Thursday, May 3, 2018

Christian set to raise bar and return Siena to MAAC's elite

Jamion Christian addressed media for first time as Siena head coach Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Siena College Athletics)

In the 17-day life span of his third coaching search this decade, Siena athletic director John D'Argenio was the subject criticism for how the college for whom he serves handled the departure of former men's basketball coach Jimmy Patsos, yet remained dedicated to finding the right candidate to rekindle the fire and competitive swagger with which the Saints took the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference by storm in the latter part of the 2000s, winning three consecutive league titles and a pair of NCAA Tournament games to not only set a new standard for program excellence, but also a set of perennial expectations that its rabid fan base demands to be met to the letter.

And after skeptics emerged to pan the overall performance of the program under Patsos and his predecessor, Mitch Buonaguro, D'Argenio appears to have worked the count and hit a home run -- to use baseball parlance -- with the hiring of Jamion Christian, a two-time Northeast Conference champion at Mount St. Mary's whose magnetic personality, effusive charisma, and general zeal for life matches his young age of 36.

"Jamion was the first person we met with," D'Argenio said when referencing the search process, one that was noted for the alleged interest in the Siena job by none other than Rick Pitino, only to be brusquely denied shortly thereafter. "Obviously he's here today, so he made a lasting impression in that first meeting. During that initial visit, he laid out a great strategic vision -- about recruiting, about developing relationships with the players and about making Siena a MAAC championship team again. His ability to develop not just players, but people, I think is really what impressed us the most about him."

Presented with a formal offer to take his talents to Albany on Tuesday, Christian and Siena negotiated swiftly over the ensuing 24 hours, the end result being a five-year commitment on paper, but as evidenced by the body language and extroverted nature of the new head coach -- who commanded the Times Union Center with a type of gravitas normally associated with the heavyweights of this industry -- Krzyzewski, Williams, Boeheim, etc., one that may last even longer, with perhaps a more handsome payoff in the long run. 

"I had a chance to meet with the guys today and you could see in their eyes their passion for turning this program around and bringing it right back to the top," Christian reflected, prefacing his comments on addressing his new group of players with an honest introspection of not knowing whether he would have the opportunity to ascend the ladder after just six years in the Division I head coaching ranks. "It won't change unless people in the room want it to change." 

From there, the boyish and wide-eyed excitement was replaced by a firm commitment to improving the perception of a program coming off an 8-24 season, tinged with just the right amount of nurturing words that made all in attendance to hear them know that the new coach not only wants the best for his players, but feels a genuine obligation to cultivate and unleash it.

"We're coming at you and we're going to be in attack mode, and we're going to do that from day one," said Christian, known for his uptempo brand of basketball that came to be known simply as Mayhem while at Mount St. Mary's. "Each one of these guys has a heart inside them and they grew up with a dream to be the best basketball player they can be, and a dream to play in the NCAA Tournament and play meaningful games. We have an obligation -- as a coaching staff, as a family, as a college -- to help them fulfill that dream, and we're gonna get to work on that right away."

Winning the press conference almost always occurs, but when listening to Christian, described as a special kind of person by his mentor, Shaka Smart, the words spoken on Wednesday go beyond that. Sometimes, you can just tell when a coach is wired differently, and this appears to be such an instance.

"My pledge to you is I'm going to lead this program with the most enthusiasm of any coach you've ever seen, and my job is to get that enthusiasm to live out in our players every single day," Christian proclaimed. "We're going to achieve our own set of history. We're going to set a new standard that has not been seen before."

The ball will not be tipped for another six months, but judging by first impressions, it looks as though Siena's new leader is well on his way to accomplishing just that.

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