Albany County

Siena men’s basketball pauses again, postpones remaining December games; sophomore Harris leaves program

Gary Harris is shown during a game last season. Harris left the Siena program Friday. (Gazette file photo)
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Gary Harris is shown during a game last season. Harris left the Siena program Friday. (Gazette file photo)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, College Sports, Sports

LOUDONVILLE — A possible starter for the Siena men’s basketball team left the program Friday.

And the program announced it can’t play any games, anyway, likely through the end of this novel coronavirus pandemic-ravaged year of 2020.

For the third time since mid-November, Siena’s flagship athletic program needed to pause all in-person team activities “following multiple positive COVID-19 test results,” according to a statement issued from the school’s athletic department. A department spokesperson said the team last practiced Thursday and the school learned Friday of the positive tests.

MAAC and NCAA guidelines call for a 14-day pause of in-person team activities following a positive test among a program’s Tier 1 personnel, which includes coaches, players and staff members. While unconfirmed, that would suggest Siena will likely not be able to play its Jan. 1-2 games against Monmouth as scheduled because the Saints will need time on the practice floor before they can play, but the school only announced Friday that its four remaining games in December — next Tuesday at Drexel, a two-game series the following weekend vs. Canisius and Dec. 29 vs. Towson — have been postponed.  

Siena athletic director John D’Argenio and Saints men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello did not respond to requests for comment.

“Obviously, this is disappointing for our team and our loyal fans, but we must put the health and well-being of our student-athletes above everything else,” Maciariello said in the statement Siena issued. “The team has been working hard, and this is just another obstacle that we will overcome. We can’t wait to get back on the court and play Siena basketball.”

Each of the Capital Region’s four Division I basketball programs have experienced multiple pandemic-related pauses of in-person team activities since returning to their campuses for their respective fall semesters, and both Siena teams are currently paused. Assuming the UAlbany men’s basketball team plays UMBC as scheduled this weekend, the Siena men’s team will be the only one of the four programs not to play yet this season.

Whenever Siena is able to take to the court this season, it will do so without sophomore Gary Harris who emerged as a valuable contributor during the second half of the 2019-20 campaign. Harris entered Friday into the NCAA Transfer Portal after averaging 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds last season.

Maciariello said earlier this month that Harris was competing with freshman Aidan Carpenter for a starting spot on the wing this season for the Saints. Harris became a starter midway through last season, and his insertion into the starting lineup came a game before the Saints won 13 of 14 games to end their season. Prior to starting college, he had multiple high-major offers, but the 6-foot-7 wing player instead opted to become the first official Saints signing following Maciariello’s hiring as head coach in 2019.

“We thank Gary for his contributions to the program,” Maciariello said in Siena’s statement. “We are facing unprecedented and challenging times, and being closer to home is what’s best for Gary at this moment.”  

Harris — who joined Dana Tate as the second scholarship Saint to exit the program this preseason — leaves Siena in good academic standing. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Siena won the 2019-20 MAAC regular-season championship and looked on its way to claiming an NCAA tournament bid in March prior to the sport shutting down as concerns mounted related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Saints were this season’s preseason No. 1 in the MAAC and their roster includes the reigning player of the year in Jalen Pickett, who confirmed last month he had tested positive for COVID-19 in November.

MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor described it Friday night as “a problem” that the league’s projected top team hasn’t participated in the 2020-21 season yet, “but one that we’re going to continue to work through.” Even after a week during which Ensor said the league office spent time every day working on some type of scheduling matter, the commissioner — who, prior to the sport’s opening day of Nov. 25, made clear the goal for MAAC teams should be to meet the minimum 13 games needed to be able to participate in the NCAA tournament — said the MAAC “still has maneuverability” to help Siena reschedule its contests. 

Ensor said the league will have an update Monday on Siena’s schedule.

“We said from the get-go that we were going to have disruptions, and we built the schedule in a way that allows us to try to compensate for the disruptions,” Ensor said.

Adding mid-week games during the conference season, Ensor said, is increasingly likely for the Saints. Before the season started, the league’s schedule included two bye weeks for each of its teams — one of those two bye weeks is league-wide — so that the conference had ample available dates to use for postponed games.

“And,” Ensor said, “they’re all starting to fill in, frankly.”

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