By Tom Ballato
Elijah Holifield gravitated toward basketball at a young age. His father, Rick, was a professional baseball player, so Elijah grew up playing baseball and basketball.
Rick Holifield was selected in the 1988 Major League Baseball draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. He also played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Atlanta Braves organizations, but he didn’t push any sport upon Elijah or his brothers.
When basketball became too rigorous, Elijah decided to put his focus solely on basketball. He attended high school at Pace Academy in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Holifield was a two-time captain and won back to back Most Valuable Player awards in 2014 and 2015 for his team.
His senior year in 2015, Pace Academy won the regional championship but lost in the elite eight. Holifield’s play garnered him Division 1 interest. Holifield said, “A lot of mid-major colleges recruited me, but the school to offer me (a scholarship) was Air Force. I was committed to Air Force for a few months, but with my ACT scores, I couldn’t get into the school.”
Holifield decided to attend St. John’s University in Queens, New York. “Being a preferred walk-on was just like committing to St. John’s without a scholarship. I was on academic scholarship anyway, and coach Mullin offered me a spot on the team right after he got hired. I couldn’t pass that up.”
He joined the team when Chris Mullin took over at St. John’s, which was a rebuild for the program. Holifield was one of seven freshmen to fill out the roster. When asked about his time learning Chris Mullin’s system and playing at St. John’s, Holifield said, “I learned so much in that first summer. Coach Mullin was passing down his NBA knowledge, and it really helped everybody’s game evolve. I felt we were prepared for when the season started. He approached everything like it was the NBA with practice times, skill work, and being on time with everything.”
Elijah soaked up everything from Chris Mullin. The Golden State Warriors came to practice at St. John’s, and Elijah got to interact with their staff and players. He genuinely enjoyed his experience at St. John’s.
He appeared in 10 games during his freshman year. At the beginning of the season, St. John’s went through some injuries, and some players were ineligible, so St. John’s roster was thin. St. John’s went to the Maui Invitational, and Holifield appeared in every game and scored his first basket against Chaminade. “This was memorable because being a walk-on, you don’t know if you will see the court or not. To play in that whole tournament was a big deal for me.”
Holifield appeared in 7 games in his sophomore year. Some of his fondest memories at St. John’s include beating Syracuse at Madison Square Garden and the Big East Tournament against Georgetown. In that game against Georgetown, St. John’s won in a heated matchup where Chris Mullin and Georgetown assistant Patrick Ewing Jr. exchanged words in an argument.
After his sophomore year, Holifield decided to transfer to get more playing time. He was recruited by Division 1 schools out of high school and wanted to explore his opportunities.
Holifield transferred to Prarie View A&M, where he was on a basketball scholarship. He sat out the 2017-2018 season as per NCAA rules.
When he spoke about his time at Prairie View A&M, Holifield commented, “It was a bittersweet year. I redshirted and worked hard all year. I was expecting to have a good year, and I broke my foot three days before the season. I was out for the majority of the year and got back for a part of conference play, but by then, we were on a roll, and it was hard to get on the court.”
Prairie View A&M went on a roll during the 2018-2019 season and made the NCAA Tournament. Holifield played the veteran role, and with the team doing well, he said, “It would have been selfish to have a bad attitude about the situation.” He was a team-first player and enjoyed the experience.
Making the NCAA Tournament was a dream come true for Holifield. He took it all in with the open practices and signing autographs for kids. The atmosphere was like no other.
He graduated with a degree in political science from Prarie View A&M and had a tough summer, not knowing if he would play basketball again, but he still had a lot to prove.
At the end of the summer, Holifield decided to play his graduate year at Western New Mexico.
“Western New Mexico came along at the end of the summer. They are in the Lone Star Conference, which is the best Division 2 conference in the nation. They stressed to me the competition would be high, and they could use me, so I decided to go out there.”
Holifield appeared in 28 games for Western New Mexico and averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He also shot 40.8% from three.
Elijah called his year at Western New Mexico, “a blessing.” After he went through four years at St. John’s and then getting injured at Prairie View A&M, Holifield was the main guy for his team at Western New Mexico. He was finally able to show what he could do on the court.
“All the frustrations and hardships, it was great just to let it all out.”
After an overall successful season in Western New Mexico, Holifield is working on finishing his master’s degree in educational leadership and is preparing to play professionally overseas.
It’s been quite a journey for Holifield, but he recently received an offer to play in Italy. He wants to keep his options open but is looking to play professionally this fall.