Holiday Happy at Cal State L.A. : Big-Timer Finds a Better Life

Times Staff Writer

The Pacific 10 Conference sometimes can be a cruel place for star basketball players coming out of high school.

Dreams of glory and the NCAA Final Four are quickly consumed by reality and life on the bench. Just ask Shawn Holiday.

For two years, Holiday played big-time college basketball at Arizona State. During his stay in Tempe, Holiday's Sun Devils faced perennial powers UCLA, DePaul, Marquette and Oregon State.

But Holiday soon realized that big-time college basketball had its pitfalls. With competition tenacious and playing time at a premium, he found himself getting lost in the shuffle at Arizona State. Holiday felt this was not fitting for the 1981 CIF 2-A co-player of the year out of Blair High in Pasadena.

Welcomes Challenge

Today, Holiday, 21, plays basketball at Cal State Los Angeles, a Division II school located in the El Sereno district of the city--freeway-close to UCLA and the Pac-10 but light years away from the big time .

Although the network television cameras and the crowds of 10,000-plus have disappeared, Holiday likes his new home and a second opportunity to prove his worth.

He's starting for the Golden Eagles and is the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 10.4 points a game. Holiday, a tenacious defender, leads the club in steals (15) and is second in assists with 38.

Holiday has connected on 24 of 27 free throws and is among the leaders in Division II.

He quietly transferred out of ASU following the 1982-83 season after losing his starting guard position and seeing his playing time decrease dramatically.

Recruited by Newman

"I decided to transfer after my sophomore year because I (saw) the coach didn't want to play me," Holiday explained. "There was a guard he recruited and I believe he wanted to play him."

CSLA Coach Jim Newman, a six-year assistant coach at ASU under Ned Wulk and Bob Weinhauer, was instrumental in bringing Holiday back to Southern California. Before accepting the Golden Eagles job prior to last season, Newman had coached Holiday in Tempe and developed a close relationship with the 6-4 guard.

"He played a big part because I know him well and I wanted to go somewhere where I'd play," Holiday said. "He build a lot of trust between us because he was straightforward in everything he told me and never steered me wrong. . . . You don't find many coaches who do that."

Newman said he also had a lobbyist at the Holiday household. "Shawn's mother (Dorothy) has a lot of confidence in me. So she talked to Shawn about (transferring), saying, 'I want you to go where Coach Newman is.' She was really instrumental in my recruiting him."

When Holiday first considered leaving Arizona State, Cal State seemed an unlikely place for him to go.

Someone Cared

"When I got this job, he (Holiday) was not very keen on playing Division II basketball, because he knew he was a Division I player," Newman said. "I think Shawn came here because of the security that he thought he could get from me, from the standpoint that somebody would care for him."

Holiday said Newman, then an ASU assistant, helped him make the transition from high school to college basketball when he was immediately pressed into service in Tempe.

Newman said Holiday had some big shoes to fill.

"The year that he (Holiday) got there, Byron Scott sat out the season and Shawn was thrust into the starting lineup as a freshman with Fats (Lafayette) Lever," he said.

Holiday started auspiciously, averaging 6.6 points and 31.8 minutes in his first six games. He scored his ASU career high of 11 points in his fourth game against Illinois State. In an ironic twist, Holiday scored nine points against Cal State L. A. two games later.

Scoring Slumped

But his scoring and playing time then dropped significantly. In his last 20 games, Holiday averaged 1.8 points and 9.6 minutes.

Holiday, who met Scott during a recruiting visit to Tempe, said he went to Arizona State to play beside Scott. "I really wanted to go there to play beside him for a couple of years," he said. "It never really worked out, but that was my goal."

After Lever graduated and went on to the NBA, Holiday joined Scott in the Sun Devil back court. The Blair High alumnus averaged 5.4 points and 4.5 assists his first 16 games.

Newman said Holiday was replaced in the starting lineup by Chris Beasly after 16 games. "I think Shawn became a little bit disenchanted," Newman said.

In retrospect, Holiday said, leaving Arizona State and dropping down to a Division II school will not hurt his chances of developing his skills or being drafted by the NBA. "There's a lot of Division II schools that have just as much or more talent than Division I schools. I think it's as good as the Pac-10," he said.

"I feel as long as I'm here playing, I will be seen and I'll get some type of recognition."

Newman is happy to have him and characterized Holiday as a hard worker.

"He works as hard as any player I've ever had to work with," he said. "Shawn is very, very coachable. You'll very rarely (hear) anything negative out of him. It's always, 'Yes, coach.' "

While Newman likes Holiday's overall attitude, Shawn's coach seems more impressed with his ability on the court.

"I think he's an excellent ball handler. He's awfully quick, he has great hands and jumps well.

"I think he shoots well. (But) we can't get him to shoot as much as he should." Holiday has put the ball up 75 times--making 35 for .46%--far below scoring leader Sam Veal's 109 shots.

But Shawn's forte is defense. Newman said Holiday sacrifices a lot of his game to play defense. "I think Shawn truly enjoys playing defense. He'll play so hard defensively sometimes, that'll take away some of his offensive game."

Newman has an eye for defensive players. He recruited the Lakers' Michael Cooper out of Pasadena City College when he was an assistant at the University of New Mexico.

In a recent game against Biola, Holiday scored eight points and was credited with two steals. But some things just don't show up in the box score.

With the Golden Eagles trailing 34-26 to open the second half, Holiday keyed an 9-0 CSLA rally by hitting a pair of short jumpers, forcing a Biola turnover near midcourt to set up a basket and stealing the ball to set up another bucket. All this in about four minutes.

Later, Holiday's hawking defense forced a pair of Biola 10-second violations, which helped the Golden Eagles remain close. Although CSLA lost, 62-53, Holiday had put in a night's work.

"My defense is always there. That's no problem," Holiday said.

"When I was in high school, I really didn't think of myself as being a real outstanding defensive player." That's because Holiday was a scorer.

He averaged 23 points a game his senior year at Blair and averaged 32 in the CIF playoffs. Holiday led the Vikings into the 2A-division final where they were edged by Glendale, 60-59. He shared player of the year laurels with Glendale's Duane Bickett.

Holiday, who possesses a shy confidence, knows what he wants. He wants a business degree and a chance to play in the NBA.

Newman said Holiday has to build confidence in his outside shot to become marketable in the NBA. "(He has) to shoot more from the outside. If he does that, I think he can play up there. The plus for Shawn Holiday is, he'll do what you want done for the benefit of the team."

The NBA can wait for now because Holiday's mind is on Golden Eagle basketball. "I think we can be one of the best teams that have been here at Cal State," he said. "We've got good talent, quickness, jumping, strength, height. What will stop us from being the best team here is us."

If Holiday doesn't make it as a big-time player, perhaps he should try big-time coaching--he's got the language down.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World