Bryan Felt remembers celebrating at a South Orange bar when Shaheen Holloway committed to Seton Hall.
Felt was a senior at the university when Holloway began his Pirates career in 1996. The two would cross paths as students and in the years that followed as Holloway blossomed into a college basketball star and Felt worked in the school’s athletic department.
“A guy that tells you how it is,” Felt said when asked for his first impression of a teenage Holloway. “Wears his heart on his sleeve. That’s who he is. You always get the real Sha.”
Flash forward to present day, and a national audience has been exposed to that same Holloway after he led Saint Peter’s University to an improbable appearance in the Elite Eight of the men’s NCAA Tournament. The miraculous run featured bold confidence from the head coach and wins over Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue. The magic ran out against North Carolina on March 27, but a new chapter awaited.
On Thursday, Holloway was introduced as the new head coach at his alma mater inside Seton Hall’s Walsh Gymnasium. Felt, now the athletic director at SHU, spoke glowingly of the former point guard as the 2000 Sweet 16 banner that Holloway helped deliver hung above. The welcome home party, open to the campus, featured a hype video and more than a few ovations.
“The foundation of Shaheen is a foundation of loyalty, trust, honor, integrity—those are literally everything he’s about,” Felt, who also hired Holloway at Saint Peter’s, said. “That is who he is, and he finds a way to put that into his teams.”
For Holloway, Thursday was the culmination of an exhausting few weeks. He became the hottest name in college basketball as the Peacocks shocked the world. He also lost his grandmother, Dorothy Holloway, prior to Saint Peter’s Elite Eight contest. On Wednesday, he told his Saint Peter’s squad that he was going back to Seton Hall, where he worked as an assistant coach under Kevin Willard in addition to playing and studying.
“It was hard to leave,” Holloway said of Saint Peter’s. “Those guys, what we just did, with the whole team coming back—but I don’t say no to home. This is home.”
For all the history Holloway has at Seton Hall, his family is just as entrenched. Holloway met his wife, Kim, in Xavier Hall; one of their sons bears the dormitory’s name. His daughter, Shatanik, graduated from Seton Hall in 2018. Holloway’s grandmother asked to be buried in Pirates blue, or, as she called it, “Shaheen Blue.”
“It’s full circle, right?” Holloway said. “It’s a great moment for all of us.”
The hope is that many more great moments lie ahead for Seton Hall with Holloway at the helm. Seton Hall became a regular NCAA Tournament contender under Willard but struggled to advance beyond the first round of March Madness. Willard took the top job at Maryland shortly after the Pirates were bounced in the first round of this year’s Big Dance. He went 1-5 in the tournament while leading SHU.
While Seton Hall’s stagnation in the NCAA Tournament has frustrated some fans, Holloway had nothing but praise for Willard. He thanked the fellow coach for taking a chance on him, first as an assistant at Iona, and then at The Hall.
“I want to get Kevin Willard his flowers. What he did here was unbelievable,” Holloway said. “But I want to take it to the next level. That’s going to be hard work. It’s going to be hard. What he did here, as an alumni, I’m proud.”
The word “work” frequently came up during Holloway’s introduction. He made sure that his Seton Hall players know what is in store for them. The Saint Peter’s team, which made the trip from Jersey City to South Orange for Holloway’s presser, was celebrated for its toughness and defense. The expectation is that Holloway’s Pirates will play with a similar style.
“They got a great coach. He’s amazing. He’s gonna harp on defense and intensity and effort. Everybody’s gonna have to give 110 percent to get on the court,” said Doug Edert, one of the stars of SPU’s tournament run. “He’s going to be extremely successful. He’s always been successful. He’s just a flat-out winner. He wins everywhere he goes and I think he’s going to continue to do the same thing.”
Pirates fans certainly hope so. For what it’s worth, Holloway has no doubt in his mind that he will thrive at Seton Hall, just like he always has.
“I can’t mess this up and I’m not going to mess it up,” Holloway said. “It’s too important. When you home, when you here, there’s a difference. It’s a big difference. You put in more time, more effort, more sweat, more tears—this is everything to me.”
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