LOUDONVILLE — Decades into his career as a Division I head coach, and back for a second tour with the Siena women’s basketball’s program, Jim Jabir said Tuesday that the first official practice of a preseason still holds special meaning.
“Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I’m really excited,” Jabir said as the Saints started their first practice of the 2021-22 season. “I really like this group [and] when you’re coaching, you’re always building something, so this is the beginning of something.”
Jabir was hired in April to replace Ali Jaques, whose contract was not renewed after nine seasons following the 2020-21 season. Jabir first coached the Saints from 1987-90, and coached at four different schools before returning earlier this year to Siena.
The Saints start their regular season Nov. 9 at Binghamton, and the group Jabir will bring into that game is a mix of inherited players and newcomers. Jabir, though, said he likes the way his players don’t see themselves as belonging to a particular segment of the team.
“They really like each other. Usually, when you take over a team, it’s full of problems and issues and cliques — and we don’t have any of those,” Jabir said. “They’re the tightest group that I’ve ever been around. There’s no hierarchy — you know, seniors and freshmen. They all get along and they let me coach them hard, and they’re open to it.”
In an abbreviated season that featured a constantly changing schedule and several pauses related to COVID-19 protocols, Siena finished 4-9 last season. The Saints’ last winning season was their 2017-18 campaign, which saw them finish 17-14.
Lala Watts, Siena’s senior center, said she appreciated how Jabir was “patient” with the Saints during their offseason workouts, which saw Siena’s new coaching staff start to implement its defensive and offensive concepts.
“I think that was really, really important for us,” Watts said of the Saints’ offseason sessions. “He is teaching us things that are really new for every one of us, and I think that’s pretty exciting.”
Jabir praised the Saints for their effort in the offseason. With the official preseason starting and the team able to spend more hours on the court, Jabir said the key is for the Saints’ focus and intensity to stay at a high level.
“They’re trying really hard,” Jabir said. “We have a long way to go, but I’m excited about the prospects.”
AWAY FROM HOME
Siena plays a Nov. 6 exhibition game at its home UHY Center against Division II Dominican.
Then, the Saints won’t play at home for quite some time.
Siena’s first regular-season home game is its Nov. 27 matchup vs. Duquesne, a matchup that follows four road games to start the Saints’ campaign.
Siena’s home opener starts a stretch of nearly two months that will see the Saints not leave the state. Starting with its Nov. 27 game against Duquesne, Siena will play seven home games and road contests at UAlbany, Iona, Manhattan, Marist and Syracuse before playing a Jan. 20 game at Rider in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.