Shaheen Holloway couldn’t have scripted a better March: MAAC title. Elite Eight. New job in a high-profile conference.
One of the big stars of March Madness is coming home, returning to his roots at Seton Hall as its next head coach. As expected after weeks of rumors, the Big East school made it official Wednesday, announcing it has hired Holloway to replace Kevin Willard as its new head coach.
The 45-year-old Holloway returns to South Orange — where he was a star player and successful assistant coach — after leading Saint Peter’s to a magical run to the Elite Eight and guiding the MAAC school to the first three NCAA Tournament wins in program history.
Once word spread that Willard was headed to Maryland, it became clear 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 as well.
Although terms of the deal weren’t immediately known, Holloway is believed to be getting a significant raise. According to sources, he recently took a pay cut at Saint Peter’s, due to financial constraints brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that came after he was making roughly $300,000 per season. Willard earned a base salary of $2.4 million this past season, sources said.
The school didn’t talk to any other candidates in the nine days between Willard taking the Maryland job and hiring Holloway, a popular figure in New York City and New Jersey.
The makeup of Holloway’s coaching staff is uncertain at the moment. He could keep Seton Hall assistant Grant Billmeier, if Billmeier doesn’t follow Willard to Maryland. Billmeier is also expected to be a candidate at Saint Peter’s, as will Holloway’s top assistant there, Ryan Whalen.
Rutgers assistant coach Brandin Knight, who also will be in the mix at Saint Peter’s, is Holloway’s cousin and could join him at Seton Hall. Another Saint Peter’s assistant, Rasheen Davis, will also be in the mix 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 staff will have to work fast to formulate a team capable of returning to the NCAA Tournament. Key contributors Myles Cale, Ike Obiagu, Bryce Aiken and Alexis Yenta are out of eligibility. Star senior Jared Rhoden does have one more year left, and possibly could be convinced to return. Holloway was his lead recruiter coming out of high school. Three-star recruits Jaquan Sanders and Jaquan Harris make up the recruiting class, and four-star recruit Brandon Weston, who appeared in just one game as a freshman 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 strong four-year career in South Orange. He helped the Pirates reach the Sweet 16 in 2000 — their last trip that far in the NCAA Tournament.
During a seven-year professional career, Holloway played overseas in the Dominican Republic, Germany, Israel, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Venezuela, in addition to the USBL in America.
Needing to be around to take care of his daughter, Shatanik, Holloway got into coaching. He started at the high school level, serving as an assistant coach at Bloomfield Tech and 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 every aspect of the job.”
His break came after one season at Seton Hall. Willard, then the new Iona College coach, 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 walked away saying that’s a guy that’s going to work to be the best,” Willard said. “That’s what sold me more about ‘Sha’ than anything.”
Together, they rebuilt Iona and three years later went to Seton Hall. Holloway was by Willard’s side for eight years at his alma mater, and helped make the Pirates matter again. Holloway played a significant role in the development of several under-the-radar recruits into Big East stars, players like Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell and Sandro Mamukelashvili.
He brought that ability to do more with less at Saint Peter’s, molding a team of unheralded and unrecruited prospects into an Elite Eight team. He led the Peacocks to three straight winning seasons, the first time the school was able to say that since 2004-06. Now he’s headed back home to Seton Hall, where he won as a player and an assistant coach.
Willard made the Pirates nationally relevant, reaching five of the last six NCAA Tournaments. Holloway’s job is to continue Seton Hall on that path — and take the program deeper into March.