the country in shooting percentage at 69.2 percent.

Her 252 baskets are tied for third, her 610 points are good for seventh and she is tied for 24th in blocked shots with 52 on the season. She is also Indiana’s leading rebounder with 7.4 per game.

“This season has been surreal,” said Holmes. “It has flown by. I can’t believe it’s almost March. It’s super special what we’ve been able to do so far this year and all we still have left to do. It’s really exciting.”

Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes celebrates after her team defeated Purdue in an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, in Bloomington, Ind. Credit: Darron Cummings / AP

Holmes scored 20 points on 10-for-11 shooting from the floor and added seven rebounds and four blocked shots in Sunday’s 83-60 win over instate rival Purdue.

Holmes said she is happy to just be healthy again.

She had knee surgery a year ago and returned to the lineup late in the season.

“After I came back from my surgery, I didn’t quite feel like myself,” Holmes said. “I wasn’t at full strength. So to be able to take the offseason and get truly healthy and get strong and confident on my leg again has been huge for me in so many aspects.”

UMass-Lowell coach Denise King was very impressed with Holmes.

The Hoosiers beat the River Hawks 93-37 in November, and Holmes had 17 points, five rebounds and two blocks in just 17 minutes.

“I love her,” King said. “She works hard, gets great position and has great hands. She has a high basketball IQ and a nice soft touch on her shot. She grinds it out every day.”

Gorham High School girls basketball coach Laughn Berthiaume said Holmes’ work ethic has been a vital ingredient behind her success.

“She always wants to get better and does things to make her better. She is always working on her skills,” said Berthiaume, who noted that Holmes works out regularly, eats the right foods and is a “gym rat.”

“Part of it is paranoia, worrying that someone is outworking me,” Holmes said. “I’ve always been like that. In college, it has helped me gain confidence and when I gained my confidence, that’s when things  started to really turn for me.”

Holmes had a remarkable high school career in which she was a four-time Bangor Daily News Schoolgirl All-Maine selection, including a first team selection her last three seasons. She scored 1,745 points at Gorham, grabbed 1,018 rebounds and blocked 365 shots.

She averaged 30.1 ppg, 16.7 rpg, 3.9 blocks and 2.3 steals in her senior year.

She visited the University of Indiana her high school sophomore year and said she “fell in love with the campus and the people.”

She had a solid freshman season for Indiana, averaging 10.8 points and 5.2 rebounds to become just the seventh Indiana player to be chosen to the Big Ten’s All-Rookie team.

“The transition was hard for me at first, being far away from home,” Holmes said. “But I had a big role my freshman year so I felt I had to do my best to adjust to that. I had to get used to that level of physicality and that level of play and getting that experience definitely helped me down the line.”

Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes (54) is greeted by teammates after being taken out of an NCAA college basketball game during the second half against Purdue, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, in Bloomington, Ind. Credit: Darron Cummings / AP

She said after her freshman year she worked to lose weight and get in better shape. “I got stronger. I also worked on getting more confident. All of that together helped me.”

In her sophomore year, she led the team in scoring (17.8 ppg), rebounding (7.6 rpg) and blocked shots (3 bpg). Her 81 blocked shots led the Big Ten and was the second most in school history.

She became the program’s first Associated Press All-American honoree as an honorable mention and was also an All-Big Ten first team choice and was chosen to the All-Big Ten Defensive Team.

Despite her junior year being marred by her knee surgery, she still averaged 15.2 shots. 7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.

She has 202 career blocked shots, which is second most in school history.

Holmes said the Hoosiers are a defense-minded team, so she had to focus on defending.

Holmes is the daughter of two high school basketball coaches: Lenny Holmes, a 1982 Bangor Daily News All-Maine third team selection from Presque Isle High School, and Denise (Payette) from Windham.

She said her parents and her high school and Firecrackers AAU coaches have been major influences in her career, and she hears from a lot of people in Maine who are following her career.

“I’ve gotten a lot of love and support from everyone in Maine,” Holmes said. “My coaches, friends and former teammates have been tuning in to watch my games and knowing they are all watching and supporting me has been really special.”

Holmes said she has been taking on more of a vocal leadership role this season and said playing at Assembly Hall on the Bloomington, Indiana, campus has been special.

“It is loud. It is an incredible place to play basketball. They are all diehard Hoosier fans,” she said. “Having them behind us is a huge advantage.”

A crowd of 13,046 turned out for their Feb. 9 win over Iowa, 87-78.

Holmes has another year of eligibility and said she intends to return and use it at Indiana next season.

The Hoosiers have made the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons and have gone 5-2. They won two games last season before losing to UConn in the third round and won three the previous year before being eliminated by Arizona in the fourth round.

Holmes said her focus right now is on the next game at Iowa on Sunday, the team’s last regular season contest.

“I know it’s a cliche, but I’m taking it one game at a time. We have a lot of experienced players on our team which bodes well for us, especially later this season,” she said.