Jimmy Patsos is wasting little time turning Siena into a contender after releasing 11-game schedule that will be one of toughest nonconference tests in nation, let alone MAAC. (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times Union)
One of the first comments from Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos about the schedule that his Saints will play before the MAAC slate begins was that it will be one of the toughest schedules in the nation. With an uptempo style that will instantly become a fan favorite, Patsos has left no stone unturned in trying to find games that will not only test his new team, but also help them develop in the process while remaining competitive going into the conference portion of the ledger.
With four true freshmen on the roster, along with Coppin State transfer Patrick Cole, Patsos welcomes five newcomers to the Siena program just months after replacing Mitch Buonaguro on the heels of an eight-win season, and the colorful head coach has already put his own stamp on the Siena roster, blending a group of highly regarded recruits with a returning core led by guards Rob Poole and Evan Hymes in the hopes of bringing the first MAAC championship to Loudonville since Fran McCaffery won his third straight in 2010. As we have already done for both Hofstra, who faces Siena on December 23rd, and the Saints' MAAC rival Manhattan, we will once again break down the first tests for Siena, with quotes and insights from the always-engaging Patsos, who was gracious enough to give us 27 minutes of his time in what became the second-longest interview in our four-plus-year history, (only Bobby Gonzalez, with whom we spoke for 35 minutes at Big East media day in 2009, went longer on time) along the way:
Patsos' thoughts on the schedule overall:
"I've been around, I helped Gary (Williams) schedule at Maryland, I scheduled at Loyola. I'm doing the quick math: MAAC, road games, Old Spice, strength of schedule out of conference, I'd be surprised if it's not one of the toughest ones in the country. We have the toughest schedule Siena's had in a long, long time, but I'm going to stay positive, because what matters is the MAAC and the three games in March. Everybody knows mid-majors want a second bid, and the only way to get a second bid is to play some good teams. You can't have cupcakes and get a second bid, we all know that."
On the Saints' August trip to Montreal:
"It's four games in six days, which is something my friend Joe Mihalich clued me in on, he did it at Niagara. This is a really good opportunity for us to grow as a team, learn about each other. Look, Jaden, we're going to play nine or ten or eleven guys. Yeah, I know every game in college basketball is important, but I want to have stuff figured out by the time we hit the MAAC, and remember, we play two games early in the MAAC."
Friday, November 8th vs. Albany: The Saints' home opener will be perhaps the game with the largest attendance on opening night, as it is almost certain to sell out the Times Union Center with over 12,000 fans packed in to see Patsos open his tenure in Loudonville with this intracity matchup against Will Brown and the Great Danes. Guards Mike Black and Jacob Iati, both of whom were instrumental in leading Albany into the NCAA Tournament last season, have each graduated, leaving the Australian duo of forward Sam Rowley and sharpshooting sophomore guard Peter Hooley to pick up the pieces on a team that will still be expected to challenge Stony Brook for the America East championship. "It's definitely going to be a great test," Patsos said of the season opener. "Will (Brown, Albany's coach) has done a great job there, and we always play at the arena (the Times Union Center) because it's the only one that can accommodate all the fans, but each team does get a chance at the home team. I think it's a great game, it's a great game for recruiting, the crowd's great, there's a lot of buzz."
Tuesday, November 12th at Vermont: Patsos and the Saints complete the back end of their two-game America East swing with this deceptively strong road matchup against John Becker and the Catamounts, who lost to Albany in the America East championship game last season. Senior forward Brian Voelkel returns for one more shot at a second NCAA Tournament, and with enough of a productivity increase, he could be a contender for the America East Player of the Year award. Clancy Rugg and Luke Apfeld, Vermont's leading scorers on a long and athletic Catamounts team last year, both return as well, as do sharpshooting senior guard Sandro Carissimo and one-time Marist expatriate Candon Rusin. "John Becker is a very good friend of mine," said Patsos of the Catamounts' head coach. "He coached with Mike Lonergan, he's done a very good job of taking over. Once again, another very good game. Vermont has a nice fan base, we have a nice fan base, so I'm really looking forward to that game, they've got a 6-5 forward (Brian Voelkel) who kind of does a little bit of everything. We played them at Loyola, we had a great rivalry with them."
Saturday, November 16th at La Salle: Just like fellow MAAC program Manhattan, who opens their season at Tom Gola Arena against the Explorers on November 9th, Patsos and Siena will also make the journey to northern Philadelphia to meet the team that Dr. John Giannini took to the Sweet 16 on the way to being the last remaining Atlantic 10 program in the NCAA Tournament. La Salle's unique guard set is back once again to cause nightmarish matchup problems for its opposition, as Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills and Tyrone Garland will return to assist Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright up front.
Tuesday, November 19th vs. St. Bonaventure: The Franciscan Cup rivalry begins in Albany with this matchup against the alma mater of our own Ray Floriani. Mark Schmidt no longer has Andrew Nicholson from his 2011 Atlantic 10 championship team, but Charlon Kloof and Matthew Wright are still around from that season's great success, with seven-foot big man Youssou Ndoye primed to make a bigger impact for the Bonnies this season.
Friday, November 22nd at Cornell: The Newman Arena welcomes the Saints the week before Thanksgiving, with Bill Courtney and the Big Red returning senior swingman Shonn Miller a year after he was Cornell's leading scorer and rebounder on a 13-18 team. Sophomore Nolan Cressler should have a bigger impact after a rookie season that saw the Pittsburgh native shoot 40 percent from three-point range, with junior guard Devin Cherry also on the precipice of a breakout campaign.
Patsos on the Old Spice Classic:
"Do you want to go 0-3? Nobody wants to go 0-3, I know the drill, but we're trying to get better. How can the Old Spice not help you get better? But you've got to be careful not to get beat up too much once you get down there. I'm not a phony, you know? I've never been a phony, you've got to be realistic, and the Old Spice is something they're going to remember. Whether we win two games or we lose two games, they're going to go to Disney World."
Sunday, November 24th at Purdue: The marquee road game for the Saints comes against Matt Painter and the Boilermakers, whose lackluster 16-18 season last year ended with a loss to eventual CBI champion Santa Clara. Senior guard Terone Johnson has followed in the footsteps of former Purdue guards JaJuan Johnson, (no relation) E'Twaun Moore and Lewis Jackson on his way to leading the Boilermakers in scoring last year, with his younger brother Ronnie looking to build on a freshman season in which he averaged more than four assists per game. Keep a close eye on seven-foot sophomore A.J. Hammons, who averaged over ten points per game to go with six rebounds and two blocked shots last year. The Gary, Indiana native could very well be Purdue's best center since Brad Miller. "We're flying into Chicago," Patsos said when we asked about potential ideas for his patented educational field trips while on the road. "That's an easy one, it's limitless there."
Patsos on Siena's travel itinerary and plans in Chicago:
"We're going to hit Chicago, who knows, I might try and get Theo Epstein to come in. I know it'll be cold, but we're definitely going to drive by Wrigley, depends on what museum exhibits are there. Any time you get these kids to see Chicago, it's one of the greatest cities in the world. I would normally take them to the stock exchange, you know, where they did 'Ferris Bueller' down there? But it's a Saturday, so they're closed, but I will find something for them to see, as well as the outside stuff."
Thursday, November 28th vs. Memphis: Siena's first game in the Old Spice Classic is a Thanksgiving night tipoff against Josh Pastner and the Tigers, who may be one of the favorites in the new American Athletic Conference, along with Big East expatriates UConn and reigning national champion Louisville. All five of Memphis' leading scorers return, led by point guard Joe Jackson and bruising power forward Adonis Thomas, as well as sharpshooters Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson, with 6-9 senior Tarik Black continuing to serve as a mentor to Shaq Goodwin on a team that welcomes highly touted recruit Kuran Iverson into the fold. "Josh Pastner, good guy, doesn't get enough credit for the job he does coaching," Patsos said of his 35-year-old counterpart. "Thanksgiving, 6:30 pm, it's a really important game, and we're really grateful for that. The MAAC got us in that, Rich Ensor, our commissioner, got us in there, and that's great for the kids."
Friday, November 29th vs. Louisiana State or Saint Joseph's: Regardless of who they will face, Siena has a tough matchup ahead of them. If it is LSU, 6-9 junior big man Johnny O'Bryant will most likely be the strongest interior presence the Saints will have faced up to this point, and it will prepare them well for the eventual meetings with Manhattan and their imposing duo of Ashton Pankey and Rhamel Brown. The Tigers are also paced by leading scorer Anthony Hickey, who returns for his junior season to anchor the backcourt in Baton Rouge alongside senior Andre Stringer, who torched the nets shooting 41 percent from three-point range last year. Sophomore forward Shane Hammink may not play much, but if his name rings a bell, it's because his father Geert also played for LSU under legendary coach Dale Brown, sharing the paint with a 7-1 phenom named Shaquille O'Neal. As far as the Hawks are concerned, Phil Martelli loses the services of warrior guard Carl Jones, but keeps the continuity in his backcourt with the returning Langston Galloway and Chris Wilson, as Halil Kanacevic will be counted on more this year to fill the void up front that C.J. Aiken left by announcing his intentions to turn pro and forgo his final season on Hawk Hill.
Sunday, December 1st: TBD
Patsos on the MAAC:
"I know the MAAC this year is pretty wide open, you know. I know Iona is going to be good, and Manhattan got people back, but in terms of who lost what, and I know the league pretty well, a team that plays well has a chance this year in the MAAC. We have Monmouth and Quinnipiac, you know? King Rice's team is better, and Tom (Moore) is a really great coach at Quinnipiac, I've seen him on TV, entering our league. That's going to make it interesting."
Monday, December 23rd vs. Hofstra: Patsos gets to see his old friend Joe Mihalich, who was his counterpart in nine years of MAAC wars when the two coached at Loyola and Niagara, respectively, and he will face a new-look Pride team that will match up very well with Siena. Despite only returning four scholarship players from the Mo Cassara era, Stephen Nwaukoni is a double-double per night player on his best effort, and swingman Jordan Allen will likely have a breakout campaign with former Monmouth transfer Dion Nesmith there to feed him inside. Pay close attention to freshman Chris Jenkins, a New Jersey product who was Mihalich's first signee in Hempstead and can shoot as well as anyone in the nation. "See, I'm one of those freaky guys that actually likes other coaches," Patsos said when talking about Mihalich. "I'm really old-school, and our business has got a lot of interesting people. I like Joe, maybe I like coaches too much. I know one thing: Joe Mihalich's a great coach, and he's a great offensive coach, so people at Hofstra are going to be really happy. He plays an exciting style, quality guy, and he runs quality programs."
Monday, December 30th vs. Fordham: The final nonconference test for the Saints will be a shot at retribution after the Rams defeated them the Sunday before Christmas last December at Rose Hill Gym. Tom Pecora is just starting to turn the corner in the Bronx, and adds New York State Mr. Basketball Jon Severe as the third piece in his trademark troika of guards, with the Christ the King star set to join Branden Frazier and Mandell Thomas. One of the biggest keys for Fordham this season will be its frontcourt development, especially now that Chris Gaston has graduated. Sophomores Ryan Rhoomes and Travion Leonard each displayed multiple signs of becoming stars in the making last year, as did junior Ryan Canty whenever he was not in foul trouble. If Fordham can maintain its six-man rotation, with junior guard Bryan Smith serving as a potential X-factor off the bench, the Rams could challenge a lot of teams in the Atlantic 10. "Tommy can coach, I've known him since he was at Hofstra," Patsos said of Pecora.
Patsos on Mihalich and Pecora:
"I kind of followed them. Tommy could have stayed at Hofstra forever, he's a great coach, he's got a good situation. Joe could have stayed at Niagara forever, I would like to think I could have stayed at Loyola for a while after what we did, but sometimes you want to take that next challenge. I looked at that (Pecora going to Fordham) and said 'that's a gutsy move.' So I admire those two guys, because they just said 'you know, we're not going to just sit here and be content.' They had great jobs, but they took that next challenge. I think all three of us are in the same situation, kind of taking the next step for New York basketball."
On this year's team and the blend of youth and experience:
"Brett Bisping is probably going to start at the 4. The way I look at it, we've got four or five guys that are left over and four or five guys that are our people. Rob Poole's good. Obviously, Marquis Wright and Lavon Long can play, I already know they can help us right away. Javion, (Ogunyemi) I got to know a little better, and I think he looks pretty good. Mike Wolfe may redshirt, Patrick Cole has to sit out, he's a very good transfer from Coppin State. In a year, he's going to be very good. So, we'll have four of five old guys and four or five new guys, and it's a situation where we're going to learn as we go, but it's going to be a nice group. For everyone reading into this and thinking 'we're going to go to the Sweet 16, we're going to go 30-1,' it's going to be a grind, it's going to be a learning experience, and every day, we're going to get a little better in practices. It's important that we get better in practice, and use the games as learning experiences to try and be ready for the MAAC."
On Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello: (this question was submitted by friend of the site David Rochford)
"He's done a great job, I really like Steve. Steve and I are friends, we were grinders. He was doing the hard work with Bobby Gonzalez, he was with Pitino, I was with Gary Williams. He's a really good guy, I like Steve a lot. John Dunne's probably my best friend in the league, but I like all the coaches. I think Tim Cluess doesn't get enough credit for how good of a coach he is, but Steve is; without casting aspersions, a really good coach. He's a program builder, you know? He's got them in the right direction, (and) I wonder how long he'll be there. I really like Steve, I see him going to the next level, he's one of those guys I see as a riser, but I like him, I talk to his mom before the games, and he's done a great job. He's done it the right way, too: He's getting the right kids, making them play hard, holding them accountable, and I think he's done a really great job. I think he'll be picked to win the league this year, Manhattan's (No.) 1, Iona's (No.) 2, and I don't know anyone else after that, but it's going to be real interesting to see Steve's growth as a coach. He's a good person, he's intense and all that, but he's a good dude. That's what I think of him."
On where Siena and MAAC men's basketball will be thought of on the national stage in five years: (this question was submitted by friend of the site David Freeman)
"I think it's very strong with the eleven teams, (Rich) Ensor did a great job. Whether we'll get a twelfth, I don't know. Let's just go with the eleven we've got, it's a great eleven, it's turned into a great transfer league, it's always been one of the things I enjoy about the MAAC. A kid can always transfer home or guys that want a little more playing time, it's one of the first leagues transfers look at, that's just its reputation. I expect it to continue the same way, and by the way, Canisius with (Jim) Baron's son, (Billy) who's probably going to be the best player in the league, watch out for them, and he's a transfer. I think MAAC basketball's going to continue the way it is. Can it get stronger? Sure, but it's a pretty good brand. With the facilities and stuff we have, I think we're the little engine that could; it's pushed by people like John D'Argenio and Bob Byrnes, but Rich Ensor deserves a ton of credit for what he's done with the MAAC. It's always going to be a basketball league, and that's why I like it, and Siena's a good basketball job."
On the MAAC Tournament's return to Albany, beginning in 2014-15:
"Hey, Jaden, you ask good questions! Would I like to see it in the Barclays? Sure, but it's not viable. You've got to find a situation that suits your league financially, whether it's Albany, Bridgeport, or Springfield. I like the Hall of Fame, Bridgeport's grown on me, the (WebsterBank) arena's a nice place, but Albany puts the most people in the stands, and that looks good for recruiting, and that looks good whether the tournament is played with Siena in it or not. It's got a great airport, it's got a train station, you can drive to it. There's fans there, there's rabid college basketball fans. This is a good college sports town. It's about putting numbers in the seats and sponsors and all that, and Albany's done a great job. I was just being an innocent bystander when I said that five years ago. To me, you've just got to be honest sometimes and say 'well, what is best for everyone, and what's best for the league?'"
"This is a business, look at the All-Star Game last night at Citi Field. I like baseball, I thought it was great, I watched the whole thing. I watched the Home Run Derby. This is a total package business, and I think Albany is the best place to have it. What's wrong with wanting to go up in March to the MAAC Tournament? If they want to stay at a nice hotel, they have it. If they want to go get a steak at Prime 677, which is my favorite restaurant downtown, they can. If they want to go up to Saratoga for the day and see a beautiful town, they can. You know, these people are making a choice in spending their money, so we've got to give them a lot. Once again, I like the whole Hall of Fame/Springfield thing, but the attendance and the numbers just weren't there. Remember what Hyman Roth from 'The Godfather' taught us: 'This is the business we have chosen.' We're competing with the Big East, and now, the ACC, in New York. The Atlantic 10 has got a strong presence here, the America East is getting better, (you've got) the Patriot League doing their thing, there's the NEC, and stuff like that. You're competing for people. I just think Albany is a great place and it's a great deal, and it's affordable, it's a drive for most people, if you want to fly, it's got an airport. People at Loyola loved it because they loved the airport. If we played at 9:00 at night, they went to Saratoga for the afternoon."