Shane Richards ushers Manhattan into latest retooling going into next season, when Jaspers will seek a third consecutive MAAC championship. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
The cycle of success at a mid-major program is, historically, so fleeting to a point where it is commonplace to see teams at the level in a constant ebb-and-flow phase. The true sign of a bona fide program is one that is able to endure the ever-constant player turnover, year after year, yet still manage to remain among the elite in their respective conference, the mark of a winner that has turned Gonzaga, VCU, and Wichita State; among others, into household names at the national level.
Manhattan is probably not at that particular stage just yet, but following a season in which the Jaspers still managed to successfully defend their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship despite having to replace their three leading scorers and pillars of the program for four years; five in the case of George Beamon, one could certainly argue that the outfit from Riverdale has taken the first step toward potentially joining the conversation as one of the exceptions to the peaks and valleys of life as a mid-major.
"I hope the thing everyone sees," head coach Steve Masiello stated when reviewing how this past year turned out, "is when you look at a guy like RaShawn Stores and you look at a guy like Ashton Pankey, and look at even a Donovan Kates, you saw how much their roles changed over the last 16 months. Well, the same thing is now going to happen for Rich Williams, Zane Waterman and Calvin Crawford. Just because they haven't been able to showcase their skills or talents doesn't mean they're not terrific players and good enough to get it done."
Player development is key wherever you go in college basketball, and only more important once a program has shown its ability to be sustained after the foundation is built. In the case of the Jaspers, it was the work that Masiello and his staff put in with the likes of Pankey, Shane Richards, Stores, and several others on the roster to serve as complementary pieces alongside Emmy Andujar that proved the sum of the whole was indeed greater than the parts, a quality that helped Manhattan rebound from a 2-7 start to win a second consecutive MAAC crown.
"That's kind of been the mistake some people have made in regards to our program," Masiello said of the doubts and concerns that were raised going into last season. "They say 'Well, how are they going to do it? They lost Rhamel (Brown), George (Beamon) and Mike (Alvarado). How are they going to do it? They lost Emmy, this one, that one.'"
"I understand the concerns, and I have the same concerns," he continued. I also know what I have coming back in Rich Williams, Tyler Wilson, Shane Richards, and no one is talking about Samson Usilo; who I think is going to be one of the most talented players in the league, and then you add Calvin and Zane Waterman and Jermaine Lawrence, and I think you have an opportunity to be a really good team."
With Andujar having graduated and Pankey on his way to a professional career, the stage is now set for Richards to emerge as the Jaspers' leader as he enters his senior season, but standing alongside him will be Manhattan's younger core, with a greater role for a team that now looks to further its status as a mid-major that is on top to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
"I think you're going to see guys like Zane Waterman, Rich Williams, Calvin Crawford, (and) I think those guys are going to kind of transform into different roles that they're relishing the opportunity," Masiello predicted. "It's very similar to what AP and Shane did a year ago. That's what I'm proud of, that we can withstand the loss of, basically, four 1,000-point scorers in the last two years, and I still think we'll be extremely competitive. That's the beauty of our program. There's always going to be turnover and guys moving on, but we're always going to have guys ready, and that's what a program is about."