The Siena men’s basketball team put on their happy faces for the annual media day on Friday.
One of the challenges for head coach Mitch Buonaguro this season will be to keep everyone smiling, “a good problem to have,” senior forward O.D. Anosike said.
Per NCAA rules, the Saints were allowed to have a full practice as a team for the first time as of 5 p.m., and Buonaguro promised that workouts would be shorter by a half-hour, but much more intense than they were last season.
In that case, the 14-17 Saints’ practices were designed to preserve the health of what few players they had.
That’s not a problem this season, and Buonaguro is looking forward to developing a deep bench that can be relied upon to play quality minutes and complement his star, Anosike, who led the nation in rebounding and is a likely Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason Player of the Year.
“Last year, we wore out,” Buonaguro said. “If you can be fresh — use eight, nine guys — it probably makes you way better in February. A lot of coaches are practicing less, gearing toward the February run. That makes a lot of sense to me.”
The Saints open at home against Vermont on Friday, Nov. 9.
Of the 14 players on the roster, Anosike is the only senior, and there are 10 sophomores and freshmen.
Among the sophomore class are guard Rakeem Brookins and small forward Trenity Burdine, who were expected to start, but were out with injuries all last season.
Brookins is back after treatment and rehab from bulging and herniated disks, and Burdine is not only fully recovered from a stress fracture in his foot, but in the best shape of his young career, Buonaguro said.
Both should contend for plenty of playing time, but Burdine said he doesn’t believe that players will get down because of lack of playing time.
“That’s Coach B’s job,” Burdine said. “No matter what, I know he’s going to have the right people on the court at the right time. Every single one of us could be on the court at any time. With me, it doesn’t matter, as long as we win. I’ll support my team no matter what.”
“I want these guys to get to the point in practice where I know I can rely on four or five of them off the bench,” Buonaguro said. “The issue is, are they productive, but I’ve got to see that in practice. I’d like the starting lineup to be stable, but I’d also like to develop a bench that knows that, ‘Hey, I’m going to get in there.’ ”
“It’s going to be a phenomenal atmosphere [in practice],” Anosike said. “We’re going to have guys going as hard as they possibly can to get minutes and see playing time.”
With more depth, especially in the front court, it may be logical to assume that Anosike will have a slightly diminished role, but, in fact, Buonaguro said he wants even more production out of his center, who averaged 12.5 rebounds, tops in the nation, and 15.0 points per game last season.
Buonaguro said he wants Anosike to average 17 points, and Siena will profoundly change their offense to make that happen.
Without opening his playbook to the public, Buonaguro said the Saints will run the offense through Anosike and explore the benefit of having several good outside shooters around him.
One of those shooters will be sophomore Rob Poole, whom Buonaguro expects to improve from three-point range. But the backcourt of Brookins and sophomore Evan Hymes will also be expected to score, from outside and driving the paint.
“Last year, with guys out, you expected to play. I love that,” Poole said. “But guys are going to have to deal with their roles, because we have so many guys. I don’t think anybody’s going to have a problem with that. This team is so unselfish, so it should be OK.”
For the first time since 1998, Siena will hold an on-campus event patterned after Midnight Madness.
Siena Madness will take place at 9 p.m. on Tuesday at the Alumni Recreation Center.
Siena Madness is geared toward the students, but is free and open to the public.