Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Jamion Christian excited to lead Siena, says "we could have a special season"

Jamion Christian brings infectious enthusiasm with him from Mount St. Mary's to Siena, where he will be tasked with returning Saints to MAAC prominence. (Photo by Albany Times Union)

When Siena hired Jamion Christian this past May, it soon became clear why the 36-year-old was such an attractive commodity on the coaching carousel. From his pedigree and track record of building a winner at Mount St. Mary's to his young age and contagious energy at the helm, it came as no surprise to see Christian bandied about in the same breath as Fran McCaffery, with whom the Saints won three consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships and a pair of NCAA Tournament games to close the 2000s on a high note.

Christian's acclaim for player development has also won over many in his new territory, and has continued to take root as he presides over his first offseason in the Capital Region, learning more about his new charges through summer workouts and gaining greater excitement over the potential that was never fulfilled in five years under his predecessor, Jimmy Patsos. Moreover, Christian seems to have a full understanding of what he is getting himself into as he takes over at Siena and within its basketball-crazed legion of supporters. In fact, he strongly embraces it.

"We have a great place here," he gushed, highlighting the positives that attracted him to Albany and have motivated him to restore the winning tradition. "Our fans, our support, we have things that most teams in our league and in mid-major basketball don't have. People know those things on the surface and there's a level of appreciation for having those things, but what you learn when you're on the inside is you really learn how many people live and die with Siena basketball."

"Anyone can have a successful season. The question is, how do you sustain success? That's what you need here at Siena. They expect to have a great year, but what they really, really want -- and what they need -- is sustained success. I was pleased that we were able to do that at The Mount, and I look forward to the task of building it here and having an opportunity to do that."

In Christian's Mayhem system, a fast-paced scheme predicated on three-point shooting and suffocating ball pressure similar to the Havoc brand that his former mentor, Shaka Smart, employed at VCU, conditioning and two-way play are vital to immediate success. Fortunately for the new coach, he feels that most of the players he inherits will adapt favorably to the change in tactics.

"I think we've got a great roster for it," Christian said. "I think the job of a coach is to be a maximizer. And if you're a maximizer, it means you're going to take the resources that you have and you're going to make the most of those. Every year, I go into the mindset of whatever group I have right now, we're going to put it together. If you want to be the best, you've got to learn how to be versatile. I think our job is to maximize what we have, and I think we have enough, quite honestly."

"The biggest thing I learned going through this at The Mount was just to be open-minded," Christian said. "There are going to be guys that played well in the system a year ago, and there are going to be guys that play better in the system that we're going to put out there on the floor. My whole thing is to just try to be really open-minded. To say that there's one guy that really jumps out, I think, would be hard to do, because there are a lot of guys who are improving every day. We're going to be a lot better in December and January than we are now, so I'm just trying to keep an open mind about the guys and their ability to grow."

While Christian takes over a roster that loses three of its top four scorers from last season, he also has six players that were significant pieces of Patsos' rotation last season to help him tread water in the early part of the season. While the journey will be different under the youthful eye of a new leader, Christian is convinced that the payoff could prove to be handsome.

"It won't be the same as it was for Coach Patsos," he cautioned. "But that was different from Mitch (Buonaguro), and that was different from Fran. But I look at our roster, and I love our guys. When you look at championship-level teams, they have a high level of love and have a great level of understanding, and I think we have those things. The stuff on the floor, we're going to keep working on, but I think we have enough with the experience that we have, that we could have a special season. Siena's had that before, and I'm excited about the guys in the locker room. I've got a lot of confidence in them. They're really hungry, and hunger isn't just something that happens overnight."

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