LOUDONVILLE — Carmen Maciariello reached out Wednesday with a simple request via text message, asking his players to describe their mood in one word.
A sample of response?
It, and this is an understatement, obviously hasn’t been an ideal preseason for the Siena men’s basketball program.
For starters, the Saints are still in their preseason, nearly a month after they originally planned to open their 2020-21 campaign.
Then, there have been the losses of three players from the program in the last month, the most recent being sophomore wing player Gary Harris — a starter during the second half of last season — who entered last Friday into the NCAA transfer portal.
Still, Maciariello expressed confidence Wednesday during an interview with The Daily Gazette about his Saints who were picked to win the MAAC this season.
Sure, little has been easy in the last nine months for Siena, which was on a 10-game winning streak and seemingly on its way to competing in the NCAA tournament last March before the season was halted because of concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. After missing out on spring and summer workouts, the Saints made it through their limited fall workouts — a stretch that amounts to the NCAA’s pre-preseason — without issue, then have had three separate instances since mid-November in which they’ve had members of the program’s Tier 1 personnel test positive for COVID-19, necessitating pauses of in-person activities for the team.
Those nearly consecutive trio of pauses arrived for the Saints just as they were fully gearing up to start playing games. Instead, the Saints are one of a few teams eligible to play games this season that haven’t played yet, and are now targeting a Jan. 3 game against Monmouth as their opener.
“But this is another opportunity to show our resolve and resilience. Any team that wins a championship this year is going to have to be resilient,” said Maciariello, a second-year head coach whose team’s latest pause started Friday. “So nothing’s changed in that regard.”
Maciariello said the Saints still aren’t sure when they’ll be able to resume full in-person team activities. He expects, though, that the Saints — who need to play 13 games to be eligible for the NCAA tournament — will head into their opening games against Monmouth with a roster made up of players in “various conditions” in terms of their conditioning since players who previously tested positive for COVID-19 — such as star junior Jalen Pickett, who confirmed in November he’d battled the illness — don’t need to quarantine and are able to work out.
“So the major thing is, if we’re able to play those [Monmouth] games — and it looks like we will — then it’s about us being mindful about who is playing what minutes,” Maciariello said.
The loss of Harris, coupled with the dismissal of junior Dana Tate, does cut into Siena’s depth as it looks at a start to the 2020-21 season including four MAAC games in seven days. Maciariello said he’s “not really worried about” the Saints’ depth, but said that some players will get chances early in the season they likely weren’t heading toward a few weeks back — such as freshman Bennett Kwiecinski, a 6-foot-8 wing player.
“But I think he can learn through playing,” Maciariello said. “I think some of these guys will get thrown into the fire now, and that will help us in the long run.”
Maciariello said junior Rob Mahala — a walk-on who is a captain for the Saints — likely will get some minutes, while star senior Manny Camper — Siena’s other captain — could shift more often to the 3 from his usual 4 with Harris and Tate gone. Siena’s stable of guards, led by Pickett, remains strong. Freshman forward Colin Golson constantly earns praise from Maciariello because of his athleticism and motor, while the head coach is optimistic regarding what centers Harrison Curry, Jackson Stormo and Kyle Young can offer the Saints.
“So we still have options,” Maciariello said.
And Maciariello said they’ll be on display in 2021 when the Saints are able to start competing.
“These guys,” Maciariello said, “will be ready to go.”