With a 13-man roster for the first time all season on Sunday against Marist, Steve Masiello was able to show how much depth predicates success in Jaspers' system. (Photo courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)
Throughout the summer and through countless practices, Steve Masiello preached one word consistently when asked for an assessment of his Manhattan team: Depth.
After all, it was an eleven-man rotation that allowed the Jaspers to catch most of their opponents off guard during a 25-win season, as Manhattan was able to rotate players in and out on a regular basis on the road to the program's first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship since 2004, when Masiello was an assistant on a staff that guided the school to its second straight NCAA Tournament and an upset of Florida.
Yet in an uncharacteristic 1-5 start to a season in which the contributions of Michael Alvarado, George Beamon and Rhamel Brown must be replaced, Manhattan had not had a full complement of players through the first six games. Between Jermaine Lawrence and RaShawn Stores being banged up at various stages in November, coupled with freshman forward Zane Waterman recovering from a foot injury suffered in the offseason, the Jaspers were missing at least one piece to their puzzle, one which is best solved when the sum of its parts is greater than the whole.
Sunday afternoon, in a wire-to-wire 60-38 victory where all of Manhattan's 13 players saw minutes in a game where the Jaspers' hard-nosed, aggressive defensive style that was on display for each of the 40 minutes, provided further credence as to why a season rife with high hopes had started out somewhat slow.
"I'm not making any excuses," Masiello cautioned following Sunday's win. "The system I play and we play here, is based upon depth. We can't have guys play over 30 minutes. You can't do it and be successful in this system because of the way we play. We have a lot of weak side rebounding from our guard spot, because our fours and fives are forced to go out and close out to corners. So now, it allowed us to get to that weak side and make the plays we weren't making, because fatigue was not a factor tonight for us. We were constantly able to throw fresh bodies in."
Every player to see the floor Sunday played at least four minutes, with only one; senior Emmy Andujar, reaching the 30-minute plateau, and the starting five of Andujar, Tyler Wilson, Rich Williams, Shane Richards and Ashton Pankey averaged 23 minutes.
"People don't understand how big of an effect that is in this style of play," Masiello added. "Other systems, it's not, you could play seven, eight guys. The way we play, you can't play for more than three, four minutes. It's very difficult to do that, so for us to be able to now have fresh bodies, our back tips, our challenges, our weak side rebounding, our deflections were up, and that's all a product of our depth. Have we been making rebounding a big deal? I've been making it a big deal for the last six games."
In addition to the depth, the higher ceiling that Masiello raved about all offseason compared to last season's team has also revealed itself, enabling the coach to adjust his normal operating procedures to accommodate the developing skill sets of some of his younger players.
"There's a lot of adjustment that has to happen," he openly admitted. "I don't play first-year guys, I've never played first-year guys until, really, December. Shane Richards didn't play until December two years ago, Rich Williams didn't play until December last year. I'm putting these guys way ahead because of their ability and their basketball IQ. People could say what they want. I know where this team will be in February and March."
The potential can also be traced back to the abundance of depth on the roster, something that was continually harped on following Sunday's game, which resulted in Manhattan's second win of the season.
"You cannot play this style with eight, nine players," Masiello further stated. "You just can't do it. Tonight, we played nine guys double figures, (in minutes) and then we had a tenth at nine, and an eleventh with six. That tells you your style right there, and that's only going to go up for those guys. Emmy can't play 30, he's a 26, 27 a night guy, and he's got to be great in those 26, 27."
When addressing the Jaspers' 1-5 start, which included an inability to make free throws in overtime against Massachusetts and a heartbreaking loss at the final buzzer to George Mason, games where Manhattan probably would have won under normal circumstances, the oft-upbeat Masiello maintained his demeanor in guiding his team through what has been, in his four years in Riverdale, uncharted territory.
"I gave them the definition of faith," he candidly said. "It's a belief in a person, thing, a deity or place that you don't know about, and that's what it's really about. If you have faith in the people around you and the people who have been through the hard times with you, good things will happen. It's really not me. This team, it's early in the year. We've never been 1-4, we've never been 1-5, we've never lost the way we've lost leads and given them away. All of this has been uncharacteristic of Manhattan basketball, but it's the best thing that can happen for us because now, we've got a different type of taste, and I think that makes you grow as people when you can bounce back from it. The character of these young men, people have no idea. We've got great character in this locker room, and that's why they come out and play the way they do, and they can bounce back from two heartbreaking losses."
"I have no problem taking some black eyes now," Masiello continued. "I'm playing chess, I'm not playing checkers. I understand six moves ahead of what's necessary for this program, and I'll make sure we get the checkmate at the end."