Shaheen Holloway couldn’t have scripted a better title March: MAAC. Elite Eight. New job at a high profile conference.
One of March Madness’ big stars is coming home, returning to his Seton Hall roots as the next head coach. As expected after weeks of rumors, the Big East School made it official on Wednesday, announcing that it had hired Holloway to replace Kevin Willard as the new head coach.
Holloway, 45, returns to South Orange – where he was a star player and successful assistant coach – after leading Saint Peter’s on a magical run to the Elite Eight and guiding the MAAC school to the first three tournament wins NCAA in Program History.
Once word spread that Willard was heading to Maryland, it became clear that Holloway was the obvious successor. Willard campaigned for Holloway — moments after the Pirates’ NCAA Tournament loss to TCU — and former Seton Hall star Isaiah Whitehead did the same as well.
Although the terms of the deal were not immediately known, Holloway is expected to get a significant raise. According to sources, he recently took a pay cut at St. Pierre, due to financial constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it came after he was earning around $300,000 per season. Willard earned a base salary of $2.4 million last season, sources said.
The school did not speak to any other candidates in the nine days between Willard taking the job in Maryland and hiring Holloway, a popular figure in New York and New Jersey.
The composition of Holloway’s coaching staff is uncertain at this time. He could keep Seton Hall assistant Grant Billmeier if Billmeier doesn’t follow Willard to Maryland. Billmeier is also expected to be a candidate for Saint Peter’s, as is Holloway’s top assistant there, Ryan Whalen.
Rutgers assistant coach Brandin Knight, who will also be at Saint Peter’s, is Holloway’s cousin and could join him at Seton Hall. Another Saint Peter aide, Rasheen Davis, will also be on hand to join Holloway’s staff. Davis is a veteran assistant coach from the Bronx who has worked at VCU, Xavier, Manhattan, Arizona State and UMass.
Holloway and his team will need to work quickly to build a team capable of returning to the NCAA Tournament. Key contributors Myles Cale, Ike Obiagu, Bryce Aiken and Alexis Yenta are not eligible. Senior star Jared Rhoden still has a year to go and maybe he could be convinced to return. Holloway was his main recruiter out of high school. Three-star rookies Jaquan Sanders and Jaquan Harris make up the recruiting class, and four-star rookie Brandon Weston, who appeared in just one game as a rookie due to multiple injuries, is an intriguing piece for the future.
Holloway went from Queens to St. Patrick (now The Patrick School) to Seton Hall. He was the MVP of the 1996 McDonald’s All-American Game, a star-studded showcase that included Kobe Bryant and Mike Bibby, and had a solid four-year career at South Orange. He helped the Pirates reach the Sweet 16 in 2000 – their last trip this far in the NCAA Tournament.
Over a seven-year professional career, Holloway has played overseas in the Dominican Republic, Germany, Israel, Turkey, the UK and Venezuela, in addition to USBL in America.
Needing to be there to care for his daughter, Shatanik, Holloway threw himself into training. He started in high school, as an assistant coach at Bloomfield Tech, then took a job as an administrative assistant at Seton Hall under Bobby Gonzalez.
“It’s important to learn from the bottom up,” Holloway said recently. “You appreciate it more. You learn all aspects of the job.
His break came after a season at Seton Hall. Willard, then new coach at Iona College, was looking for an assistant coach with local connections. He spent the day with Holloway and was convinced he was the right fit because of how often he talked about working hard, first as a player and now as a coach.
“I’ll never forget: I left saying this is a guy who’s going to work to be the best,” Willard said. “That’s what sold me more about ‘Sha’ than anything else.”
Together they rebuilt Iona and three years later went to Seton Hall. Holloway was at Willard’s side for eight years in his alma mater and helped restore the Pirates to prominence. Holloway was instrumental in developing several under-the-radar rookies into Big East stars, players like Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell and Sandro Mamukelashvili.
He brought this ability to do more with less to Saint Peter’s, turning a team of unadvertised, unrecruited prospects into an Elite Eight team. He led the Peacocks to three straight winning seasons, the first time the school has been able to say that since 2004-06. Now he returns home to Seton Hall, where he won as a player and assistant manager.
Willard has made the Pirates nationally relevant, reaching five of the last six NCAA tournaments. Holloway’s job is to continue Seton Hall on this path – and to deepen the program in March.