LOUDONVILLE — It’s an ambitious goal, and one that demonstrates how head coach Carmen Maciariello wants to see the Siena men’s basketball program evolve.
“I want to be able to score within the first nine seconds,” Maciariello said as the Saints wrapped up their second week of five of spring workouts.
It’s an offseason staple for basketball coaches to promise to play faster. What’s unique about Maciariello’s revamped Saints, though, is they are actually built to do just that — and to play the style of basketball the head coach has always wanted to utilize since he took the program’s reigns in March 2019 after serving the prior season as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
With the Saints’ personnel turnover this offseason, only one scholarship player — center Kyle Young, a 6-foot-9 rising junior — remains from the roster Maciariello inherited from predecessor Jamion Christian. Siena lost three all-conference performers this offseason with the exits of Manny Camper, Jordan King and Jalen Pickett, but Maciariello has reloaded the Saints with a bevy of the long-and-athletic perimeter players he covets. Siena won’t easily move past the personnel losses it sustained, but the new-look Saints will look and play more like the team Maciariello has envisioned coaching since he took control of the program.
“I don’t want to pull the ball out top every possession,” Maciariello said. “I felt we had to play slower this past year to get the ball where we needed to get it.”
That mostly worked for the Saints, as they won a share of the MAAC regular-season crown before their loss in the MAAC quarterfinals. Siena, though, didn’t have much other choice in terms of how it played offense with the way its roster developed last season. Until Nick Hopkins’ late-season injury, Siena’s best lineup included two 6-foot-0 guards, which meant opportunities weren’t ample for Pickett to pass ahead to at-the-rim finishers in transition — and, once fast-break chances were played out, Siena often had to execute deep into the shot clock. The Saints’ average possession length, per kenpom.com’s database, ranked as one of the bottom-50 slowest in the country in a season that saw the Saints’ per-game scoring dip from 72.2 points per game in the 2019-20 season to 67.6 last season.
Next season’s Saints? They’re likely to have fewer long-range shooting options, but the number of players capable of handling the ball, attacking the rim and finishing in a fast-break setting has grown. Each of the four players Maciariello has signed for the Saints this offseason are either 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 perimeter players, and those players are in addition to a pair of incoming players Siena signed last year.
“We have eight guys that can play 1 through 3 — maybe even a couple of them 1 through 4,” Maciariello said.
Offensive ability matters when determining a player’s versatility, but defensive range is more important. Anthony Gaines (Northwestern) and Jayce Johnson (Middle Tennessee) are the new Saints capable of defending four positions in the MAAC. The combination of the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Gaines and the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Johnson gives Siena a pair of wings capable of causing defensive havoc before dunking in two points on the other end.
“I want to be able to pressure the ball and keep it in front. I don’t want other teams to be comfortable,” said Maciariello, whose team ranked fifth in defensive efficiency in MAAC play last season. “We’ll definitely make a point of it in the offseason to be able to pressure the ball and to keep guys in front.”
Key to that has been a focus on conditioning the last two weeks for the on-campus Saints. Maciariello said the Saints have been in the weight room four days each week and spending five on the court, and that skills work all includes a conditioning facet to it.
“We need to be in the best shape we can be in, and understand what that feels like,” said Maciariello, whose team — like many this past season — lacked ample on-court practice time because of issues related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Without Pickett — who remains in the NCAA transfer portal and is generating interest from a number of high-major programs — Siena lacks a proven point guard. Maciariello, though, said he’s excited about the number of options Siena possesses in terms of players that can “make plays off the bounce” for themselves and others.
“That’s how we want to play,” Maciariello said. “We want multiple guys on the floor that can push the ball.”