LOUDONVILLE — Jalen Pickett showed up at Siena College as a player with neither a clear position to play nor outsized expectations to meet.
Three years later, his exit from the program represents what became both a predictable conclusion to his Siena men’s basketball career, and a severe blow to the Saints and the MAAC.
Verbalcommits.com was the first Thursday to report that Pickett had entered into the NCAA transfer portal, a development a Siena athletic department spokesman confirmed. Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello and Pickett each didn’t respond Thursday to requests for comment. While it’s possible for a player to enter into the NCAA transfer portal and return to his current team, the Saints quickly removed Pickett from the team’s online active roster, then later issued a four-paragraph press release regarding the departure of the 6-foot-4 guard from Rochester.
“We thank Jalen for his contributions to Siena basketball, and wish him the best in his future endeavors,” a quote from Maciariello reads in the school’s statement.
An All-MAAC first-team selection in each of his three seasons at Siena and the MAAC Player of the Year in 2020, Pickett immediately becomes one of the most-intriguing players available in a crowded transfer portal that’s already zoomed past 1,000 players despite the 2020-21 season only technically ending this past Monday with Baylor’s win against Gonzaga in the national championship game. It’s expected that all players will gain the ability this offseason to transfer once without needing to sit out a season, and it’ll be surprising if Pickett doesn’t end up next season in the starting lineup of a high-major program.
Last season, as Siena won a share of the MAAC’s regular-season crown before exiting from the league’s tournament in the quarterfinals, Pickett averaged 12.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game despite dealing with a hamstring injury for the majority of the season.
Pickett was the MAAC Rookie of the Year in 2019 and the MAAC Player of the Year in 2020. For his Siena career, Pickett averaged 15 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and more than a block and a steal per game. He scored 1,139 points in his Siena career.
Manny Camper — who left the Siena program last month to start his professional basketball career — was the 2021 MAAC Player of the Year, as both Camper and Pickett were All-MAAC first-team selections. Jordan King was a third-team selection, and he already entered into the NCAA transfer portal as Siena now heads toward a 2021-22 season that will see the Saints need to massively reload if they’re going to stay near the top of the league’s standings.
A graduate of Aquinas Institute who then did a post-graduate year at Ohio’s SPIRE Institute, Pickett had few scholarship offers when he verbally committed as the first Siena recruit for then-head coach Jamion Christian in 2018. Pickett developed an instant bond with Christian, but his relationship with Maciariello — then a Siena assistant — played a major role in Pickett’s recruitment to Siena.
Back in 2015, Maciariello — then a George Washington assistant coach — was the first college coach to contact Pickett, who played for the same Albany City Rocks AAU program that Maciariello played for as a teenager and coached with for multiple years. Not long after Christian left Siena and Maciariello was hired as his replacement, Pickett admitted he “probably wouldn’t be [back at Siena] if it was anyone else” leading the program.
Still, there were rumors after Pickett’s freshman season that he might opt to transfer to play against higher-level competition. He returned to the Saints for his sophomore season, though, after declaring for and withdrawing from the NBA draft, but rumblings persisted last offseason that Pickett could look to head elsewhere to continue his college career.
Those types of rumors, though, circle each offseason around nearly every player in college basketball at this point. The way the sport is moving, a men’s basketball program should expect anywhere from a third to half — maybe more — of its roster to change every offseason. Coaches, in essence, need to re-recruit their roster after every season, and one could argue Maciariello successfully helped recruit Pickett to Siena prior to each of the last three seasons.
Maciariello, who signed a contract extension through 2026 earlier this offseason, and his coaching staff now have four open scholarships for the 2021-22 season. Talent remains on the roster, but the loss of Pickett significantly changes the ceiling — and the floor — of next season’s Saints, unless Siena is somehow able to add a player of similar caliber to the one it just lost. Siena won 68.1% of its games during Maciariello’s first two seasons, and appeared headed to the NCAA tournament in 2020 before the sport’s season was prematurely ended because of restrictions related to COVID-19. It’s difficult to see the Saints winning at that level next season without Pickett, but more difficult to see Maciariello accepting lowered expectations because of a loss of personnel.
When Pickett arrived at Siena, he projected to start his college career playing as somewhat of a secondary ball-handler. A preseason injury to Khalil Richard thrust Pickett into the role as Christian’s lead guard, and Pickett excelled in the Saints’ attack that was pick-and-roll heavy.
Now, a couple seasons after his starring freshman campaign, Pickett leaves Siena as one of the program’s most-accomplished individual players — and the Saints need to find a way not to fall back in the MAAC pack after three consecutive winning seasons.