Buonaguro plans to keep the bar high at Siena

Fran McCaffery’s new job took him from upstate New York to Iowa City, Iowa; Mitch Buonaguro’s new jo
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Fran McCaffery’s new job took him from upstate New York to Iowa City, Iowa; Mitch Buonaguro’s new job takes him one chair to his right.

Siena promoted Buonaguro, McCaffery’s lead assistant for the last five seasons, to head coach on Thursday, making the self-professed “lifer” a head coach for just the second time in his 35-year career.

One of six candidates who interviewed for the job, the 56-year-old Buonaguro signed a four-year contract and represents an attempt by the school to maintain what has become one of the top mid-major programs in the country, winner of three straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships and two NCAA tournament games under McCaffery.

“We’ve set a standard of excellence; we want to keep it there,” Buonaguro said during a press conference at the Marcelle Athletic Complex that was attended by seven of the players who will be back in 2010-11, as well as dozens of alumni and fans.

“Where can we go from here? Well, we’d like to go to the next level. That means, every year, being one of the top mid-major programs in the country. It’s going to take recruiting, it’s going to take commitment from the players. It’s going to take my energy. But we’ve set the bar high, and we’ve got to keep it there.”

“We’re at a special place in time with this program as an elite mid-major,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said. “We had a lot of people who truly wanted to lead this program and continue that success. But in the middle of all that in the last five years, of course, has been Mitch Buonaguro.”

The top two tasks, in order, facing Buonaguro now are re-recruiting incoming freshman Melsahn Basabe, a 6-foot-7 forward from Glen Cove who starred for St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Mass., and finding two assistant coaches.

Andrew Francis, who was deeply involved in the recruitment of Basabe, was hired by McCaffery on Thursday to be one of his assistants at the University of Iowa.

Buonaguro said that he will retain assistant Adam Chaskin, and that he feels confident that the other top recruit, swing man Trenity Burdine of Reading, Pa., will not ask to be released from his National Letter of Intent. The Saints also have another scholarship available because of the withdrawal of Denzel Yard, and Buonaguro is looking for a point guard, a position that needs to be filled after the graduation of Ronald Moore.

The decision to promote Buon­aguro was met with universal approval and relief by the remaining Saints. Among those who were considered likely candidates to replace McCaffery were Northeastern coach Bill Coen, Jacksonville head coach and former Siena assistant Cliff Warren and former St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts.

“Coach B was my guy from day one,” junior shooting guard Clarence Jackson said. “I always looked at him as a head coach, even when coach Mac was here. He takes the game and this program very ser­iously.”

“That question mark’s gone, and we don’t have to listen to different sources saying this guy or that guy’s coming in,” said junior center Ryan Rossiter, who will be a leading cand­idate for MAAC Player of the Year next season. “It’s a new era now, and we’re prepared for that.”

“Everybody on the team had hoped, once we knew coach Mac was leaving, that Coach B would get the job,” said guard Kyle Griffin, who played in his first season with the Saints after transferring from La Salle. “We had talked about it numerous times, we had meetings at our townhouses, stuff like that, what everybody’s thinking. We would go around the room. And everybody’s just thrilled that he got the job. We really believe that we’ll be able to continue this tradition and keep winning like we have been.”

D’Argenio conducted the interviews, in consultation with school president Fr. Kevin Mullen.

“I don’t think there was any homecourt advantage,” D’Argenio said. “I went into this with an open book. Nobody was the front-runner, everybody was equal. If he had a homecourt advantage, we would’ve been standing here the Monday after Fran had resigned. I think he earned it through this process.

“The players assured me that they didn’t want him as a head coach just because he was a friendly face, but because they respect him as a head coach-type person. It was people in the basketball community telling me that he was a good X’s and O’s guy that could coach again from the sidelines. All those things added up and led us to that dec­ision, plus the continuity factor.”

Siena went 112-51 in five seasons under McCaffery, who brought Buon­aguro with him after the two had worked together at UNC-Greensboro.

Buonaguro, who lives in Ballston Lake with his wife, Suzin, and whose son, Michael, is a 2009 Siena grad­uate, has over 1,000 games of Div­ision I experience, but only six seasons of that was as a head coach.

An assistant to Rollie Massimino when Villanova won the national championship in 1985, Buonaguro was hired as the head coach at Fairfield, then won two MAAC champ­ionships in his first two seasons. He lasted six seasons at Fairfield before being fired.

A Queens native and a 1975 graduate of Boston College, he served as an assistant at Boston College (1975-77), Texas A&M (1991-96) and Cleveland State (1996-03) before joining McCaffery’s staff at UNC-Greensboro.

“This is my dream job,” Buon­aguro said. “At this point in my life, where Suzin and I are, this is a tremendous opportunity for me and one that I’m really going to give a tremendous amount of effort to keep at the level where we’re at and hopefully go to the next level.

“I consider myself a head coach. I don’t think of myself as an assistant, and I don’t think Fran treated me that way. One of the things that was great about Fran was he’d give me a lot of responsibility. He’d let me put a game plan in. He trusted me with the team.”

In other MAAC coaching moves, Iona filled its head coaching vacancy by hiring Tim Cluess, who was 98-23 in four seasons at Division II C.W. Post. He replaces Kevin Willard, who was hired by Seton Hall to be the Pirates’ head coach.

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