Steve Masiello came to defense of his program and players after Manhattan defeated St. Francis, taking time to explain his philosophy in wake of those who may be counting Jaspers out. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)
Mention Steve Masiello to people familiar with college basketball, and you will undoubtedly receive a wide spectrum of feelings toward the fifth-year Manhattan head coach.
One thing is certain, though: Whether you love him, hate him, or are just largely ambivalent to his existence, everyone will agree that he is a man who will fight for whatever he believes in, and will do so to the death.
Such was the case on Monday evening, when Manhattan picked up a wire-to-wire victory over St. Francis Brooklyn. Although the victory was a welcome change of pace from the close and agonizing defeats the Jaspers have suffered in recent weeks, an impassioned Masiello spoke from the heart when addressing his process of trading early results for his team playing their best basketball in February and March, doing so in the wake of those who had written the Jaspers off in their quest to win a third straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship.
"We love the process," he began. "We are infatuated with it. The harder it is, the better. And all the naysayers that I hear, I feel like I'm in the BCS (football) here. You have one loss, and you might as well just end the season."
"It's an indictment on character," he elaborated, driving home his point, "to think that kids are just going to fold in this generation because of a couple of losses. What's life about, then, when you get laid off or you go through a divorce, or there's an issue in your family? If you can't handle adversity, then what's life all about?"
Masiello and his players are no strangers to adversity, having experienced it in differing circumstances in each of the coach's past three seasons at the helm. In 2012-13, Manhattan played the majority of the year without shooting guard and leading scorer George Beamon, yet still came within three points of a MAAC championship. The following year, both Beamon and Michael Alvarado were injured at separate stages down the stretch, albeit not seriously. The Jaspers, once again, persevered. Then there is last year's well-documented chronicle, the 2-7 start, the questions of how Masiello would replace Beamon, Alvarado, and Rhamel Brown, to the doubt of whether or not the Jaspers had the heart to repeat before marching through Albany and methodically making short work of Marist, Saint Peter's, and Iona over three nights to earn a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
"For me, that's what it's about," Masiello emphatically reminded those gathered for his postgame press conference. "That's all I care about. How can my kids handle the adversity? How do they approach it?"
Ask anyone in the Manhattan program, from Masiello himself down to the managers, and the demeanor is the same. Everyone is even-keeled, and has maintained their composure amid a record that scares most people away. Point guard RaShawn Stores, the floor general whose calm in the heat of battle has rubbed off on each of his teammates over the years, has repeatedly insisted the Jaspers will be alright. So too have his upperclassman running mates in Shane Richards, whose middle name may as well be adversity after his perennial fight to prove his critics wrong, and the eternal optimist Rich Williams, who ranks among the most improved players in the MAAC through the first month of this young campaign as he has demonstrated the will to do whatever is required to get this team to where it has proven it belongs. Long story short, they believe in their coach's vision, and their coach believes in them just as strongly. And if that creed in one another needs to be rehashed after every game, then so be it.
"I'm happy with the win," Masiello reiterated. "I've always said that. But it's about the process."