Four days before his team, the MAAC’s preseason favorite, is set to start its season with a road game at Fairfield, Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello offered more clues, but no definitive word, as to which players will be first on the floor this season for the Saints.
That starting spots belong to returning stars Manny Camper and Jalen Pickett is no secret, and Maciariello never went through the unnecessary motions of pretending otherwise this preseason. The second-year head coach’s program includes arguably the MAAC’s two best players, and Siena’s success this upcoming season will likely be defined by how well it surrounds its returning All-MAAC first-team selections.
So how will Siena do that?
On Monday’s teleconference with MAAC coaches and league commissioner Rich Ensor, Maciariello outlined how he views the competitions for starting spots around Camper and Pickett.
Next to Pickett, the reigning MAAC Player of the Year, in Siena’s backcourt, Maciariello said the Saints will start either fifth-year senior Nick Hopkins — a graduate transfer from Belmont — or sophomore Jordan King, while freshman Aidan Carpenter or sophomore Gary Harris will start at the 3.
Camper is entrenched at the 4 spot, and Maciariello previously said that either junior Jackson Stormo or sophomore Kyle Young will start at the 5. On Monday, Maciariello also noted that he expects sixth-year senior Harrison Curry — a graduate transfer from Detroit Mercy — to see time at the 5.
“I like having three 5 men, just like we did last year with Elijah [Burns], Sammy [Friday] and Kyle,” Maciariello said.
While not included Monday in any of the matchups for starting spots, freshman Colin Golson — a 6-foot-7, 222-pound forward from Detroit — is someone who Maciariello has made clear will play a significant role right away for the Saints because of his athleticism and versatility, regardless of whether he starts or comes of the bench.
Carpenter and Golson were two of the Saints that Maciariello singled out Monday as having strong preseasons.
“I really like our freshmen, Colin Golson and Aidan Carpenter,” Maciariello said. “I think both of those guys will be able to contribute from Day 1 for us.”
Carpenter vs. Harris is likely Siena’s most intriguing competition for a starting spot. Well-regarded recruits in back-to-back years, Carpenter is more capable off the dribble than Harris, but the 6-foot-7 Harris is two inches taller and is perhaps the most athletic player in the MAAC.
Siena, too, took off last season after inserting Harris into its starting lineup, and Maciariello said Harris has had a “pretty good preseason” in which he’s shown an improved jump shot from a season ago when he shot only 26.9% from 3-point territory.
Hopkins was the first player Maciariello brought up Monday in terms of impressing during the preseason with the leadership he’s added to a Siena program that relied heavily on Burns — a 2020 graduate — last season for guidance. A strong outside shooter, Hopkins could provide a solid backcourt complement to Pickett since the graduate transfer is more of a spot-up shooter than someone who wants — or needs — the ball in his hands to make an impact. King, too, had solid moments as a shooter last season and Maciariello has previously said he’s earned the right to start, but it’s possible the 6-foot-0 guard from Albany could be more valuable coming off the bench since he’s capable of spelling Pickett at the 1 as well as playing alongside Siena’s top star.
With the recent dismissal from the program of junior Dana Tate, 6-foot-8 freshman forward Bennett Kwiecinski appears to be the lone scholarship player on Siena’s roster not likely in the mix to see some regular minutes at the start of the season. Down the stretch of last season, Siena mostly used nine players each game, and the Saints look likely to use anywhere from eight to 10 players in their rotation early this season.
The Saints won their final 10 games of the 2019-20 season, and looked ready to win at least a couple more before their season ended with the cancellation of the in-progress MAAC tournament due to issues related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. While Siena has a largely retooled roster ahead of its much-delayed 2020-21 debut, the Saints enter their campaign as their conference’s prohibitive favorite because of the presence of Camper and Pickett, and the promise of the players around them.
“Expectations are great, and I think that’s one of the blessings of being the head coach at Siena, right?” Maciariello said. “We’re expected to go out and have a great product, and win — and, with that being said, I think our guys relish that opportunity and realize that pressure is a privilege.”