LOUDONVILLE — He punctuated the thought with a self-aware laugh.
Yes, rising junior Nico Clareth said, he wants be the leader for a young Siena College men’s basketball team next season, both with his words and his actions — and he knows what’s Step One.
“It starts by me not messing up,” Clareth said Monday before an offseason workout for the Saints on their campus.
During an up-and-down 2016-17 season in which the lows were so low and the highs were so high for him, Clareth — now a co-captain for the Saints along with rising redshirt junior Kevin Degnan — could not avoid that. A rocky start hit its endpoint when he took what was announced as an “indefinite leave of absence” in mid-January, 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.
Clareth returned nearly a month later, said and did all the right things — and then delivered the defining performance of Siena’s season in the MAAC tournament semifinals when he scored 27 second-half points on a gimpy right ankle to spark the Saints’ comeback against top-seeded Monmouth.
Now, his job is to be a steadying force for a Siena team whose roster will include five freshmen for the 2017-18 season. He gets that.
“My attitude has changed completely,” Clareth said. “I mean, I still have the same competitive drive [and] I still want to do the right thing, but I want to do more of the right things. There’s less room for mistakes.”
Quickly, he reworded that last part.
“There’s no room for it now,” Clareth said.
So far, head coach Jimmy Patsos said he’s been impressed with Clareth’s response to being named a captain earlier this offseason.
“Nico’s been very good,” Patsos said. “Nico’s excited to lead. I think Nico is kind of a natural-born leader. Part of him wanted to lead more last year, but we had four seniors.”
Those seniors — Brett Bisping, Lavon Long, Javion Ogunyemi and Marquis Wright — were all 1,000-point scorers, a milestone Clareth is likely to reach during an upcoming season he enters with 749 career points.
Without those four players around, Clareth is Siena’s clear top player. Degnan said Clareth has handled himself accordingly this offseason.
“You could just tell his focus is there,” Degnan said.
So, too, is his health. The right ankle that betrayed him during the season’s final week is fine and he said his right knee — which was operated on last offseason — is no longer an issue.
“I can run faster,” Clareth said. “I feel great.”
Patsos said Siena will take an international trip this summer, as the Saints will play in Montreal.
Details of the late-August trip are not finalized, but Patsos said the team will play four exhibition games in a span of five days.
Incoming freshman Jordan Horn said such a trip will provide the Saints with “good bonding time,” while Degnan said extra playing time together this summer is crucial for a Siena program which lost six players from last year’s active roster.
“Right now,” Degnan said, “we have a lot to do. We’re young.”
A CONFIDENT GROUP
When the MAAC preseason poll comes out later this year, Siena will likely be picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the conference.
Rising sophomore Ahsante Shivers will not agree with that assessment.
“We have the players, we have the talent necessary to win in the MAAC,” Shivers said. “So that’s not the question. We just got to make sure we can bring it all together.”
Patsos said reigning league champion Iona should be viewed as “clearly the favorite” in the MAAC, but likes his group’s attitude.
“They have an air of confidence about them,” Patsos said.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Michael Kelly at 395-3109, [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter. For more coverage of Siena basketball, head here.
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Categories: -Sports, College Sports