Iona head coach Rick Pitino received a vaccination shot, then contracted COVID-19, anyway.
Saint Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway voiced concerns on the mental toll this college basketball season is having on players and coaches, and described his mental state as “extremely messed up” during the recent span of 20 days his team didn’t play.
And Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello reminded everyone that the novel coronavirus is going to continue to affect teams and this season as March approaches.
“I remember back when we had our third pause, everyone wanted to talk about, ‘What was wrong with Siena?’” Maciariello said. “Well, now there’s probably a lot of teams that have [had] numerous pauses — and there’s nothing wrong [with how they handled themselves]. It’s called a pandemic.”
Tuesday saw the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference bring together its men’s basketball coaches, and commissioner Rich Ensor, for a teleconference with reporters. That meant, for multiple hours, the league’s coaches took turns describing the difficulties and uncertainties related to trying to play a season during, as Maciariello termed it, this “crazy year.”
Pitino, as the Hall of Fame coach often does, made the biggest splash of news in announcing he’d tested positive for COVID-19 after receiving a vaccination shot.
“I’m fine. I’m out of quarantine,” the 68-year-old Pitino said. “I was very lucky. I didn’t have the severe symptoms that many people have had.”
Pitino’s team last played Dec. 23. Just as Siena did last year, Iona has experienced multiple near-consecutive pauses, and the Gaels aren’t scheduled to play again until Feb. 3 against Manhattan. Iona is 5-3 overall and 3-1 in MAAC play, and is looking at a February — reminder: the year’s shortest month — with a dozen MAAC games on its schedule.
If Iona plays all those February games as scheduled, the Gaels will average playing a game every 2.2 days after not playing for 42 days.
“I don’t have a lot of positive thoughts going forward on the situation,” Pitino said, “but we’ll do the best we can.”
Back in November, Ensor said the league’s goal was for every team to meet the 13-game minimum to be eligible to appear in the NCAA tournament. He restated that goal Tuesday, but acknowledged that the league — which has rearranged its schedule on a near-daily basis this season — isn’t a lock to meet that aim.
“We’re largely on our way there,” Ensor said. “We have a couple teams that are going to be challenged, and we’re working with them.”
On the men’s side, MAAC teams have played an overall average of 11.3 games. On the women’s side, that figure drops to 9.5. In all, eight teams — including the 2-2 Siena women’s team — have played eight or fewer games through the season’s first two months.
The MAAC tournament is scheduled to start March 9 in Atlantic City. Previously, Ensor said a team would likely disqualify itself from playing in the tournament if it’s not going to meet the 13-game minimum, since there is a severe financial penalty for a team if it earns one of the conference’s NCAA tournament automatic bids, but is not eligible to participate.
On Tuesday, Ensor said he is “relatively confident” that all 22 of the league’s teams will participate in Atlantic City.
“But it’s been that kind of year,” Ensor said, “so it’s hard to really have a guarantee here at this point.”
‘GROWING EVERY DAY’
In back-to-back weeks, Siena freshmen were named MAAC Rookie of the Week.
Then, Aidan Carpenter and Colin Golson were both quiet against Saint Peter’s last weekend for Siena. For the weekend, the duo combined for three points in 61 minutes.
And . . . that didn’t really concern Maciariello, who knows freshmen — even ones the Saints need to rely on for production off their bench — are going to struggle with consistency.
“They’re growing every day. I think a lot comes down to matchups. A lot comes down to style of play. A lot comes down to learning,” Maciariello said. “I don’t think they’ve ever experienced playing a Saint Peter’s team coached by Shaheen Holloway when they were playing high school basketball in Connecticut, Maine or Michigan.”
Carpenter and Golson each earned MAAC Rookie of the Week following weekends during which they debuted. Maciariello said the “element of surprise” each brought to the court for those two-game sets helped their cause, but the second-year head coach is confident both players can adjust now that teams are able to scout against them.
“We believe in them,” Maciariello said. “Regardless if they show up in the [box score] or not, we need their energy, we need their enthusiasm, we need their athleticism.”
Two individuals with ties to the Capital Region’s basketball scene were recently named as interim head coaches at their respective schools.
Michael DePaoli, a 2007 Saint Rose graduate, was named Tuesday as the interim head coach for the Fordham men’s basketball program. A four-year member of the Saint Rose program, DePaoli will replace Jeff Neubauer for the rest of the 2020-21 season, during which Fordham is 1-7.
Meanwhile, Justin Maxwell was named the interim head coach at SUNY Cobleskill last week. A standout at Guilderland High School, Maxwell was a walk-on for two seasons at Siena, then finished his college career at Utica.
Both SUNY Cobleskill and Fordham have announced they will conduct national searches to find their next permanent head coaches.