LOUDONVILLE — Practice closed Wednesday for the Siena men’s basketball team with a scrimmaging session that lasted 20 minutes.
For senior Manny Camper, that felt 20 minutes short.
“I wanted to play a whole game,” Camper said Thursday during a teleconference with reporters.
The Saints, of course, still haven’t done that — but they’re inching closer to making that happen, and starting a 2020-21 season they expect to close with an appearance in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
Siena, which resumed in-person activities Tuesday after experiencing its second pandemic-related pause, is on track to debut — finally — Tuesday at Drexel, a matchup scheduled to take place 27 days after Division I teams were first allowed to start playing games this season. The Siena men’s program is the only MAAC team not to play a game yet this season, and — as long as the UAlbany men are able to debut this weekend against UMBC, as scheduled — head coach Carmen Maciariello’s Saints will be the final one of the Capital Region’s four Division I basketball teams to start its season.
The Saints expect to be able to compete at a high level next Tuesday. Maciariello said the Saints aren’t heading to Drexel to use it as a trial game ahead of MAAC play — “We play to win,” the second-year head coach said — and are making sure they take the proper steps this week to put themselves in position to pivot Sunday to focusing their full attention on preparing to beat a Dragons squad that is scheduled to play seven games before it takes on the Saints.
“My thing is just making sure we’re giving 100% effort, 100% of the time,” Maciariello said.
Maciariello declined Thursday to announce a starting lineup for his team, but Camper and junior Jalen Pickett — Siena’s returning All-MAAC first-team selections — will be in that first group. Siena appears likely to use up to 10 players in its rotation, and Maciariello said he’ll bring a set idea into Tuesday’s game as to how his team’s minutes will be allocated to allow it to play the up-tempo style he wants.
“We want to be able to come out and be successful,” Maciariello said.
The Saints did that during Maciariello’s first season guiding them. Building on a 17-16 season during Jamion Christian’s lone season leading the program, Siena finished 20-10 last season and was on a 10-game winning streak when its season ended with the cancellation of the in-progress MAAC tournament due to concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Siena lost double-digit scorers from last season’s roster in Elijah Burns and Don Carey, but the Saints have ample talent around Camper and Pickett. While last season’s Siena team headed into its preseason with four obvious starters, this season’s team has legitimate battles for starting spots at three positions, and should have more quality depth than its 2019-20 version — which won the MAAC’s regular-season championship — that saw 74% of its scoring come from Burns, Camper, Carey and Pickett.
The Saints’ preseason, obviously, played out in less-than-ideal fashion because of the team’s multiple pauses of in-person activities. Still, through a “disjointed” preseason, Maciariello said the Saints “have been able to tackle everything” they need to be ready to play.
“We’re trying to get a little bit better each day,” Pickett said.
With the Saints playing next Tuesday at Drexel and their series against Canisius moved to Dec. 26-27, Maciariello said the Saints are no longer seeking to add a game next Thursday.
Besides its games against Canisius and Drexel, the Saints are scheduled for a fourth game — vs. Towson on Dec. 29 — before 2020 ends.