LOUDONVILLE — It was early this week that Jalen Pickett said he made up his mind to leave the Siena men’s basketball program and enter into the NCAA transfer portal.
A couple days passed, though, before he finalized the decision with a conversation with head coach Carmen Maciariello, a coach whose relationship with Pickett goes back to 2015, when the guard was an underclassmen at Aquinas Institute in Rochester. That conversation on Thursday, Pickett said, was “very rough” for the 21-year-old to start.
“And it was a good conversation,” Pickett said Friday in a phone interview, in between recruiting calls with the host of schools already making contact with the three-time All-MAAC first-team selection, “but what I mean by rough was it just was so tough going in there.”
Pickett continued: “I didn’t know how to go in there and actually say it, because I love Siena.”
Pickett added that he “never wanted to leave Siena,” but that he “needed to see” how he could perform at a higher level of college basketball. The 6-foot-4 guard, who was the 2019 MAAC Rookie of the Year and the 2020 MAAC Player of the Year, said that he isn’t ruling out heading to another mid-major program and that “playing time and winning” are the two most important pieces of criteria he’s looking for at his next college stop, but Pickett instantly became one of the most coveted players available in the NCAA transfer portal when he entered it at approximately 4:30 p.m. Thursday. A move to a high-major program seems all but 100% certain, and Pickett will have plenty of suitors to choose from during his recruitment.
By Friday afternoon, Pickett said he’d already talked with coaches from schools such as Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, Penn State and Washington. A call with Miami was planned, among many others this weekend, and a source with knowledge of the situation said that Baylor, which won Monday the sport’s national championship, is expected to be in contact with Pickett.
“It’s been hectic,” Pickett said. “Just been on the phone, non-stop, trying to figure out where I want to go, what I want to do. Talking with different schools.”
Pickett averaged 12.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game last season. 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.
He “expected it to be a little crazy” when he entered into the NCAA transfer portal, but Pickett said it’s also been humbling to have his cell phone constantly buzzing.
“It means I have high expectations, and it means I have to go in and work at it, wherever I go,” Pickett said.
Pickett was the third all-conference player to leave Siena this offseason, as MAAC Player of the Year Manny Camper opted to start his professional playing career and third-team selection Jordan King also entered into the NCAA transfer portal that’s bursting with more than 1,000 players in it this offseason. Siena is coming off winning a share of the MAAC regular-season championship before its season ended in the league’s quarterfinals to complete the second year at the helm for Maciariello, who declined comment Friday.
With Pickett’s departure, Siena has four open scholarships for the 2021-22 season. Siena has lost three of its four double-digit scorers from last season, but the program isn’t starting over as it looks to reload ahead of next season. Double-digit scorer Jackson Stormo and starter Nick Hopkins are slated to return, while rising sophomores Aidan Carpenter and Colin Golson, and incoming transfer Jayce Johnson all project to be ready to play major minutes. There’s excitement around incoming freshmen Jared Billups, Javian McCollum and Taihland Owens, while returning big man Kyle Young demonstrated flashes of potential last season and center Kyle Arrington could also enter into the playing rotation after sitting out the 2020-21 season.
Pickett said it was a regret that he never led Siena into the NCAA tournament. The team’s potential run to March Madness ended in 2020 when the season was abruptly canceled because of concerns related to the pandemic, while the Saints’ postseason run in 2021 lasted a single game, a loss that capped a 6-5 finish that followed a 6-0 start to the abbreviated season.
But Pickett said he was eager to take on “new challenges,” and said he’s excited that, in all likelihood, he’ll have up to two years to play at his next school. It’s expected that the NCAA will move forward this offseason with allowing all players to transfer once without needing to sit out, and the NCAA already gave all athletes one additional year of playing eligibility because of issues related to the pandemic.
In making his decision of where to finish his college career, Pickett said he has no firm timeline.
“I’m going to take my time,” Pickett said.