The message that Rob Mahala took from finding out he’ll serve as a co-captain this season for the Siena men’s basketball program illustrates why head coach Carmen Maciariello selected him.
“It just means,” Mahala said, “that I have to work even harder.”
Maciariello officially named his team’s captains for the 2020-21 season last week.
One — Manny Camper, a star senior — was obvious.
The other — Mahala, a walk-on junior who has played 10 minutes in his Siena career — was decidedly more of a surprise.
Maciariello, though, doesn’t necessarily view it that way. Yes, Camper was a slam-dunk choice after serving as a captain during his breakout 2019-20 season, but Maciariello has held Mahala in high regard since the Saints’ head coach was an assistant coach during Mahala’s freshman season during which the 6-foot-5 guard from New Jersey never played.
“He’s an energy giver,” Maciariello said. “He’s a communicator. He is appreciative of all that entails being a Siena basketball player.”
Maciariello understood that some would naturally wonder why star junior Jalen Pickett wasn’t named a captain. Pickett, though, wasn’t a captain last year, either, and Maciariello echoed the reasoning he offered last season as to why that’s the case, which is that Pickett — the team’s lead guard who will play 35-plus minutes and serves as the face of the program — already has enough responsibilities, on and off the court, to handle.
(It’s worth remembering, too, that such an arrangement worked out last season: Pickett won MAAC Player of the Year and Siena won the MAAC’s regular-season title.)
Maciariello confirmed to Mahala in a Thanksgiving Day phone call that he’d be a captain for the 2020-21 season.
“Obviously, it caught me a little off-guard, but Coach had been talking about it with me,” said Mahala, who was a standout high school volleyball player, a sport that kept him from playing much AAU basketball. “I’ve been staying on the right path. That’s what I’ve been trying to do — to bring energy to the floor, to practice, to whatever. It was a nice gesture from Coach. It’s an honor to be named captain.”
As a team, the Saints were told Friday — the first day Siena could restart in-person activities following their coronavirus-related pause — that Camper and Mahala would serve as captains.
Camper, Mahala said, is the one that sets the tone for the Saints each day.
“We know he’s a great leader,” Mahala said of Camper, who averaged a double-double last season. “He’s an exceptional basketball player. An unbelievable guy. It’s great for him to be the leader of this team as a senior.”
Camper — and Pickett — will serve as Siena’s on-floor leaders, but Maciariello sees Mahala being able to play an important role during games, too, because of his energy and enthusiasm. Mahala’s level of engagement from the bench area, Maciariello said, is especially critical in a season set to be played amid a pandemic that has caused basketball teams — and everyone else — to rethink so much.
“So he gives me another set of eyes and ears on a socially distanced bench,” said Maciariello, whose team’s home bench area will be made up of four rows of seats.
Mahala is the second walk-on in as many years to be named a captain for one of the Capital Region’s men’s basketball programs. Nick Fruscio served as a captain last season for UAlbany, a role he earned because of his overall commitment to head coach Will Brown’s program.
Similarly, the commitment Mahala demonstrates, Maciariello said, makes him an ideal captain.
“He comes to work every single day,” Maciariello said.
Three times this preseason, UAlbany women’s basketball head coach Colleen Mullen’s team has needed to pause in-person activities because of issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. Those shutdowns — which were experienced because of pauses of UAlbany’s full athletic department — have made it more difficult for Mullen’s group to prepare for the 2020-21 season, but the coach said they’ve also helped the Great Danes get more out of the time when they’re on the court together.
“Division I basketball is so hard. It’s so demanding. It’s so challenging — physically, mentally and emotionally,” Mullen said. “But when you feel like it could be taken away from you at any second, there’s a different type of appreciation for it.”
UAlbany announced a series of changes Tuesday to its non-conference schedule, including a new date for the team’s game against Siena. UAlbany is now scheduled to open its season Dec. 10 at Hofstra, then play back-to-back games against Marist on Dec. 15 and 16 before hosting Siena on Dec. 23. UAlbany’s Dec. 15 game will be at Marist, while the Dec. 16 game will take place at SEFCU Arena.
In between the team’s games against Marist and its matchup with Siena, UAlbany will open America East Conference play with Dec. 19-20 games at UMBC.
Mullen said the games against Marist will allow the Great Danes a chance to gain some experience playing the same opponent on back-to-back days, as America East play is set up that way for this season. The situation, though, will be a bit different since both games won’t be played at the same venue — and Mullen said she isn’t sure yet at what time her team’s games against Marist will be played.
“They’re still TBD — but, TBD, that’s how this season is going,” Mullen said.
Previously, UAlbany called off three games of its non-conference season following the Great Danes’ most-recent pause of in-person activities. Additionally, UAlbany announced Tuesday that its game against Army — which had been set for Dec. 15 — won’t be played.
PICKETT ON WATCH LISTS
Siena’s Pickett was included Tuesday on the watch list revealed for the Lute Olson Award, which recognizes the nation’s top Division I player, as well as the watch list for the Lou Henson Award, which recognizes the country’s top mid-major player.
Pickett averaged 15.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and six assists per game last season.
Former Siena guard Roman Penn, now a redshirt junior at Drake, was also included on the Lou Henson Award watch list.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
Days between when all four of the Capital Region’s Division I basketball teams were allowed to practice on the same day. Prior to the men’s and women’s teams at Siena and UAlbany each being able to practice Tuesday, the last time all of the teams were able to practice was Nov. 2. All of the teams could not practice Nov. 3 due to Election Day, then the UAlbany men’s team halted in-person activities the next day. The UAlbany women paused in-person activities on Nov. 10, while the Siena men announced the start of their pause on Nov. 13 and the Siena women took that step on Nov. 18. Both UAlbany teams returned to practice last Wednesday, the Siena men began in-person activities two days later and the Siena women returned Tuesday to the court.
The Siena men’s basketball team’s rank this week in College Insider’s mid-major top-25 poll. Siena was ranked No. 21 in the outlet’s preseason poll.
Total teams in the America East and MAAC to play at least one game this season, through Tuesday’s action. In all, 42 basketball programs make up the conferences, which include the teams at UAlbany and Siena.