NEW ORLEANS  - Jrue Holiday quickly admits that he did his growing up as a basketball player in Philadelphia. Selected with the 17th overall pick in 2009, Holiday had just turned 19 when he joined the Sixers after just one year at UCLA, and was plugged into the starting lineup by then-coach Eddie Jordan.

It's even hard for Holiday to believe he is already 26 and in his eighth year in the league.

The biggest maturation off the court for the Southern California native came this offseason when his wife, Lauren, a former member of the U.S. women's national soccer team, was diagnosed with a tumor on her brain while carrying the couple's first child.

Surgery for Lauren would have to wait until after she delivered their daughter, who was due near the beginning of the NBA season. Without hesitation, Jrue Holiday informed his team, the New Orleans Pelicans, that he would be away from the team for however much time his family needed him. The couple's daughter was born just as the team was about to begin training camp in late September. About a month later, the former Lauren Cheney had a benign tumor removed.

Holiday returned to the Pelicans on Nov. 18 after missing the first 12 games of the season. His play has been terrific, though a turf toe injury on his left foot forced him to sit out Monday's loss to Memphis.
Missing a game or two due to injury isn't likely to stress the religious Holiday, especially after what caused him to miss those games at the beginning of the season.

"Taking away basketball wasn't tough," he said after his team's morning shootaround to prepare for Thursday night's game against the Sixers. "I obviously knew that eventually I was going to come back. So having that in the back of my mind, it wasn't like basketball was over for me. The only tough part was the unknown. I had a wife and a daughter and you don't really know what's going to happen with that. But really it was just a blessing.

"I think any man who has a wife (with difficulties) and is about to have a child would do the same thing. I hope so, at least. That was the easiest decision to make."

The decision to leave Philly wasn't his, as then-new general manager Sam Hinkie shipped Holiday to New Orleans for the rights to get Nerlens Noel. While so much has change in the Sixers' organization since Holiday played his last season for Philly in 2013, he recalls fondly his early years in the NBA that were formed there.

"Philly, I feel like, is where I became a man and matured my game and became better," Holiday said. "I went through the good and the bad with my teammates and it taught me a lot. With the fans and all, it was a great experience. But now it's time to move on. None of the guys that I played with are there anymore. It's like a great time and a great era has passed for me.

"I don't really look into what they're doing now much because I know everyone has their way of doing things. I don't know what they were doing, but they've gotten some great players and it looks like they mesh very well. They are a hard playing team. They lack a little bit of experience but, like I said, they've got some great players."

Holiday, who didn't play Thursday night, is averaging 15.4 points and 6.1 assists in nine games with the Pelicans and has become a veteran leader in the locker room.

All of that is easy stuff compared to what he's been through the past couple of months.