When you’re a tiny school like Siena that is going to the NCAA tournament for just the fifth time, you have to be real careful not to say things like, “Going to the NIT is a big letdown.”
I’ll say it, though: going to the NIT would have been a massive letdown.
The funny thing is, an interesting role reversal occurred on the Siena men’s basketball team this season.
At times, the players went about their business in a grim sort of march to the end, and it was left to head coach Fran McCaffery, who’s supposed to be the killjoy when things get undisciplined and the college kids act like college kids, to remind them that this is all supposed to be a blast, and the best time of your life.
That’s what happens when you propel yourself into a position where nothing short of an NCAA tournament appearance would be given, by many people, a grade of “F” for failure.
Of course, that’s where everyone wants to be, but once you get there, it’s easy to forget that.
McCaffery’s supposed to be the uptight one. That’s his job. But it was left to him several times this season to bring the players back to to earth — not from the stratosphere, but from the dark underground place they went to.
That’s been one of his most admirable qualities, that he’s been able to see beyond the crucial minutiae of coaching and not only remember that the journey is just as important as the destination, but impress that upon his players when they needed it.
“You just have to remember that it’s a game,” senior co-captain Kenny Hasbrouck said. “You can’t get so caught up in it and think of it as a profession . . . yet. Because it’s not professional basketball, so it’s not a business. We’ve got to know that we’re college students, we’ve got to enjoy it and have fun, because a lot of people don’t get to do this. Especially the NCAA tournament. Only 65 teams out of 340 get to go, so it’s going to be a big part of how we play.”
That said, McCaffery promised that the Saints would start grinding away as soon as they find out who they’re playing when the Selection Committee announces the tournament field tonight.
“I’m not going to sequester them in a hotel. They’ll enjoy it,” he said. “But we will have the same business-like approach to road trips that we’ve had every other weekend.”
One thing he won’t have to worry about is whether his players know how to get serious when they need to. They’ve carried the burden of incredibly heavy expectations all season, so that won’t be an issue now.
“After the Saint Peter’s game, we got yelled at for actually not enjoying it,” sophmore center Ryan Rossiter said. “We just kind of came to the locker room, and Coach McCaffery said he wasn’t sure, if he just walked in here, he wouldn’t know if we had just won or lost. They want us to have fun and just really appreciate everything, because it’s real special, and not too many people get to play college basketball in the first place.”
Just don’t tell me this team doesn’t know how to have fun.
A few minutes into practice on Friday, Rossiter grinned over at trainer Greg Dashnaw and all but accused him of putting some hot balm in his shorts.
Dashnaw directed Rossiter to his buddy Josh Duell, the likely culprit, who was innocently waiting his turn in a shooting line at the other end of the court. “He’s going to feel that for a little while,” Dashnaw said.
Flex-All in your shorts, what could be more fun than that?
The Saints will surely find out today.
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