LOUDONVILLE — Monmouth men’s basketball head coach King Rice said it “hurts all of us” in the MAAC that Siena stars Manny Camper and Jalen Pickett haven’t played yet this season.
That changes at 3 p.m. Sunday when the Saints host Monmouth at Alumni Recreation Center. While Rice heaped praise upon Camper and Pickett — both were All-MAAC first-team selections last season, and Pickett was the league’s player of the year — as two of the best players the mid-major conference has to offer, the veteran Monmouth coach had nice things to say about another two Saints as well.
Sophomore Jordan King, Rice said, showed “incredible” promise during his freshman season with the Saints. King averaged 4.7 points in 18.1 minutes per game last season, and Rice said he expects the Albany native’s production to go up this season.
“That kid’s going to be a really good player in our league,” Rice said.
Rice had familiarity with Siena’s King from trying to recruit him to Monmouth. Graduate student Nick Hopkins, Rice said, is a player he hasn’t seen much of to this point — but the Monmouth coach said that isn’t necessary for him to know he’ll be impressed with the 6-foot-0 guard.
Hopkins is a transfer from Belmont, and Rice said that means two things are true of the guard.
“He knows how to play,” Rice said, “and he knows how to win.”
During Hopkins’ four seasons as a member of Belmont’s program, Belmont won 100 games and lost 29.
“So I don’t need to see anything else about him,” Rice said. “I know he’s a winner.”
While Rice — and every opposing MAAC coach — knows the focus ahead of playing Siena needs to be on slowing Camper and Pickett, the Monmouth coach said he has a lot of respect for the pieces that Saints head coach Carmen Maciariello has been able to assemble around his top stars.
“Carmen’s not just out there giving guys scholarships,” Rice said.
Rice added: “He’s doing an incredible job.”
BACK ON CAMPUS
There won’t be 5,000-plus fans in the stands at Siena’s home opener.
No fans are allowed at Siena home games at the moment because of restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic — and, because of that, Siena is playing its home games at its on-campus Alumni Recreation Center, where a capacity crowd is limited to 2,148 spectators when such visitors are allowed.
Siena hasn’t played a MAAC game on campus since February 1997 when it hosted Loyola. Since Siena made the full-time move to playing its home games in downtown Albany, the last home game it played away from Times Union Center was in November 2017 when it played an exhibition contest against Division II Le Moyne.
Siena lost that matchup against Le Moyne, a defeat that came before the start of a campaign that is remembered in Siena’s official archives as an 0-24 season. The Saints won eight of 32 games it played that season, but needed to forfeit its wins as part of the punishment related to NCAA violations committed during the final seasons of Jimmy Patsos leading the program.
From that 2017-18 season, only one player — Camper — remains with the Siena program.
Siena went 14-0 on its home court last season as the Saints finished 20-10 in the pandemic-shortened campaign.
STORMO WANTS TO MAKE IMPACT
Junior big Jackson Stormo is from Santa Barbara, California, and spent his first two college seasons at Pepperdine.
So before he entered into the NCAA transfer portal?
“Coming from pretty far away, I had never actually heard of the MAAC before,” Stormo said.
Siena’s November and December without games, and three separate pauses of in-person team activities, though, afforded Stormo plenty of time to scout the conference. He said the MAAC is “definitely a stronger conference” than he originally thought, and that he’s eager to play a role for the Saints as they look to defend their MAAC regular-season title.
“I’m just ready to go out there and do whatever I can to help,” said the 6-foot-9 Stormo, who scored 31 points and grabbed 38 rebounds in limited action during his two seasons at Pepperdine.
That senior guard Deion Hammond, an All-MAAC first-team selection last season, is leading Monmouth at 19.6 points per game this season is no surprise.
“He’s one of the best guards in the league,” Maciariello said.
But what’s been critical in helping Monmouth win three of its first four MAAC games is the play of senior George Papas, who Maciariello labeled “one of the most improved players in the league” after a start that’s seen the 6-foot-5 guard average 15.2 points per game and shoot 48.7% from 3-point territory.
Papas averaged 8.5 points per game off Monmouth’s bench last season. Rice said Monmouth’s improved ball movement has helped Papas find the right shots.
“And his confidence is through the roof,” Rice said.