The playbook is thin.
“Simple,” is how Siena College men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello described it, actually.
And that’s largely because it’s August, after all.
But there’s more to it than that for the Saints as they get set to play Saturday in the first of their three exhibition games as part of a trip to Italy that Maciariello wants to use to solidify the tone of the team’s season.
The phrase Maciariello has been pushing this summer with his group is “collective unity,” a slogan meant to serve as a goal the Saints need to achieve on and off the court in order to reach their aim of playing in the 2023 NCAA tournament. The sightseeing and team trips to places such as the Colosseum and Sistine Chapel is meant to help foster camaraderie, but how the Saints interact amongst themselves on the court in their trio of games will be telling.
“What we’ve been tinkering with right now is a couple of simple concepts,” Maciariello said a couple days before his team departed for Italy, “and making sure they’re just understanding how we want to play.”
That direction on how to play, in short: together.
That’s something the Saints didn’t always do during an up-and-down 2021-22 season that saw the club surge after a 2-6 start before a disappointing three-game losing streak to close the campaign. Within MAAC play, Siena ranked last in offensive efficiency despite finishing in third place, and the product — even when it was successful — wasn’t exactly eye-pleasing.
“We were a heavy isolation team,” Maciariello said, “and that led to poor numbers and lack of flow.”
Really starting to develop that “flow” is a top goal in games against Stella Azzurra (Saturday), Pallacanestro Crema (next Friday) and UCC Assigeco Piacenza (next Saturday). That doesn’t mean the offense will hum in those games — again, it’s August — but Maciariello wants to see the Saints utilizing their core concepts, playing off each other and understanding how the pieces of their revamped roster fit together.
“We’ve been having those types of moments in practice, which has been really good,” Maciariello said.
Siena won’t have its full complement of players available during its exhibition games. Likely starting lead guard Javian McCollum made the trip to Italy, but isn’t expected to play following recent “dental work,” while perimeter players Taihland Owens and Jordan Kellier didn’t go to Italy with the team. Maciariello said Owens — a sophomore who missed all of last season — is home in Georgia continuing to rehabilitate from knee injuries, while Kellier didn’t travel to Italy due to a visa issue.
The rest of the Saints should all see chances to show what they can do on the court. After a stop-and-start first season with Siena due to injuries, Jayce Johnson — a 6-foot-5, fifth-year perimeter player — is a Saint that Maciariello described as “rejuvenated,” and ready to show what he’s capable of bringing to the program.
“And we’ve been playing him at the point, too, which has been awesome,” Maciariello said.
Johnson said “competing” is the part of the Saints’ trip to Italy he was most anticipating, but more from the sense of building on-court cohesion with his teammates than anything else.
“It’s more about just getting the concepts down, building our identity and what it is that we want to do on the basketball court,” Johnson said. “It’s less about plays and more about building the foundation for what it is we want to do throughout the year.”
Maciariello called the Saints’ Italy trip a “first step along the road map” for a team that envisions itself competing for a MAAC championship next March. A successful step forward, Maciariello said, will mean the Saints used their time in Europe to strengthen that “collective unity” among their coaches, players and staff members.
“When you have a special season,” Maciariello said, “that’s all in alignment.”