LOUDONVILLE — For the first time since returning from a leave of absence,
Siena College men’s basketball sophomore Nico Clareth answered questions from reporters Thursday after the Saints’ practice.
He addressed his absence of about three weeks before practicing this past Monday and playing in Tuesday’s win at Iona, expressed appreciation for how his teammates had accepted him back into the fold, and struck a defiant tone when asked if he thought the way the situation had played out had been fair.
“Is life fair?” he said.
As Clareth finished up that thought, senior Lavon Long had walked up behind him. A minute after Clareth had started speaking with reporters, Long rescued his younger teammate.
“All right, Nico,” Long said. “Good to take over, buddy.”
Taking the cue, Clareth retreated to a basket across the court to take some extra shots.
“What’s going on?” said Long, a senior, as he smiled at reporters.
Clareth’s “indefinite leave of absence” was announced Jan. 14, two days after his first scoreless game as a Siena player. He’d played three minutes in that game, during which his first attempted check-in had been scratched when it was discovered he was still wearing jewelry. He quietly returned this past Monday to practice after meeting with head coach Jimmy Patsos the prior day. Clareth scored 14 points and grabbed a season-high eight rebounds in 24 minutes Tuesday against Iona.
Patsos said February had been his target to bring Clareth back into the mix and thought the sophomore had proved himself enough in his time away from the Saints to earn another chance. Clareth did not offer up much insight into why he’d been away from the team for seven games, a stretch during which Siena went 4-3.
“Not doing what I’m supposed to do,” Clareth said.
His leave of absence occurred before the start of the spring semester, but Clareth stayed enrolled in his classes and continued to rehabilitate his surgically-repaired right knee and his ailing jump shot. He said he didn’t consider a future not including a return to the Saints’ lineup this season.
“I didn’t try to think about that,” Clareth said. “I was just focused on being positive and working as hard as I can — doing what I can control.”
Before his leave of absence, Clareth had averaged 12.4 points per game on 34.3 percent shooting. He made 5 of 12 shots against Iona and helped to space the floor for the Saints, something Patsos expects Clareth’s presence to continue to do despite the shooting woes he’s experienced this season.
“But the other teams are going to guard him,” Patsos said of Clareth, who set the Siena freshman scoring record last season. “You can say what you want on the scouting report, when [opposing players] see No. 15, they know to go guard him and that’s definitely going to open it up for us inside.”
Long said Clareth stayed engaged with the Saints during his absence, regularly texting his teammates.
“Nico was in it the whole time,” Long said.
Reintroducing Clareth into the lineup, Long said, has given the Saints a jolt in a positive manner.
“It’s kind of like having a new player. I mean, he comes in with a lot of energy, he likes to talk while he plays, he really gets people going,” Long said. “I feel like he’s a great energizer for this team.”
Siena plays Saturday at Marist, the start of an eight-day stretch in which the Saints play four games. Clareth said his focus is on “growing” and moving forward with his sophomore season.
“You know,” he said, “I’m just happy to be back on the team.”
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Michael Kelly at 395-3109, [email protected], or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter. For more coverage of Siena basketball, head to https://dailygazette.com/blogs/the-outlet.
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