Shaheen Holloway is the new head coach of the men’s basketball team at Seton Hall. Holloway will try to bring back a tradition of excellence that included four Sweet Sixteens over the course of about a decade.
But that was over two decades ago. Since then, the Pirates have struggled.
Yet the best team the school has put forward over the last three decades was its 2015-16 team that included out gay player Derrick Gordon. While they were upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that year, the team was a 6-seed at 25-9 — both best for the team since 1993 — and won the Big East tournament, beating two top-5 teams to do it.
Various reports say Holloway had been critical in convincing the Seton Hall coaching staff to bring Gordon to the team, and coaxing Gordon to join them.
“He stumped for the crucial addition of graduate transfer Derrick Gordon to the 2016 squad,” wrote Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press this week. He’d previously reported on the connection between the two men, both of whom played basketball for St. Patrick High School in New Jersey. Holloway also played for Seton Hall.
The deeper connection between the two says a lot. While other coaches may not have known many gay basketball players, Holloway did. That previous relationship cut through anything that made Gordon different from other players.
Seton Hall is also a Catholic institution, adding to the implications of Gordon representing the school on the national stage.
It paid off, with Gordon fifth on the team in points playing in every game en route to the school’s best season in nearly 30 years. In the tournament loss to Gonzaga, Gordon led the team with 10 points, adding 4 rebounds and 2 steals.
That game also made him the first player in history to play in an NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament game for three different teams.
Gordon remains the only active Division I men’s basketball player to come out publicly as gay, which speaks to the internal and external pressures gay men face to conform in the sport of basketball. Having a head coach who has demonstrated an embrace of a gay player is powerful.