Manhattan's season may have ended prematurely in NCAA Tournament, but it hasn't stopped Steve Masiello from savoring a second straight taste of success. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
The casual basketball fan may look at Manhattan College and think nothing of the Jaspers' 19-14 season, which included a second consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship before a loss to Hampton in the NCAA Tournament ended a run that some may have viewed as improbable.
Yet even one month later, and with the national championship having been awarded to officially conclude college basketball for 2014-15, the significance of what Manhattan accomplished is still not lost on the man responsible for not just a resurgence, but also for having validated his beliefs of where his team would be when it mattered most.
"It was phenomenal," Steve Masiello revealed with regard toward his fourth season at the helm of the Jaspers, one which began with uncertainty as to how the trio of George Beamon, Michael Alvarado and Rhamel Brown would be replaced. "At the end of the day, we're back-to-back MAAC champions with back-to-back NCAA berths. Not many teams can say that, anywhere in the country, for any conference."
A combination of experienced upperclassmen that had been through the wars, such as Emmy Andujar and MAAC Tournament MVP Ashton Pankey, as well as the emergence of Shane Richards and confident senior leadership of RaShawn Stores; coupled with Masiello's second-to-none player development skills that were showcased in the maturation of younger players the likes of Rich Williams and Tyler Wilson, were central in the Jaspers repeating as MAAC champions. Although the consecutive titles are something Masiello was able to experience as an assistant in Riverdale in 2003 and 2004, even he admitted there was a difference when comparing 2014 and 2015 to the Jaspers of a decade ago.
"That team was a team that had everyone back," he said of the Luis Flores-led Manhattan squad that rebounded from a loss to eventual national champion Syracuse in 2003 to upset Florida in the NCAA Tournament the following year. "This team was kind of, it had guys back, but the alpha characters, so to speak, were new guys in town with the loss of three 1,000-point scorers. I think that's one of the things I'm most proud of, is that (with) what we lost, we were still able to stay right there."
Manhattan will face a similar predicament going into next season, wherein Andujar and Pankey will have moved on to the next level, leaving Richards as the de facto face of the team when looking at the roster on paper. And although the Jaspers have already embarked upon the road to joining La Salle and Siena as the only schools to win three straight MAAC championships, the only active MAAC coach with more than one to his credit put his unbridled hunger and determination on hold for a moment, marveling at the accolades his program has already managed to garner.
"It was a great way for this group to go out," Masiello proudly proclaimed, "from just kind of the whole thing we've been through with last year, the slow start this year, the adversity. These guys just rose above it all, and it was one of the most fulfilling feelings that I've been a part of in a sense from the way these young men handled themselves, and what they've done and accomplished."