On a random rainy Chicago Saturday—the third Saturday in March of 1995 to be exact—Michael Jordan turned the NBA’s foundation on its head by releasing a simple two-worded statement via fax: “I’m back.”
Now, Shaheen Holloway is certainly no Michael Jordan, and save for a few similarities (namely both being bald black men and their passionate connections to the game of basketball), the two men couldn’t be more different.
Once heralded as a ballplayer, Holloway never soared above the rim during his heyday. A three-time All-State selection for the St. Patrick Celtics, and former High School McDonald’s All-American in 1996, Holloway was hustle, headiness and heart packed into a 5’10″, 170-pound frame.
His historic high school stint—which was highlighted with a McDonald’s game MVP award over players like Jermaine O’Neal, Mike Bibby, Richard Hamilton and Kobe Bryant—ended with his matriculation from Elizabeth, N.J., eastward to nearby South Orange, and Seton Hall.
And as he’s shown a knack for doing, Holloway made an immediate residual impact on the Hall’s hoops program, finishing fifth in the Big East in scoring with 17.3 points per game, in addition to 6.3 assists during his freshman campaign. His efforts netted him a spot on the Big East All-Rookie team in ’97, as well as second-team All-Big East honors that same year.
He struggled to maintain those averages as a sophomore though, and as 1998 gave way to ‘99, it appeared as if the juice that was once Holloway’s trademark had begun to seep away. But a new millennium brought forth a new spring of life for the hungry point guard, and Holloway put together one of his best seasonal showings as a player. He guided his retooled Pirate troupe to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 (he hurt his ankle in a second round win over Temple, and regrettably couldn’t compete in the next round), and nabbed Big East Most Improved Player in the process.
But despite his unforgettable run, and commendable resume, Holloway was no Michael Jordan.
He went undrafted in the 2000 NBA draft, and after failing to latch on with an NBA squad following short stints—which he labeled “cups of tea”—with several teams during that year’s Summer League, Holloway airlifted his talents overseas. His professional experience includes the British Basketball League, Basketball Bundesliga (German professional league), Israeli Basketball Premier League, Turkish Basketball League, American Basketball Association, United States Basketball League, and Liga Nacional de Baloncesto (the Dominican Republic’s top national league).
Holloway returned home to U.S. soil in 2005 after his adventures abroad, where he would eventually begin his coaching career: First with his alma mater in 2007, then as an assistant at Iona. There, he and Kevin Willard meshed, and Holloway followed Willard back to the Hall in 2010 to join his new staff. As one of the Hall’s top assistants, he helped recruit some of Willard’s best players during his tenure, including Isaiah Whitehead, Myles Powell, Khadeen Carrington, Jared Rhoden and Desi Rodgriguez. The Pirates had 12 All-Big East selections during Holloways’ time as an assistant, and won the conference championship in 2016.
Then came his big break: A head coaching job with neighboring Saint Peter’s, which he parlayed into unbridled success. And if you watched any portion of the NCAA Tournament this year (and probably if not, even), you’re familiar with some portion of the 15-seeded Peacocks’ transcendent 2022 run: A string of upset victories over 2-seeded Kentucky, 7-seeded Murray State, and 3-seeded Purdue en route to the first ever Elite Eight appearance from a 15-seed. Not bad for the 2020 MAAC Coach of the Year’s fourth season.
So no, Shaheen Holloway is no Michael Jordan. He never played in an NBA game. Never sold a signature shoe. Never owned a professional team. But on a crisp, hazy random day in March of 2022, Seton Hall men’s basketball turned the Big East, and NCAA, on its head when it announced Shaheen Holloway’s signing with two momentous words: “Welcome home.”
And the response to the school’s decree was immeasurable.
In Seton Hall circles, Holloway has his own regal-esque vibe. He’s true blue, tried and true, a hard-nosed basketball savant forged in Jersey’s fiery atmosphere, and battle-tested as they come. So it came as no surprise to see Jersey turn out in droves for the introduction of the Hall’s next headman, who still owns the SHU record for career assists (681).
Cardinals and priests stood alongside university officials in a packed historic Walsh Gymnasium. Current SHU players sat in a designated area near the front of the gym, while all 15 members of the Saint Peter’s miracle team sat right behind them. Former players and assistant coaches dotted the crowd. And fans and media members were there by the dozens.
“God is good,” were the first words to come out of his mouth as he graced the podium to address a familiar crowd. And before he took his acceptance speech any further, he humbly prompted a standing ovation for the 15 young men that helped transform him into one of America’s household names, stating he wouldn’t be there without them.
“Life has a way of coming full circle,” Holloway reflected. “This is certainly a full circle moment for my family and I. Seton Hall is near and dear to my heart; it’s where I became a man, where I met the love of my life, where I spent countless hours honing my crafts as a basketball player and a basketball coach. To say that I’m excited to get started as the head men’s basketball coach at Seton Hall University would be an understatement. It is a dream come true. Pirates fans, I look forward to seeing you all in the community, on campus and at the Prudential Center.”
He closed his speech in vintage Holloway fashion: With a confident call to action.
“I hope you guys are ready to work, cause that’s what I’m about. No shortcuts, no nothing. Just know, I’m not going to mess this up, I can’t. It’s way too important.”
“We love you coach!” was the immediate response from an inspired fan in the crowd, which was followed with a roar of adulation. Holloway couldn’t help but beam with gratitude in response.
“Everything takes time,” he told me in an interview session following the press conference. “Things don’t happen overnight. I knew that when the right time came, it would happen. When you’re choosing schools as a player or coach, you choose the right ones that fit you.”
Holloway chose the best fit for himself as a player in the late ’90s, opting to stay close to home for family reasons—namely fatherly ones—instead of venturing elsewhere to the University of California, Duke or Georgia Tech.
“Everything’s happened [for a reason]. Who could imagine this? 20 years later, now I’m the head coach at Seton Hall. That’s a story within a story. I’m honored and blessed. It was always the goal to return here. The opportunity came, and I’m ready to work. This is home,” Holloway says.
Shaheen Holloway is no Michael Jordan. Not that that matters much to most Seton Hall fans; Holloway’s the only man they want stepping into that role. From the moment St. Peter’s knocked off Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, and the Hall job became vacant, it felt inevitable.
The only thing left to do is pack the Rock next fall and welcome Coach Holloway home.