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Shaheen Holloway: Above all, a competitor

April 23, 2018 Columns No Comments

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The memories returned, intact and incredibly vivid. One over twenty years ago. The other, relatively speaking, just a dozen years removed. The thoughts were shared and were a constant reminder, so fresh years or two decades before, the day, in early April, Shaheen Holloway was introduced as new Saint Peter’s coach at Yanitelli Center.

Spring of 1994. Still a young official, experience-wise, yours truly had an AAU assignment at Bayley Ellard (now closed) High School in Madison. Arriving at the gym, I run into Tom Konchalski, the highly-respected recruiting guru. “What game do you have (to officiate)?” Tom asked. “Two o’clock,” I replied. “Good,” he said, “you get Shaheen Holloway’s game.” I was immediately hit with fear. Shaheen Holloway of St. Pat’s. A great player and I must officiate his game, am I ready?

Inside the gym on this Spring afternoon, I run into Sandy Pyonin. Sandy is the coach of the powerful NJ Roadrunners (Holloway’s team) and we have known each other for years. Sandy wants to chat, but I politely say not now as my assignment is his game. “That’s understood,” he said. “But I will let you know I let you work the opposing coach is a jerk.”

New St. Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway is flanked by school President Dr. Eugene Cornacchia (left) and athletic director Bryan Felt (right). (Ray Floriani photo)

Working the game, nerves quickly dissipate as the job at hand is negotiated. Early the Roadrunners fall behind by ten. Sandy is begging me for every call. The opposing coach says nothing. As the game moves on the Roadrunners take over. Defenders cannot keep Holloway out of the paint. The gifted guard either finishes or pitches out to deadly three-point shooter Mike Martino, who later played at Buffalo.

Down the stretch, the Roadrunners are in command and during a few dead balls Holloway pats me on the shoulder saying, “good hustle and nice job out there.” Classic Shaheen.

The other recollection is from 2006. Working the quarterfinals of the Hoop Group Metro Summer Classic at FDU-Florham. We have St. Pat’s against Bloomfield Tech. At this juncture I am much more experienced and confident. Working a three-man game with good friends Andrew (forget the last name) and Larry Leff is a plus.

Combined on the two teams there must be seven future D I players on the floor. Nick Mariniello coached Bloomfield Tech at the time and let his assistant, Shaheen Holloway, run the team. Chris Chavannes coached St. Pat’s, headed by a Corey Stokes-Corey Fisher backcourt.

We have a competitive game both teams getting after it. Up and down the floor in an outstanding display of talent. The benches were close to one another and one point we had to intervene and restore peace and Shaheen and Chris were verbally getting into it. Pat’s emerged victorious and eventually was knocked out in the semis by St. Anthony. On this Sunday morning this contest was destined to be part of the officiating memory bank.

These thoughts were present and shared with observers on the day Shaheen Holloway was introduced as the new coach at St. Peter’s University. On that day he battled the emotion of losing his uncle while realizing the culmination of a dream – ascending to the top, running his own program.

As Holloway answered general inquiries, the memories brought home a key fact: the new Saint Peter’s coach is compassionate and foremost, a competitor.

It showed that afternoon at Balley Ellard, Holloway remembering the day and comments on our work could only offer a good heated laugh. The compassionate could also be evidenced in mention of Larry Leff from that Bloomfield Tech game. Larry passed away last year. Before he got into officiating Larry assisted Pyonim and developed a great player-coach rapport with Holloway. Just the reminder, that introductory day at Saint Peter’s, yours truly worked with Larry in that Bloomfield Tech-Pat’s game brought a somber tone from Holloway of how great a guy Larry was.

The competitor was quite evident at Balley Ellard. Down ten the standout guard, not thrilled at the time with our officiating, took it on himself to will his team back into it and eventually open the game up. That competitive trait was noticeable at FDU-Florham. For his press conference a number of former coaches as Marinello (now a block away at Hudson Catholic), the Seton Hall men’s and women’s staff and FDU assistant Bruce Hamburger were in attendance. Also there was Chavannes, whom Holloway praised as a mentor helping him make a big transition on and off the court in high school. On that summer morning, Holloway was intense as ever competing all-out against Chavannes, whom he holds in high regard.

After fielding the general questions, Holloway discussed his style of play. John Dunne, the former St. Peter’s mentor headed to Marist, preferred a defensive, grind-it-out, slow-paced style. “Defense will be a priority that will not change,” Holloway promised. “But we will play at a faster pace. We will show some full-court pressure in our defense.” Holloway was also reminded St. Peter’s relied a lot on the three-point shot last season. “Any team these days has to be able to hit the three-pointer,” Holloway said. “We will shoot the three, but the offense will be different. We will run some pick and rolls and some sets. Not all the offense will be sets,” Holloway added. In other words the offense will have some structure and some freedom featured in the attack.

Holloway is excited. Dunne did not leave the cupboard bare, and the new coach notes, “We have a good core of players coming back. I am excited.” Holloway is also excited regarding the commitment extending from President Dr. Eugene Cornacchia and Athletic Director Bryan Felt, two administrators Holloway said, “really impressed me with their passion.”

At Seton Hall, Holloway assisted Kevin Willard (who was in Portsmouth following a few of his players) and was largely responsible for recruiting some outstanding talent to South Orange. Beyond that Holloway received an extended coaching education. “Coach Willard got me ready,” he said. “He gave me a lot of leeway and I was involved in Xs and Os, game planning, practice, not just the recruiting end.”

Beside his tenure at Seton Hall, Holloway also assisted Willard three years at Iona (2007-2010). There he got a first-hand look at the conference he will now compete in. “Then and now the MAAC is a conference of good coaches,” Holloway said. “Coaching there three years has helped me know the league.”

His returning players promise a win over Iona this upcoming season. Holloway thinks of the same and a MAAC championship in the not too far future. Hitting the recruiting trail will be one of the new coach’s priorities. Surveying the high school and AAU coaches in attendance Holloway was indeed grateful for their appearance on this special date. Holloway did quickly add, “When I call hope you answer or return my calls.”

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