After long offseason filled with success and drama, Steve Masiello has turned the page, preparing Manhattan with no residue from last season. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)
With all that Steve Masiello and Manhattan College has experienced in recent months, one might assume that another ten years have passed since the Jaspers won their first MAAC championship since 2004 this past March.
From Manhattan battling Masiello's mentor, Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, and his Louisville team to the wire in the NCAA Tournament, to the three-pronged senior core of the Jaspers graduating in May, to Masiello's inadvertent headlines off the court, it was also assumed that the scrappy and resilient bunch from Riverdale might have a chip on their shoulder going into the season from being somewhat forgotten in a grand scale after the offseason.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as a visit to Draddy Gym today to see the Jaspers practice as they prepare to open their season against Florida State in 33 days revealed a team in midseason form, one who will be back to their old ways sooner rather than later.
"I don't really think that way," Masiello stated with regard to whether or not his players should feel slighted after the fallout from last March. "I just kind of worry about our next opponent and getting ready. I'm not coaching any different, these kids aren't playing any different."
In fact, Manhattan, who must replace George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado from a 25-8 team that accounted for the second-highest single season win total in program history, seems to be playing even harder, a testament to the coaching ability of Masiello and the willingness of his players to learn his take-no-prisoners style, which focuses on an uptempo offense and a relentless press defense.
"We're still playing the same brand of basketball, we're still playing the same style," the coach said, erasing doubts of whether or not the Jaspers would face an adjustment period for players such as Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey stepping into the roles of team leaders. "Maybe a little more physical, a little longer, a little bigger."
While an official MAAC preseason poll has yet to be revealed, Manhattan has been projected as a top four team alongside the likes of defending regular season conference champion Iona, CBI champion Siena, even Quinnipiac and Saint Peter's as well, depending on what previews one has read, with the championship pedigree being a major point in the Jaspers' corner.
"We liked a taste of success," Masiello admitted when recounting the experience his team had in its prelude to their NCAA Tournament contest. "We liked what we got, and we want to get back to that and build on it."
The names may have changed, but the philosophies and coach remain the same, as does his goal of guiding the Jaspers back to the field of 68 after what may feel like an eternity.
"Same thing we've always been about," Masiello advised. "We're going to play hard, we're going to compete, we're going to do things the right way, we'll be in great shape, and we're going to have a lot of fun doing it. I'm real proud of our kids and how they've handled themselves."