LOUDONVILLE — Not long after Siena College lost the head coach of its flagship team, athletic director John D’Argenio made clear the direction the school wants its men’s basketball program to take.
The Saints want to keep building.
There is no desire to rebuild.
Not again, not after the program appeared headed back in the right direction.
“I think the important thing now is we need to work with some speed, quite honestly, because we have a great locker room of guys and we want to make sure they want to still be here,” D’Argenio said in a press conference Thursday at the school, less than two hours after George Washington University announced it had hired Jamion Christian away from Siena. “I think the sooner we get it done, the better.”
The “it” there is in reference to finding the Saints’ next head coach after Christian, who signed a five-year contract last May, departed following one season at Siena in which he took a program that went 8-24 in Jimmy Patsos’ last season and produced a 17-16 season in what turned out to be Christian’s lone campaign at Siena.
D’Argenio said he was “very surprised” when Christian informed him of his decision Thursday to leave Siena.
With Christian gone, D’Argenio said Carmen Maciariello — an assistant coach for Christian at Siena — will serve as the school’s interim head coach, and D’Argenio heaped praise upon the “great experience” and “great credentials” Maciariello, a 2001 Siena graduate, possesses.
“He knows what it means to be a Siena Saint,” D’Argenio said, “and I think that’s what is important for those guys in this program to keep moving forward.”
A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed Christian’s departure less than an hour before both schools announced the move. Christian did not respond Thursday to requests for comment, but was quoted in George Washington’s statement announcing his hire.
“I am honored to be able to return home to take a job I have dreamed of having since I was a child,” Christian said. “I’d like to thank President Thomas LeBlanc for this incredible opportunity. It was a difficult decision to leave Siena because I absolutely loved the people, but there were only a few jobs that could take me away, and I can’t wait to get to work in Foggy Bottom. GW has a rich basketball history and the potential to become a juggernaut in the Atlantic 10. I’m looking forward to bringing an exciting style of basketball to the nation’s capital that all of the Buff and Blue faithful will be proud of. Our brand of basketball contains enthusiasm and great connectivity. We can’t wait to pump our love into our players each and every day. The journey to be at our best begins immediately. I am so incredibly excited to be your head coach.”
D’Argenio said Thursday that Christian’s contract included a buy-out, but didn’t confirm for how much money. Siena had hired Christian afters a weeks-long search last year, and D’Argenio had commented at Christian’s introductory press conference last May at Albany’s Times Union Center how he hoped that the deal reached with Christian would start “a great partnership, a great collaboration, over the next . . . long number of years, right?”
D’Argenio, laughing, added: “I can’t do this again, man.”
Siena, though, needs to go through a coaching search process again, and there are several reasons why D’Argenio wants to “work with some speed” this time around.
The top one: Christian had set up Siena to become a top contender in the MAAC next season, and there will be an urgency to keep roster members — such as star freshman Jalen Pickett — from following their former head coach out of the program.
D’Argenio said he addressed the Saints regarding Christian’s departure, and described their mood as “somber.” While a pair of players — Thomas Huerter and Khalil Richard — received their releases to transfer earlier this week, D’Argenio said no other players had immediately requested a release, which needs to be done in writing. Holding onto as many current players as possible, D’Argenio said, is critical for the program.
“This program is made up of players, and they’re the ones that carry it,” D’Argenio said. “Them and the people before them. So I wanted them to remember that, because this program isn’t built on a coach. It’s not built on an administrator. It’s not built on a faculty member. It’s built on the players, and they’re the most important thing to us at this point.”
D’Argenio said there is not yet a short list of candidates for the coaching job. Throughout his session with reporters, though, he routinely praised Maciariello.
“I’m sure he does have interest in [the head coaching position],” D’Argenio said. “As he should. He’s a great coach. Great community person. Has a lot of connections in this area.”
Besides his Siena connections, Maciariello is a Shenendehowa graduate and played for the well-regarded Albany City Rocks AAU program. Maciariello’s — and Siena assistant coach Ryan Devlin’s — connection with the City Rocks was a primary driving force in the Saints originally bringing Pickett, who played for that program, into their mix.
D’Argenio credited Christian for the work he had done helping to turn around the Siena program. The athletic director said credit for that, though, didn’t belong solely to Christian.
“We appreciate that and respect that,” D’Argenio said, “but there’s a lot of other people that helped make that happen.”
When Christian was hired at Siena, he spoke of setting a “new standard” of success for the program that once went to three consecutive NCAA tournaments. Asked after Siena’s season ended in the MAAC tournament semifinals how the Saints had fared toward that objective during the 2018-19 season, Christian’s answer focused on the camaraderie the Saints had built in their locker room.
“I would say that I love the amount of love we’ve been able to create within our locker room. I think we’ve created a standard of love and appreciation for everybody in that locker room. That’s different than most places,” Christian said on March 10. “That’s something you can build on and that we will build on, and I’m enthusiastic about being able to walk into a locker room tomorrow [and] the day after that where the guys understand the standard of how you treat people in and outside of our program.”
Asked Thursday what Christian’s departure meant for the program, D’Argenio’s focus was similar.
“We’ve got a lot of resilient young men in that locker room,” D’Argenio said, “and we move forward.”