After 20-point game against Iona, Nico Clareth is more than just your token freshman sensation. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
Not very often do you see a freshman who makes enough of an impact in his rookie season to where he is in consideration for not one, but two, conference awards.
Then again, Nico Clareth is not your typical freshman.
With 20 points in Saturday's win at Iona, the Baltimore native has put together a remarkable campaign for Siena, averaging over 13 points per game to be the fourth-leading scorer on an 18-win outfit that has designs on crashing the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference postseason party and earning its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2010, when the trio of Ronald Moore, Alex Franklin, and Edwin Ubiles last brought the Saints dancing.
"Nico's been the same guy," said head coach Jimmy Patsos when assessing how much Clareth has progressed since his first game in November. "I'm not going to rein him in. He was fantastic in the fall practices and had some great exhibition games, but I thought what's summed up Nico Clareth's career so far is that he's always been a team guy. Our walk-on, Nick Cunningham, got a few points at the end of the game at Canisius, and he (Clareth) was the first one off the bench to run and hug him. He's from Calvert Hall, one of the great programs in the country, and Calvert Hall is a school that's based on teamwork and family. They have great tradition."
It is that unselfishness that counteracts the killer instinct with which Clareth plays. Already proficient in the ability to make clutch shots, he is already trending in the direction of becoming a surefire MAAC Player of the Year contender by the time his four years in Loudonville are up. Having only started four games this season, he is eligible for Sixth Man of the Year honors as well, and should challenge Manhattan's Rich Williams for that distinction in much the same way he will impact the Rookie of the Year race. But hardware, at least of the individual variety, is not so much his objective as much as his doing whatever is needed to help his team.
"He just keeps getting better," Patsos gushed in the wake of Saturday's win. "He's a student of the game. It's not all jazz hands and jokes, he really takes the game seriously. It's All-Star weekend, and we talked about Kobe Bryant playing defense, and how he can't just be a scorer. I think that's seeped into Nico, and we want that."