LOUDONVILLE — After an offseason where he spent far more time off the court than he would’ve liked, Siena men’s basketball sophomore guard Javian McCollum is more than ready to get the 2022-23 season underway.
After breaking out as a freshman last season while playing primarily in a reserve role, McCollum is projected as Siena’s lead guard when the team opens its season Monday with a 7 p.m. road game against Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The road to reach the opener wasn’t a smooth one for McCollum, as the 6-foot-2 Fort Myers, Florida native missed court time during the summer and early fall following offseason dental work. He was medically cleared to return last month, and said Friday that he was feeling good about his health heading into the season opener.
“I think I’m getting in better shape,” McCollum said. “Just running up and down with the guys, staying in the gym and getting my shot right, getting my feet under me. So, I feel really good.”
McCollum playing at 100% will be crucial to Siena fulfilling its potential this season. As a freshman, he averaged 18.2 minutes per game, putting up 6.7 points per game while shooting 48.2% from the field, 42.6% from 3-point range and 84.2% from the free throw line.
This season, he’s likely to see a strong uptick in minutes, scoring opportunities and chances to show his value as a playmaker.
“Javian’s a great player,” graduate student center Jackson Stormo said. “He has really good instincts with the ball. He can really score, he can pass, he sees the floor exceptionally well. I’m really excited for him this year.”
“Javian is our point guard,” Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said. “We need him to be the energy giver every single day. You know, there’s two people that can’t ever have a bad day, right? That’s the head coach and the point guard.”
While Maciariello said Friday that he hadn’t locked in his starting five, when the Saints began running through sets at the start of practice, the first group of the floor was McCollum, Stormo, graduate student Andrew Platek, fifth-year senior Jayce Johnson and sophomore Jared Billups.
Though noncommittal on his starting five, Maciariello did say that the team was nearly at 100% in terms of availability heading into the Holy Cross game. The only question mark was with 6-foot-10 freshman Killian Gribben, who as of Friday was still waiting to be cleared by the training staff while dealing with what Maciareillo called “lower body pain.”
Maciariello expressed excitement as a new season dawns and the Saints try to improve from a 15-14 overall mark in 2021-22 that included a 12-8 record in MAAC play and a quarterfinal exit in the conference tournament.
“It’s always like Christmas Eve, right?” Maciariello said of the anticipation for the opener. “Just really excited to play against somebody else.”
The Saints got a chance to do some self-evaluating with a pair of closed-door scrimmages against New Hampshire and Fairleigh Dickinson, two opponents that Maciariello said gave his club two very different looks.
“We wanted to play a team that pressed and got us up and down, then we wanted to play a team that really got after you in the half court and was really physical,” Maciariello said. “We were able to understand what we needed to do in both games to come out with good learning lessons.”
And what did the Saints learn about themselves, exactly?
“The two scrimmages tell us that we can be a really good team, if we can put a full 40 minutes together,” Stormo said. “If we can come out there from the jump, be physical and want the game more than the other team, we can beat anybody.”
SCOUTING HOLY CROSS
As for the team Siena will be facing in its opener, Holy Cross is coming off a tough 2021-22 season that saw the Crusaders go 9-22 overall. That included a 1-13 start to the season, with the only win in that stretch coming against Division III Mount St. Vincent.
Siena beat Holy Cross during the middle of that stretch, a 72-59 win last December in Worcester. Maciariello said he sees a much different Holy Cross team this time around, bolstered by the additions of transfers Joe Octave (Air Force) at guard and Simon Wilbar (Indiana State) in the frontcourt, as well as freshman point guard Will Batchelder.
The most pressing issue for the Saints will likely be dealing with senior forward Gerrale Gates. The 6-foot-6 Gates was a preseason All-Patriot League selection and put up 19 points and 13 seasons against Siena last December.
“With Gates, it’s just being physical,” Stormo said. “We’ve got to make sure that we find him and make contact with him early on the offensive glass, and be able to absorb his contact without getting off-balance.”