Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Masiello Plans to Restore Jaspers' Luster

In the not-so-distant past MAAC teams in search of a men's basketball coach traditionally reached out to youthful assistant coaches from higher-level programs.

That, though, has changed in recent years as three of the more recent coaching searches resulted in the hiring of head men with past experience running a program: Tim Cluess at Iona (formerly at Division II C.W. Post), Mitch Buonaguro at Siena (once a head coach at Fairfield), and Sydney Johnson at Fairfield (previously at Princeton).

Manhattan, reportedly, tried to follow that route initially offering its position, when it was open this past spring, to Jim Ferry, the head coach at Long Island University. Only when Ferry turned down the offer did Manhattan administrators revert to hiring an assistant from a major program.

So it is that Steve Masiello, formerly an assistant coach at Louisville under Rick Pitino, gained the job as coach at Manhattan.

Early indications are that second choice doesn't mean second best.

Masiello, one of two new coaches in the conference this season (Johnson is the other) is a dynamic, high-energy guy who not only was able to bring in three solid recruits (after three other committed players opted not to attend the school after it fired Barry Rohrssen), but isn't afraid to admit to high aspirations for the once-strong program.

How about this for raising the proverbial bar within a program that has had one winning year over the past five:

"Everybody better watch out," said Masiello, the mid-April day he was introduced as the school's new coach. "We are going to create a new brand, and it’s going to be the best in the City. And we are going to take New York back over.

“We will be the model program for the conference. We will be the school that everyone looks up to and wants to be like, on and off the court. We will create what’s called the ‘Manhattan Way’ in how we do things.

“We are going to be the hardest working team in the country, bar none. We'll be in the best shape in the country, bar none. And we will be the most prepared team there is. I know that’s going to equate into winning.”

“We’re going to win, and we’re going to win big. If the Final Four this year didn’t allow young men to dream today that don’t get recruited at the highest level, I don’t know what will. Manhattan Basketball is back. These guys are going to show people what we’re all about.”

Five months since he spoke those words, there isn't any hint of a retraction nor any indication his high energy has dimmed.

"We're getting guys in great shape," said Masiello, who points to senior guard Kidani Brutus's loss of 27 pounds since last season as proof. "Turning this around is more about the guys understanding what's expected of them. They're learning what discipline and accountability is all about. We've changing the culture of the basketball team here and making sure our players know what it takes."

Masiello, though, knows it takes more than conditioning and accountability to turn things around.

"Personnel is the key to success," he said. "Recruiting is the blood line to the program, our No. 1 priority."

Even with his relatively late start in his first opportunity to be a head coach, Masiello was able to bring in freshmen 6-1 point guard DeCarlos Anderson, 6-5 off-guard Emmy Andujar and 6-6 wing Donovan Kates to a class that already included the one Rohrssen recruit who stayed, 6-8 forward Ryan McCoy.

And Masiello is quick to admit that Rohrssen left some quality personnel in place.

"Barry was a great recruiter and left some good players here," admitted Masiello. "The injury bug bit this program quite a bit when Barry was here."

Masiello will probably rely heavily on Rohrssen's players initially, including junior wing George Beamon, and sophomores forward Rhamel Brown and guard Mike Alvarado along with Brutus.

Masiello also expects solid play from, among others, two players victimized by injury a year ago, 6-7 redshirt freshman Roberto Colonette, who missed the entire season, and junior guard Mohamed Koita, who missed 15 games.

If the team's health holds up Masiello is hoping to fit 10 or 11 team members into his playing group.

"We want to have guys who play multiple positions, guys who are triple-threat guys capable of shooting, passing and rebounding," he said. "We're going to play a fun style. We're going to get out and run and score 80 points a game. We're going to create havoc on the defensive end. We're going to take you out of what you do when you practice ... we're going to take you out of everything you usually do."

It's a style that has paid major dividends at this level in the past (Paul Hewitt's Siena teams come to mind).

"It can be effective because so few teams play that way, so opponents don't practice against that. If we can get our guys to be good at it we can cause some problems. It's going to be the foundation of who we are. We're going to try to get 35 deflections a game, 13 steals a game. We're going to fast break and make good decisions."

If it sounds like Masiello has a plan, it's because he has been formulating one for years awaiting this opportunity.

"There is no one better to have learned under than Rick Pitino," he said. "He prepares you as well as you can be prepared. Now, it's a matter of me going out and executing my plans."

And, it's not as if winning is foreign to Manhattan, a storied program even before the formation of the MAAC 31 years ago. And, in recent years, too, and Masiello was part of some of the program's more-recent glory years.

He was a Bobby Gonzalez assistant at Manhattan from 2001-02 through the 2004-05 season, part of teams that went to one NIT (2002) and two NCAA tournaments (2003, '04). Those teams had some of the best individual talent in place at Manhattan in recent years, and Masiello aspires to keep the talent level high, particularly since so much of it is cultivated in his own backyard of the basketball-rich New York City metropolitan area.

"We want to change the brand of us ... when we go into a high school to recruit we understand if a kid says he's going to Duke or some other top 15 program," said Masiello. "Otherwise, unless a kid absolutely wants to leave the area we want him to look hard at Manhattan.

"When I was an assistant here before it was the cool thing to say you were with the Manhattan program. We were one of the better programs around, and that's what we want to get back too. We want Manhattan to be one of those schools like Butler, VCU, George Mason and Gonzaga. We want to take it to the next level. We want to be special, and for this to be a special place.

"And, at the end of the day, it's New York City. It's an awesome place to recruit. It's a great opportunity to come here, to stay home and play in front of family and friends and get a great education. And, this is the No. 1 media market in the country. Being written about in the newspapers results in having their names out there and equates to job opportunities down the road.

"There's not a Manhattan alum in the city who's not proud of this city and this program, and they're the people who do the hiring of college graduates. It's an easy selling point ... why not be on the back page of the Daily News or the Post and get that kind o exposure?"

The exposure, though, will only be there and only be positive if the program can win under Masiello.

But with the players left in place by Rohrssen's work, a little luck to avoid the injuries that plagued last year's team and Masiello's enthusiastic plan ... then doesn't seem to be much doubt that Manhattan will quickly start winning again.

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