Shaheen Holloway’s “great connection” with Kevin Willard

SAN DIEGO — Shaheen Holloway picked Kevin Willard up in court, and Willard didn’t like it. After the two players dived for a loose ball, a minor skirmish ensued in a Big East competition in the mid-’90s.

“We got up and kind of pushed each other,” Willard recalled in a phone interview with The Post. “It’s kind of funny. He would have kicked me [butt]. So I pushed and ran.”

Little did the two realize back then how important they would be to each other’s careers. In 2007, Willard was looking for an assistant coach with connections to the area, a former player who could help him transform Iona College’s dormant program.

Holloway’s high school coach Kevin Boyle, who was a huge influence on the metro area basketball scene, suggested Willard look into Holloway, a 30-year-old administrative assistant for Bobby Gonzalez at Queens’ Seton Hall. The two spent six hours together in New Rochelle, sat down for an Italian meal and toured the campus. In the end, Willard was sure he had found the right candidate.

“There was a connection: that’s a guy I’d love to work with,” said Willard, the current Seton Hall manager. “He was a superstar player, and sometimes superstar players have superstar egos. To me he was a very humble superstar. He’ll still tell you what a great player he was, but he spoke about his work ethic. He spoke about how hard he worked to become a great player. He spoke about how badly he wanted to work as a coach.

Kevin Willard
Kevin Willard

“I will never forget: I walked away saying that this is a guy who will work to be the best. That sold me to ‘Sha’ more than anything else.”

A few weeks after Holloway took the job, an assistant coaching spot opened up at Seton Hall. Gonzalez offered Holloway the position. He was ready to tell Willard he was leaving, but as he sat in his office with Iona and prepared to break the news, Holloway had a change of heart. He was with the right person.

“We had a great connection,” Holloway told the Post. “It was the best thing I’ve done.”

A decade and a half later, that decision propelled them both to success. Together they turned Iona inside out, made Seton Hall a winner and now the two are poised to make big strides in their burgeoning careers.

Holloway has become a star of the NCAA tournament, leading Saint Peter’s to the Sweet 16 at 15th place. Willard, after leading the Pirates to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in the last six tournaments, is likely to travel to Maryland, although he declined to comment on the status of the negotiations. If he leaves, Holloway is expected to replace him at Seton Hall, where he was a star player and assistant coach under Willard for eight years.

“Ever since we got ours, I’ve been a miserable asshole [butt] kicked [in the NCAA Tournament]but I was happiest in a long time when we landed and made it [watch] the last minute of the game and watch him lead Saint Peter’s to the Sweet 16,” Willard said. “He’s a Heckuva basketball coach. It has been for a while but I’m glad everyone can see it now.”

Shaheen Holloway
Shaheen Holloway
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At Seton Hall, the two initially struggled, only achieving one NIT in their first five seasons at South Orange. Everything changed with a top-notch recruiting class of local stars that led the Pirates to their first Big East tournament title in 23 years in 2016. The star of that team, Isaiah Whitehead, has been campaigning on Twitter for Holloway to take over at Seton Hall as word of Willard’s expected move to Maryland broke.

“When they came on campus, he was great,” Willard said. “New Yorker helps New Yorkers. He just got it.”

According to Willard, Holloway has a way of dealing with players, an ability to inspire confidence in them. That’s partly because of his belief in himself. He’s clearly gotten the most out of this Saint Peter’s team of unheralded recruits who have thrived on college basketball’s biggest stage over the past four days.

It all started 15 years ago in New Rochelle when Holloway got his first major break from coaching. “I owe him a lot,” he said of Willard. Shaheen Holloway’s “great connection” with Kevin Willard


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