Roster building a ‘constant process’ for Maciariello, Siena men’s basketball

Carmen Maciariello is shown during a 2019-20 practice.

Carmen Maciariello is shown during a 2019-20 practice.

Rising sophomore Colin Golson informed Siena men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello on Thursday that he intended to enter into the NCAA transfer portal.

Friday, Golson made that official.

On Saturday morning, Maciariello said he had “basically already filled that scholarship” opening for the Saints, a commitment the coach said he expects to become public at some point in the next few days.

That’s college basketball in 2021, especially in this offseason that features the debut of a major rule change related to transfers that was adopted following a season played amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a constant process with making sure your guys are all in the right spot, and, for me, I think the biggest thing is you have to build rosters,” Maciariello said Saturday morning, approximately 16 hours after the Saints announced Golson’s departure, during a teleconference. “That’s today’s game, especially at the mid-major college basketball level. If you can’t recruit and you can’t build a roster, then you’re going to be in trouble. I have complete faith in my ability, and my staff’s ability, to build rosters and to build teams.”

This offseason has put that to the test, as both Siena’s roster and coaching staff have seen significant reshuffling. Two assistant coaches are no longer on the staff, and one of those positions remains open. Meanwhile, four (now former) Saints have headed into the NCAA transfer portal this offseason, including star Jalen Pickett who committed to play for Penn State of the Big Ten Conference — and Siena, which won a share of the MAAC regular-season championship in 2020-21, also lost some players to graduation, such as reigning MAAC Player of the Year Manny Camper.

So far, the Saints’ rebuild has been a productive one — “I love our roster,” Maciariello said — with Siena adding three immediately eligible-to-play transfers in Anthony Gaines, Jayce Johnson and Colby Rogers, plus another incoming freshman (Taihland Owens) to join the program’s prior two high school commits (Jared Billups and Javian McCollum) signed last year. Still, there’s no easy way to replace stars such as Camper and Pickett, and the loss of players like Golson — a 6-foot-7 forward who showed flashes of his high potential during what turned out to be a one-year career as a Saint — doesn’t make that task any easier.

But the NCAA transfer portal — which Maciariello described as “unfortunate” — is here to stay, and so is the new rule that allows all college basketball players the opportunity to transfer once without needing to sit out. That change has undoubtedly played into the astonishing 1,500-plus players listed on verbalcommits.com’s Division I transfer list, and Maciariello said he thinks the pandemic has also played a role, both because it made some players want to play closer to home to be near family and because restrictions related to the pandemic made this past season’s college experience an unusual — and, often, dour — one for athletes at all schools, including Siena where the men’s basketball program needed to pause in-person team activities several times and didn’t even play its first game until Jan. 3.

Whatever the reasons are for a transferring player’s departure, though, what appears to be a growing constant for mid-major programs such as Siena is the expectation that a lineup or so of players will leave after each season. That’s become the nature of the sport, and the ability to handle personnel turnover has become as important of a skill as any for a coach; in Maciariello’s first two seasons at Siena, the Saints won at least a share of the MAAC regular-season championship each year . . . and had 19 different players, at one point or another, on scholarship.

Like Maciariello, new UAlbany head coach Dwayne Killings often speaks of the value of building relationships in recruiting, and working to form connections that go beyond the court. Such relationships can help a coach keep a player — like, say, Maciariello with Pickett ahead of the player’s sophomore and junior seasons, which followed offseasons that many figured would see the All-MAAC player head elsewhere — but they don’t guarantee that result every time.

And, when a player moves along to a program at a higher-level conference?

Killings, who was Marquette’s associate head coach prior to his mid-March hire at UAlbany, said that’s not entirely a negative for a program. It hurts to lose a top player, sure, but there are benefits for a program’s — and coaching staff’s — reputation when a player is able to make such a move.

“The reality of the business says [a player] may [transfer], and if he chooses to go transfer and he goes to the Big East, let’s say, that means we did a pretty good job identifying talent and the kid performed at a high level,” Killing said last month.

In other words?

“We did our job, to some extent,” Killings continued. “It’s not necessarily always a terrible thing that a kid leaves your program to go somewhere bigger because his talent allows him to; it means you did a pretty good job of developing and identifying.”

And helping, too. On Saturday morning, Maciariello referenced how former Siena player Don Carey found himself in an interesting spot a couple offseasons ago, when Jamion Christian departed Siena to become the head coach at George Washington. Carey — as transfer rules dictated, at the time — sat out Christian’s season at Siena after following the coach from Mount St. Mary’s, then was eligible to play once Christian had left. If he transferred again right away, he’d likely need to sit out again — so, instead, he stayed to play at Siena for one season, earned his undergraduate degree in his third college year and headed after the season to Georgetown without needing to sit out since he was a graduate transfer.

“I was the one that told him we’d get him graduated so he could leave, so that wasn’t a surprise to me,” Maciariello said. “I controlled that; that’s called roster management.”

From that move, Maciariello said he also “wanted Don to have the control and the power,” and Carey utilized that after the season — and the coach saw that as a win-win situation.

“Can you fault a kid for going to Georgetown, who is from the Maryland area, and play in the Big East — and also work on a master’s degree from Georgetown?” Maciariello said. “I think that’s pretty cool.”

As soon as Carey left?

Siena recruited Nick Hopkins, a graduate transfer from Belmont that will be back at Siena for the 2021-22 season and is someone Maciariello counts as one of the team’s core players. In short, Hopkins is an example of the type of pick-up mid-major coaches need to be able to make to keep their programs humming.

And, after producing a 32-15 record in his first two seasons at Siena, that’s what Maciariello plans to do.

“We have the ability to always build a roster that can win a league [championship],” Maciariello said. “We expect to win the league every year, and nothing changes [in terms of that depending on] people that come or people that go. . . . Whoever’s wearing the jersey, that’s what’s going to be expected.”

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