Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Patsos Wins Over Fans at Siena Intruduction

Jimmy Patsos, as the saying goes, definitely won the press conference at his introduction as the new Siena men's basketball coach.

But, the loquacious Patsos loves a stage and, now, he has the biggest one in the MAAC if not one of the  larger ones at any mid-major level program.

And, Patsos actually won over program followers twice Wednesday, the first at a "formal" press conference in the school's Alumni Recreation Center lobby that not only included a couple dozen local media members but well over 100 Siena fans, and the second at a "pep rally" on the school's ARC court.

The pep rally came complete with cheerleaders, the school's pep band and at least 250, or so, interested students and non-student fans.

Patsos' message was pretty much the same at both events: Everything about his new job ... the school, the environment, the fan support, the support for the program, the area opportunities, the restaurants, etc. ... is great. He said people might thank him for taking the Siena job, but it's he who should be thankful, and grateful for being chosen for the job he has "envied" for the nine previous seasons he coached at league rival Loyola.

It was as grand and as large a reception for a new coach that, surely, any MAAC program has ever seen. There certainly never has been a larger red carpet rolled out for any previous Siena coach.

But, Patsos is a larger-than-life presence, and those around the double events Wednesday got a first-hand experience with that.

As did the members of his new team, earlier in the day.

"We talked, but not a lot of it had to do with basketball," said Patsos, in his getting-to-know-you session with returning Saints.

He told them, like he mentioned often throughout the day, that his teams run and press, that he likes the "first one to 80" philosophy of basketball.

He talked a lot about how he operates away from the court, too. He talked about scheduling a game in Washington, D.C. ... "I can't wait to get my players down there and give them the tour of the monuments."

Patsos enjoys getting his teams out of hotels on the road, using trips for both bonding and for educational purposes. He takes players to cultural and historical sites, to landmarks, to movies ... anything to enrich his players on life that doesn't directly involve basketball.

"John Wooden taught me that," said Patsos. "He said there's a lot more to the day than just two hours of basketball, that your players are students first who just happen to be talented players, too."

Wooden wasn't the only name dropped by Patsos.

On this day, in no particular order, he referenced Red Auerbach, Jack Bruen, Doc Rivers, Brian Cashman, Rick Dempsey, John Calipari, Eva Perone, Angela Merkel (German's Chancellor), Dan Paulsen, Fran McCaffery, Paul Hewitt, Kevin Plank (who invented Under Armor wear) and, of course, his mentor and former Maryland coach Gary Williams.

"I know a lot of people," he joked. "I was single for 20 years (during his coaching career), so I had a lot of free time. I'm married now ... I don't have any more free time."

It was one last name-drop, a mention of the late Dave Gavitt, the former commissioner of the Big East, that brought Patsos to a momentary stop in his narrative to compose himself.

"I get a little emotional thinking about Gavitt," said Patos. "He's the one who told me you have to get this type of job and stay with it. This is that type of job. I've been jealous of you for nine years, wishing I could coach at Siena."

He emphasized often about his up-tempo style of play.

"If we don't have guys who can do that, we'll figure out where to get guys to play that way," he said.

"If we don't win enough games, you can yell things at me that you did when I wasn't the Siena coach."

One of the things someone once yelled at Patsos very early in his tenure at Loyola was a reminder that his team wasn't very good. Patsos turned around to address the heckler with the response to wait until he was able to bring in his own players.

When asked about what he expects, Patos said his players would go to class, would play hard and have fun playing.

He mentioned the "rebuilding" word when referring to Siena's current situation, but it's not anywhere near as daunting a rebuilding job as he faced at Loyola.

"They were 1-27 when they offered the job to me," said Patsos. "Red Auerbach told me I had to take the job. He said, `They're 1-27, even you can do better than that.' "

Siena was 8-24 this past season, and the strong hope of the hundreds who came out to welcome in the new coach, and the thousands of others who attend games, is that Patsos not only can do better than that, but can do much better.

"I want to win NCAA games, and I want to go to the Final Four, but we've got to do well in the MAAC first," he said. "It's harder to build something and sustain it at this level than at the high-major level because you don't have the best kids in the country coming in here. Still, Butler and VCU are doing it pretty well ...

"But when I took over at Loyola they didn't have anything ... they didn't even have a band. We had to create an entire program. There's a program in place here."

Patsos talked about his optimism on future recruiting trails: "Guys want to play here," he said.

"Albany is a great place to live. Siena is a great job and a great place. This is a basketball town."

The greatest response to anything he said, though, came when a 7-year old in attendance at the pep rally was coached to ask Patsos if Siena would beat UAlbany.

"Yes, we're going to beat Albany," said Patsos, to loud applause.

When his remarks ended, Patsos stood in the middle of Siena's on-court gym, greeting fans who lined up like they were in a wedding reception line.

It was a great day for the new Siena coach, who clearly won over what very often is a tough crowd.

They loved him this day as he won the press conference and follow-up pep rally.

They'll really love him if he wins a lot of games.

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