MAAC Monday returns today with a different spotlight this week, as we focus not a team, but rather on a senior that has gone from underappreciated role player to one of the most impactful leaders for his program. From there, the weekly stat leaders and power rankings will be refreshed. But first, an opening segment was initially going to be a recap of what turned out to be Monmouth’s fourth straight victory Sunday as the Hawks wrapped up a regular-season sweep of Iona, now becomes an unexpected eulogy for one of the most transcendent figures the sport of basketball has ever seen.
As Monmouth and Iona slugged it out inside the Hynes Athletics Center Sunday afternoon, turning in yet another classic installment to one of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s premier rivalries, the tenor of the day shifted from exciting to somber during the second half.
It was then that the world learned of the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, killed Sunday in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles at the tender age of 41. Eight others, including the Laker great’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, also perished. Almost instantly, a pall was cast over the basketball world, and certainly on press row in New Rochelle.
It is inexplicable as to how something can so suddenly become inconsequential in the grand scheme of life, but so it was on this particular day. For the final 12 minutes of action, neither the final score, nor the winner and loser, mattered. The central focus shifted to the well-being of a man who was not only the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history, but more importantly, an ambassador of the great game we all love and one just beginning to relish his new role in teaching his offspring the right way to make an impact and cement her own legacy, so that the youth of her generation could potentially idolize her in much the same vein today’s children of the 1990s and 2000s did her father.
The clips of Kobe teaching a young Gianna on and off the court, working on mechanics and studying film, have made the rounds on social media, and rightfully so. Forget whether or not you loved or hated Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Laker. The impact that Kobe Bryant — man, husband, and father — left upon a world that must now face life without his unyielding and inspiring work ethic to guide it in times of adversity, is undeniable. As Steve Masiello has said many a time during his years at Manhattan College, it is bigger than basketball. It always has been.
Therefore, we urge you to hug your loved ones. Hold them close. Let them know how much you love and appreciate them, and most importantly, cherish the opportunity you are blessed to have whenever you spend time with them.
Life is too short, and tomorrow is not promised.
Make it count while you still have the chance, just like Kobe Bryant did every day of a life that was abbreviated far too soon before any of us could stop taking it for granted and simply be grateful for what we did have when he walked alongside us.
Rest in peace, Mamba.
Malik Johnson’s production has risen to career-high levels, validating development of Canisius’ senior point guard. (Photo by Tom Wolf Imaging)
From an early stage in his collegiate career, it seemed as though Malik Johnson was destined to be the consummate leader on a Canisius team that possessed multiple veteran options for the Richmond, Virginia native to complement with his fearless approach and stalwart mentality that head coach Reggie Witherspoon was fortunate to inherit when Johnson upheld his commitment in the wake of Jim Baron’s retirement following the 2015-16 season.
“Malik is the guy that didn’t score a lot of points, but had a huge impact for our basketball team,” Witherspoon said in 2017, in the waning stages of Johnson’s freshman season, when the 5-foot-10 bedrock of the Golden Griffins’ program completed an inaugural campaign that resulted in a spot on the MAAC’s All-Rookie team. “To have a freshman play that many minutes on a team with a winning record anywhere in the country is remarkable, and for him to be a point guard and do it, that’s really remarkable.”
Three years later, as Johnson prepares himself for the coda to one of the more complete four-year tenures on Main Street in recent memory, very little has changed. The departures of Isaiah Reese and Takal Molson have positioned him as the undisputed face of the Griffs’ roster, but the approach to which Johnson goes about his business remains virtually the same.
“I wouldn’t say I needed to prove anything, but I knew there was going to be an opportunity for me to step up,” he said Friday after Canisius battled Iona to the wire in New Rochelle. “I knew we were going to have a bunch of young guys who were going to be looking up to me to be a leader and show them how we do things here, so it was a challenge in that way. But I wasn’t out to really prove anything. I knew who I was, how good I am as a player. I just had to show it.”
Malik Johnson has turned in perhaps his most stellar season halfway through his senior year at Canisius. (Photo by Tom Wolf Imaging)
Where Johnson has markedly improved, aside from the slight offensive uptick, is in his growth as a two-way player as well as a facilitator. The MAAC’s leader in both assists per game and steals per game, and Canisius’ all-time leader in games played, Johnson ranks among the top ten in the conference in rebounds per game, averaging six boards per contest, usually unheard of for a small point guard. In Friday’s game against Iona, he racked up a double-double with 11 assists and 10 rebounds, the latter marking his third double-digit effort on the glass.
“His rebounding has been a part of what he’s about when he plays the game,” said Witherspoon. “He looks to win the game, so if there’s an area we need him at to win, he just embraces it and goes at it.”
“I would say I got a lot better,” Johnson concurred. “I credit the coaches, just working over the summer on weaknesses and stuff like that, but a lot of the stuff just came with being more confident and as Coach said, sometimes I’ll have to go out there and rebound a lot in certain games, so I just try to keep that in my mind and as far as assists, just find my teammates, push the floor, and get guys open shots. That’s all I really focus on.”
As the Griffs continue to make headway in a parity-laden MAAC entering the second half of conference play, they do so with a battle-tested leader that is not only unfazed by the big moment, but also one whose value cannot truly be measured in tangible units.
“He’s meant a lot,” a passionate Witherspoon remarked. “I’m thankful that he decided to stay, and he has been the face of our program and the leader in our locker room from the moment he arrived on campus. That’s not just because of his ability to play basketball, but that’s who his family raised him to be. He’s that way every day. That’s just who he is, and he has a real good idea of what he needs to step to the plate and swing at.”
1) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (17.3 PPG)
2) E.J. Crawford, Iona (17.0)
3) Deion Hammond, Monmouth (16.3)
4) Jalen Pickett, Siena (16.0)
5) Elijah Burns, Siena (14.8)
6) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (14.6)
7) Tajuan Agee, Iona (14.2)
8) Landon Taliaferro, Fairfield (13.9)
9) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (13.6)
10) Manny Camper, Siena (13.6)
1) Kevin Marfo, Quinnipiac (13.7 RPG)
2) Manny Camper, Siena (10.5)
3) Tyere Marshall, Rider (7.9)
4) Tajuan Agee, Iona (7.4)
5) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (6.5)
6) Elijah Burns, Siena (6.5)
7) Frederick Scott, Rider (6.3)
8) Pauly Paulicap, Manhattan (6.2)
9) Malik Johnson, Canisius (6.2)
10) Vincent Eze, Fairfield (5.8)
1) Malik Johnson, Canisius (6.0 APG)
2) Jalen Pickett, Siena (4.8)
3) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (4.3)
4) Stevie Jordan, Rider (4.3)
5) Samuel Chaput, Monmouth (3.5)
6) Isaiah Washington, Iona (3.2)
7) Samir Stewart, Manhattan (3.2)
8) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (3.2)
9) Marcus Hammond, Niagara (3.1)
10) Tajuan Agee, Iona (3.1)
Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Elijah Burns, Siena (.624)
2) Tyere Marshall, Rider (.578)
3) Warren Williams, Manhattan (.576)
4) Tajuan Agee, Iona (.541)
5) Greg Kuakumensah, Niagara (.528)
6) Vincent Eze, Fairfield (.522)
7) Manny Camper, Siena (.491)
8) Frederick Scott, Rider (.478)
9) Jalen Pickett, Siena (.467)
10) E.J. Crawford, Iona (.465)
Free Throw Percentage Leaders
1) Landon Taliaferro, Fairfield (.947)
2) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (.867)
3) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (.863)
4) Donald Carey, Siena (.854)
5) Elijah Burns, Siena (.835)
6) James Towns, Niagara (.829)
7) E.J. Crawford, Iona (.816)
8) Taj Benning, Fairfield (.806)
9) Deion Hammond, Monmouth (.800)
10) Stevie Jordan, Rider (.764)
3-Point Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Matthew Lee, Saint Peter’s (.512)
2) Ray Salnave, Monmouth (.468)
3) Doug Edert, Saint Peter’s (.462)
4) Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (.426)
5) Rich Kelly, Quinnipiac (.417)
6) Frederick Scott, Rider (.415)
7) Raheem Solomon, Niagara (.413)
8) Jacob Rigoni, Quinnipiac (.408)
T-9) Jordan Henderson, Canisius (.400)
T-9) Matt Herasme, Marist (.400)
1) Malik Johnson, Canisius (2.4 SPG)
2) Christian Hinckson, Manhattan (1.7)
3) Stevie Jordan, Rider (1.6)
4) Isaiah Washington, Iona (1.6)
5) Michael Cubbage, Marist (1.5)
Blocked Shot Leaders
1) KC Ndefo, Saint Peter’s (2.7 BPG)
2) Tajuan Agee, Iona (1.5)
3) Pauly Paulicap, Manhattan (1.5)
4) Seth Pinkney, Quinnipiac (1.4)
5) Jalen Pickett, Siena (1.1)
1) Monmouth (12-7, 6-2 MAAC)
Last Week: T-2
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 at Iona (W 94-88)
Next Game: Wednesday 1/29 at Saint Peter’s, 7 p.m.
2) Quinnipiac (10-8, 5-3 MAAC)
Last Week: T-2
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 at Siena (L 84-61)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 at Canisius, 7 p.m.
3) Rider (11-8, 5-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 6
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 at Manhattan (W 67-63)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m.
4) Siena (9-9, 5-4 MAAC)
Last Week: T-7
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 vs. Quinnipiac (W 84-61)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 at Iona, 7 p.m.
5) Manhattan (8-9, 4-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 1
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 vs. Rider (L 67-63)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 at Saint Peter’s, 7 p.m.
T-6) Fairfield (8-11, 4-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 5
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 vs. Canisius (W 63-55)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 at Rider, 7 p.m.
T-6) Niagara (6-13, 4-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 4
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 at Saint Peter’s (L 58-53)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 vs. Marist, 7 p.m.
T-6) Saint Peter’s (7-10, 4-4 MAAC)
Last Week: 9
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 vs. Niagara (W 58-53)
Next Game: Wednesday 1/29 vs. Monmouth, 7 p.m.
9) Iona (5-10, 3-5 MAAC)
Last Week: 10
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 vs. Monmouth (L 94-88)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 vs. Siena, 7 p.m.
10) Canisius (8-12, 3-6 MAAC)
Last Week: T-7
Last Game: Sunday 1/26 at Fairfield (L 63-55)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 vs. Quinnipiac, 7 p.m.
11) Marist (4-14, 3-6 MAAC)
Last Week: 11
Last Game: Friday 1/24 at Siena (L 70-57)
Next Game: Friday 1/31 at Niagara, 7 p.m.