Rashaan Holloway’s redemption season: How the senior is preparing for his final run By Thomas Johnston

Photos by Collegian photo editor Caroline O'Connor, Kathrine Mayo, Judith Gibson-Okunieff and Collegian file photos.

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team takes the floor for the first time this season, with an exhibition against Westfield State on tap.

As the UMass fight song echoes throughout the Mullins Center, the Minutemen file out of the tunnel. With four new transfers and three freshmen, this squad looks completely different than the one that took the court last year.

Trailing in the back though is one face UMass fans have become very familiar with over the last few years. After all, you can’t miss him–his 6-foot-11, 300-plus pound frame stands out to even the unfamiliar eye, as he is the largest player on the court just about every time he steps on it.

It has been over 11 months since Rashaan Holloway has made this exit out of the tunnel. He goes through warm-ups, displaying his uncanny athletic ability for a man his size, but as the game begins, Holloway takes a spot at the end of the UMass bench next to Head Athletic Trainer David Maclutsky.

Holloway will not play in the game—his hamstring has been tightening up and UMass coach Matt McCall made the decision to keep him rested and fully healthy for the season opener the following week against UMass Lowell—remaining in his white UMass warmup and black Adidas sweatpants.

This has been the problem for Holloway since his arrival at UMass. When he’s on the court, he is a force to be reckoned with. Defenses don’t have an answer for his size and athleticism on the offensive end, and defensively his sheer build intimidates attacking players at the rim.

The issue is staying on the court. From conditioning, to injuries and academics, Holloway hasn’t fully lived up to the hype he brought when he arrived in Amherst as a freshman in 2014, unable to stay on the court long enough to make a huge impact on the season.

With this being his last year of eligibility, Holloway knows this is his final chance to redeem himself and prove to everyone just how special he is on the court.

“It’s a full redemption season,” Holloway said. “This is my last chance, my last chance to prove myself, last chance to do what I have to do to be successful.”

Holloway was just beginning to find his groove in McCall’s new system a season ago when his year came to an abrupt halt. With his minutes hovering between 15-20 a night, Holloway saw 24 minutes on Jan. 3 against George Mason, having his best game of the year finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds and rejecting six shots on the defensive end. He looked like the player McCall was so excited to have in his arsenal when he took the job with the Minutemen.

That would be the last game Holloway would play that season. After the game, he was ruled academically ineligible for the second semester of school, ending his year.

Holloway knows he let the team down. UMass was short-handed to begin with, and his loss left them with a mere five scholarship players for the second half of the season.

It was a wake up call for the big man, and it has motivated him to get in the gym this offseason to get into better shape and be able to have a large impact for the Minutemen this season.

“I feel like I have something to prove,” Holloway said. “I missed half the season, disappointed everybody, disappointed myself and it’s going to be good for me to get back out there and show people I did what I had to do and now I’m going to get back out there and do my thing on the court.

“I can’t wait to go out there and prove to people that I’m the same Rashaan. I’m going to play harder and have more things to play for.”

For Holloway, being able to have a large impact on the team comes down to being in shape. To do that, some of his mornings consist of getting to the team’s practice facility at six in the morning for a workout, taking a break, coming back at 11 for another workout and then practices later in the day.

I can't wait to go out there and prove to people that I'm the same Rashaan. I'm going to play harder and have more things to play for. - Rashaan Holloway

It is a grind for someone of his size to stay in playing shape, but knowing he only has one more season to prove himself, getting up to workout hasn’t been as challenging. Coaches and trainers in the facility have been impressed with the way he has handled himself this offseason, seeing that the hard work has gotten him into a position where he can impact the game for stretches without having to be subbed out for rest consistently.

"I think Rashaan Holloway is one of the best athletes I've ever coached,” strength and conditioning coach Coty Greene said. “I've never seen someone be able to move like that at that size. You know he's 6-foot-11, 300 and something pounds, I've never seen an athlete that large be able to move that quickly, be able to run up and down the court like that, or be able to jump like that. He's a freak athlete.”

While the coaches have been working hard with Holloway all offseason, it has been his teammates that have given him the biggest boost. They have been on him at all times, making sure he is in the gym working out and doing what he has to do off the court academically to stay eligible for the season.

Holloway credits them for motivating him to be the best possible player he can be.

“If I’m feeling down,” Holloway said, “and I come in here and I’m feeling like ‘ugh, I can’t do this, I’m feeling lazy,’ these guys will be on me. They’ll make me play. They’ll make me be better.

“It’s a lot different than past teams. Everybody here is on the same page. Everybody here wants the same thing. Everybody here wants to win championships and everyone here wants to be successful. We have to come together and do that.”

With the way basketball has changed over the past few years, more and more teams are moving away from big, lumbering centers and moving toward athletic fives who can switch everything, defend the pick-and-roll and run the court. Some can even shoot from the perimeter.

Holloway doesn’t fit the mold of the modern center. While he is very athletic, his game is not the a-typical one college coaches are searching for. But his size and skill are so different, he presents matchup problems every time he is on the court, forcing opposing coaches to scheme up ways to prevent him from touching the ball near the basket.

The argument could also be made that Holloway could have an even bigger impact in today’s college game. Where teams are going toward the smaller, more athletic centers, Holloway’s size is even more of a nightmare for defenses. When he is on his game, he demands double-teams in the post, freeing up open shooters on the perimeter to get uncontested looks at the rim.

“Offensively it opens up a lot of things because you have to account for him being out there,” McCall said. “He’s such a threat in the post. We don’t really have right now guys you can roll the ball in there and say ‘hey, go get a basket.’ When you can add that, I think it gives you a different dynamic on the team and it should open up things for our guys on the perimeter.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a player when he gets it with two feet in the paint, he’s essentially unguardable or he’s going to get fouled as long as he keeps the ball high and doesn’t allow teams to slap it out of his hands. He’s definitely a unique player, one of the more unique guys that I’ve coached.”

For shooters like Carl Pierre, having Holloway out there makes life much easier as an offensive player, which is why he has been making sure to stay on Holloway about getting into shape this offseason.

“We all know when he’s on the court he has a huge impact,” Pierre said. “Nobody out there can guard him. We just keep telling him, do whatever you can to be in the best shape of your life so you can be out there on the floor for as long as you can.”

While Holloway has worked hard to get in shape on the court, he has also been putting in the work in the classroom to prepare himself for life after basketball. He is working hard with the team’s academic staff, who have put him in a position where he will graduate with a degree at the end of the year.

He is currently doing a strength and conditioning internship, which he says has helped him learn about nutrition and has given him tips that he can pass along to his teammates. He doesn’t know if it’s something he wants to continue with for a career, but it is something he is interested in, which helps keep him focused on it.

The main motivation Holloway has to succeed is his son, Rashaan Jr. The two live together, and being able to wake up and see what he is playing for and why he is putting in the hard work, both on and off the court, has given him the motivation to go the extra mile.

McCall is proud of how much Holloway has matured and grown as a man since the suspension.

“He’s such a great kid,” McCall said. “He’s almost too nice. I’m really proud of him for how far he’s come in just an eight-month period. I give our academic staff a tremendous amount of credit for that too.

“A lot of times it’s not just about wins and losses—we want to win every game—but Rashaan Holloway, it would have been easy to give up and quit and he didn’t do that and he’s going to walk away here with a degree and hopefully he has a great senior season to go along with it.”

Now that Holloway has put in the work to get back on the court, he knows he has to continue working hard to assure he can string together possessions on the court and not need to be taken off due to tiredness or foul trouble that is typically caused by fatigue.

He's such a great kid. He's almost too nice. I'm really proud of him for how far he's come in just an eight-month period. I give our academic staff a tremendous amount of credit for that too. - Matt McCall

“Nobody can guard me,” Holloway said. “It’s if I don’t work hard and don’t bring it that time. I know that people can’t guard me, it’s just about if I want to work hard and I need to keep that mindset that and go at him every play, go at him every play.”

The only person who can stop Rashaan Holloway is Rashaan Holloway himself, and with one final year, it’s now or never for the big man to have the season he is capable of having.

Thomas Johnston can be reached at tjohnston@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.

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