Sunday, March 4, 2018

Manhattan's early exit bittersweet for Masiello, seniors

Saturday's loss in MAAC tournament quarterfinals marked final appearances for Calvin Crawford, Zavier Turner, Rich Williams and Zane Waterman in Manhattan uniforms. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

ALBANY, NY -- Every coach is emotionally invested in every game, but very few over the years have had a bond with their players as strong as the one Steve Masiello continues to foster with the student-athletes fortunate enough to play for him at Manhattan.

Therefore, in the wake of the Jaspers' loss to Iona in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament Saturday night, it came as no shock to those that know Masiello intimately that his initial reaction was disappointment; not for the fact that his program suffered a third consecutive elimination before the semifinal round had begun, but rather for the fact that the careers of his four graduating seniors had come to a collective and premature close.

"This is not the way I envisioned this senior class going out," he reflected, becoming increasingly emotional as he discussed the impact that Calvin Crawford, Zavier Turner, Zane Waterman and Rich Williams imparted upon the Manhattan program during their time in Riverdale, ranging from Turner's three years to the five Williams spent in the Jasper green and white. "It's not what they deserve, but that's sports, and it's a great representation of life. Things aren't fair and things won't always go your way, but these four seniors are as classy as it gets and I'm going to miss them terribly."

When three of the outgoing quartet -- Turner transferred in from Ball State in 2015-16 and sat out to complete his year in residence before serving as Manhattan's starting point guard the past two seasons -- suited up for the first time -- Williams at La Salle, Crawford and Waterman at Florida State -- they did so at the height of the Jaspers' recent success in the MAAC, instantly immersing themselves in a championship culture cultivated by the likes of Mike Alvarado, Emmy Andujar, George Beamon, Rhamel Brown, Ashton Pankey, Shane Richards and RaShawn Stores, and becoming an integral part of back-to-back conference titles before becoming the next wave of program anchors. While their pursuit of a third crown was ultimately ill-fated, the memories created upon the field of battle last forever.

"It's been an unbelievable time," said Williams. "I would just like to thank Manhattan College, Coach Masiello. If I could go back, I would choose Manhattan again. I came here as a 17-year-old kid and I just learned a lot from my peers. Two NCAA appearances, great teammates every year I was here. In a nutshell, it was all good and I wouldn't take it back."

"I'm going to miss my family," Waterman humbly added, the gentle giant having played the role of warrior one final time.

In case anyone needed further proof of just how different a program Manhattan is than most others, consider this: After the final buzzer and postgame decompression, the Jaspers banded together to pay homage to their leaders, recognizing that their contributions far outweighed the 56-71 record the program has compiled over the past four seasons, another sign of the Jasper brotherhood transcending the game of basketball.

"It was a celebration, as crazy as that sounds," Masiello said. "I just told them that what they meant to me and what they meant to Manhattan College, I can't put into words. You're talking about a group of guys I've seen grow more as people than probably any four seniors I've ever had. You talk about Rich Williams getting a Masters, it's special, four guys who are going to graduate and go on to the real world and achieve great things. They've grown as people, they've grown as students, they've grown as players. They've answered the bell every single time, and I just thanked them for it. You don't get guys like that often. I love them for the people they are. I firmly believe you're going to go on and see these guys achieve special things when they leave Manhattan, and that's a lot for me."

"We had so much fun together," he continued, breaking into a smile despite having just suffered yet another cruel dose of March agony. "The bond I have with these guys, especially this senior class, is a special one. We're always taking things away, there's a lot of positives. It's just unfortunate it ended a little too soon."

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