Shaheen Holloway opens up on Saint Peter’s March Madness run

Coach Shaheen Holloway took a moment from Saint Peter’s Cinderella run to go one-on one with The Post’s Steve Serby: 

Q: Do you like underdogs and underdog stories? 

A: I love it ’cause I’m the underdog story. Coming from where I came from in New York, coming to Jersey, 5-foot-10 guy becoming a high school All-American, and staying home to go to college, to believe in yourself, think that you could build a team that was down a little bit to make ’em a contender. Everything I did, I always did as an underdog. I went to St. Patrick, nobody never heard of it. When I left there, it was a household name. When I went to Seton Hall, it was down; when I left there, we got it back up. When we took the job at Iona, it was down. 

Q: Your team represents New York-New Jersey to a tee, right? 

A: Absolutely. You put your hard hat on, you’re lacing your Timberland boots up, and you’re ready to go to work. That’s what my team represents. 

Q: Is your team on Cloud 9, or will you have to knock your guys off Cloud 9? 

A: Nah, these guys are so level-headed. I don’t brag on these guys like I should … great kids, great students, come from great families. I’m the lucky one. 

Q: How will they handle the big moment? The magnitude of the Sweet 16? 

A: How will they handle the big moment? Do you realize what these young gentlemen accomplished already? These young gentlemen that a lot of people didn’t want, they didn’t think was good enough, not only won a MAAC championship, went into the NCAA Tournament, beat one of the best name schools in history. … That everybody thought was a fluke. … Came back and won a second game against another great team, Murray State. These guys ain’t worried about no moments like that. These guys are just out there doing what they love to do and that’s hooping, man, that’s it. How can you be afraid of something that you love to do? These guys ain’t worried about no moments. I’m not letting them worry about no moments. I try to keep ’em off social media as much as possible, don’t listen to all the hoopla. This week has been a crazy week for us so far, get a lot of attention, what they deserve. But they’re just out there just hooping and playing. And they still got something to prove. 

Q: The traits of the ideal Shaheen Holloway basketball player? 

A: There’s three things: One, you gotta be tough and tough-minded. Second is you gotta love the game of basketball. And third you have to be coachable. If you got those three things you can play for me. If you ain’t got those three things, you can’t play for me. 

Shaheen Holloway
Shaheen Holloway
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

Q: Why would Shaheen Holloway the player enjoy playing for Shaheen Holloway the coach? 

A: Because Shaheen as a player has all the intangibles that Shaheen as a coach loves — he’s tough, he’s hard-nose, he gets after it, he plays with a chip on his shoulder, and I let my guards play. If you get after it on the defensive end, I’ll let you play offense as much as you want. 

Q: Give me an example of how you were tough-minded as a player. 

A: Nothing fazed me. Coaches yelling at, nothing fazed me. I had the ultimate goal where I thought I was better than you, I’m gonna go out there and prove it. You gotta play with a chip on your shoulder. I had a chip on my shoulder as a player, I got a chip on my shoulder as a coach. 

Q: Why do you have a chip on your shoulder as a coach? 

A: Because you know what? I gotta be honest with you, there’s a stereotype out there about an African-American guy that they can only recruit. They’re not good coaches, they’re not X-and-O guys. There’s a lot of people that say they didn’t think I could take over and run my own program. They didn’t think I was gonna be successful ’cause I wasn’t a good X-and-O guy, just was a recruiter, or this or that. That kinda stuff fueled me, as a player and as a coach. When I was a player, I was too small, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. You’re not gonna be able to go to a high school and do this, you’re never gonna be able to go to college, you can’t do this. All that stuff was fuel to the fire. There’s a stereotype out there right now that most young African-American coaches are good recruiters, not good coaches, X-and-O guys. I’m out there to prove that wrong every single day, so for the next guy to get a job, he won’t have that same thing on him. 

Q: You can go one-on-one with any NBA player in history. 

A: I have a story, when I was playing in the ABA, in Chicago (Skyliners). Michael Jordan was coming out of retirement, and he was coming back playing five-on-five with us to get back in shape. And I remember Michael Jordan was guarding me. Michael Jordan talked Michael Jordan stuff, and I gave him a nice crossover and scored on him, that was one of the highlights of my career ever. I got a lot of highlights, but that was big-time just because of him and his competitiveness and how he was talking and playing. 

Q: What was he saying? 

A: He just was playing hard and talking smack, and elbow you and not let you get to certain spots, and just playing physical. And what he didn’t know was that was up my alley. I loved that. 

Q: What was his reaction after the crossover? 

A: He came down and scored the next five baskets on me (laugh). 

Q: But still you had that one moment. 

A: Yeah absolutely. I cherish that one moment. 

Q: What is your definition of leadership? 

A: If you are a leader, people gotta be willing to follow you, and how are people gonna follow you? … You’ve got to be consistent. And do what you say, and say what you mean. 

Q: How would you describe your coaching style? 

A: I’m fiery, I’m very passionate, and I’m very consistent. All my guys’ll tell you the same thing. I’m consistent with every last person. 

Q: How do you motivate? 

A: I’m different, right? I love guys to express themself on the court. My motivation is working guys out, pumping ’em up, making them feel like they could accomplish any and everything, the biggest mountain, like — ‘Oh, it’s only that? Oh, it’s only this? We could do that, that’s easy.’ My motivation is to get guys playing and believing that they could do things that they didn’t think that they could do. 

Shaheen Holloway speaks with Saint Peter's playersJaylen Murray (32) and Doug Edert.
Shaheen Holloway speaks with Saint Peter’s players Jaylen Murray (32) and Doug Edert.
Getty Images

Q: Do you have favorite motivational or inspirational sayings? 

A: I have a few (laugh). I think the one that I stick to the most a lot is: If you don’t stand for something you fall for anything. And that’s what I tell my players all the time. 

Q: Any others? 

A: You can’t listen and talk at the same time. If I’m trying to tell you something and you’re giving me answers back before I even finish, you can’t listen and talk at the same time. It’s impossible. 

Q: What drives you? 

A: The will to want to be really good at my craft. The will to prove a lot of people wrong. I think there’s a lot of people out there that’s cheering for me, but there are a lot of people out there that don’t want to see me do well. That’s just how life is, man. The will to keep going, and make sure my kids understand that in this world, in order to be successful, you have to work hard, and you gotta overcome a lot. 

Q: Getting cut by the Knicks? 

A: Heartbreaking. As a kid growing up in New York City, there’s the Knicks, and there was the Mets, because I’m from Queens. Coming out I had a chance to choose between the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks to go to what camp. And I chose the Knicks just because of being New York. I thought I did well enough to make the team. They had three guys under contract at the time, which was Chris Childs, Charlie Ward and I think it was Rick Brunson. I didn’t know the bad side of the politics at the time. Rick had done a great job of earning his stripes there, and everybody loved him, and he earned it. 

Q: How would you describe your playing career after Seton Hall? 

A: I thought it coulda went different ways. I thought I shoulda made the Nets. Jason Kidd got hurt. I thought it was my job. But they felt they needed a starting point guard and they went out and got Travis Best. I tried to stay close to home thinking that that would be an advantage, and it turned out to be a disadvantage. 

Q: Flash back to leading Seton Hall to the Sweet 16 in 2000. 

A: Obviously, I flash back to my senior year, my first time making the NCAA Tournament was a big thing. I knew I was gonna play well, I was so juiced up and amped up and hyped up to play. Obviously hitting the game-winning shot [against Oregon], scoring 27 points that game, it was like a tremendous high for me. And then the first five minutes of the second game [against Temple], breaking my ankle and having my dreams and everything trashed right in front of my eyes was a major, major disappointment, and not being able to play in the Sweet 16 [against Oklahoma State] was just heartbreaking, ’cause it’s something you work your whole life for. It was right there, and you can’t do it, man. It was devastating. 

Q: When did you get the coaching bug? 

A: Since I was playing. I knew that I was gonna be a coach, I just didn’t know it was gonna be this fast. I stopped playing because I had to take care of my daughter. I was playing in Germany at the time, signed a two-year contract. My daughter kinda needed me in her life more than I was. 

Q: What was it like having a daughter (Shatanik) when you were 15? 

A: I had a lot of family members there to help, but it was like a kid raising a kid. 

Q: Not easy at 15, right? 

A: It’s not easy at 40 (laugh). But definitely not easy at 15 for sure. 

Shaheen Holloway while playing at Seton Hall.
Shaheen Holloway while playing at Seton Hall.
Nury Hernandez – New York Post

Q: Fatherhood? 

A: It keeps me on my toes. My son Xavier is 9, I try to help him become a good player. Tyson will be 2 on Friday. 

Q: How’s your diaper game? 

A: Think about this — I got my daughter who’s 28 years old. … I got experience with it. 

Q: Coaches in other sports you admire? 

A: I’m a sports fanatic. I love the job that Bill Belichick does. … Doc Rivers. … on the baseball side, Dusty Baker, I like him a lot. 

Q: Did you ever text any of them? 

A: I don’t do that, I read a lot of books, I love my guy Herm Edwards, and I love my guy Tony Dungy. He’s the real deal, man. 

Q: You can pick the brain of any coach in NBA history? 

A: I love Pat Riley. I never read his book, but I loved the way his guys responded to him, and he got on ’em. It’s the same thing with Chuck Daly, man, God rest his soul. He was one of my favorites because he was a tough-minded, hard coach that got on his guys and never wavered. 

Q: Bloomfield Tech? 

A: Nick Mariniello gave me my first opportunity to coach. 

Q: Kevin Willard? 

A: Believed in me, helped mold me to the coach I am today. 

Q: What drove you as a young boy? 

A: To be honest, to get out of the ’hood, to make it out of South Jamaica, Queens. 

Q: Give me a sense for how bad South Jamaica, Queens, was. 

A: It’s hard to talk bad about it ’cause it made me who I am today. It was a tough inner city. 

Q: You moved in with your grandmother Emma Clemons in Hillside, N.J. 

A: One of the best ladies you’re gonna meet in your life. We lost her a couple of years ago. Genuine person who’d give you the shirt off her back. A person that cared about me, not the basketball player, but the person. Taught me a lot. When I came to Jersey, she kinda was like a sweet mom to me. 

Q: Describe your mother, Claudette. 

A: My mother is a tough, single parent, raised three kids — me, my brother, my sister — I get all my toughness and all my grit from her. She’s tough, she’s fiery, and she’s one of the best in the whole wide world. 

Q: How was it for you without a father in your life? 

A: I didn’t feel nothing about it ’cause my mom did a great job. It takes a village, my mom and my grandmom, my whole family, did a great job of filling that void. Where he was at? I don’t know. I still don’t know. 

Shaheen Holloway
Shaheen Holloway in Saint Peter’s practice as they prepare for their Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

Q: How proud of you is she? 

A: She’s super-proud, man. She’s my biggest fan. Her and my grandma (Dorothy) are my two biggest fans. They call me all the time. Those are two people that I do it for. I worked so hard growing up for them because I still owe them a house. I promised them that someway somehow I’m gonna get it for ’em. 

Q: Biggest obstacle or adversity you had to overcome? 

A: My childhood wasn’t easy, I don’t talk about it that much because I like to keep it to myself. But just the obstacle of me being the first one in my family to ever graduate from college. Now it’s a trend in my family. I set the tone for it, that’s the norm now. I got seven, eight little cousins right now that are in college because of what I did. That’s humongous. 

Q: Boyhood idols? 

A: Isiah Thomas and Tim Hardaway. 

Q: Best playground games? 

A: I.S. 8 got a slogan: Bring your game, not your name. Because you would go in there and get embarrassed. 

Q: Two dinner guests? 

A: Martin Luther King; Shaheen Holloway. And asking him, “What drives you, so hard? What makes you think that you could just go in there and coach with Coach Calipari and coach with these guys and think that you were gonna be successful all the way?” And the answer is: Because I believe in myself. “Why do you have this big chip on your shoulder that’s the size of a boulder that gets you the way you are?” ’Cause my team asks me that all the time. “Why do you coach like that? Why do you coach so hard? Why do you coach with so much passion?” I got this competitive spirit that it just comes out. 

Q: So you don’t even need Shaheen Holloway there, you know the answer. 

A: Him and I talk all the time (laugh). 

Q: Favorite movies? 

A: “Heat,” “Carlito’s Way,” “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas.” 

Q: Favorite actors? 

A: Martin Lawrence; Denzel Washington. 

Q: Favorite actresses? 

A: Halle Berry; Nia Long. 

Shaheen Holloway
Shaheen Holloway

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer? 

A: My favorite rapper is Nas. Favorite singer is Mary J. Blige. 

Q: Favorite meal? 

A: Penne a la vodka with breaded chicken. 

Q: Why have you always believed so much in yourself? 

A: One of my childhood heroes growing up was (former Andrew Jackson High School point guard) Dave Edwards. He passed away. He taught me how to play, like I mold my game around his game. Coming from where we came from, to see all the guys that didn’t make it, that had the talent, that’s what drives me. 

Q: What is it like being Shaheen Holloway these days? 

A: I’m the same person, man. I’m low-key. I got a small circle. 

Q: Your legacy one day? 

A: Just someone that went out there and gave it his all every single night and had a passion. One of my mobster phrases — I’m a man’s man. That means you’re a standup guy, you’re loyal, you’re genuine. You’re a man’s man. 

Q: What would the title of the Shaheen Holloway movie be? 

A: A friend of mine, Jamel Thomas, has a clothing line that I love — it’s called The Beautiful Struggle. That would be the name of my movie. 

Q: It’s premature to ask you about the vacant Seton Hall job. 

A: I’m trying to beat Purdue Friday night. That’s all I care about right now. Nothing else. Shaheen Holloway opens up on Saint Peter’s March Madness run


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