Rob Poole wasn’t ready for his closeup.
He was caught a little off guard as he slipped through the hallway toward the Siena basketball lockerroom on Tuesday and was intercepted by a bunch of reporters and TV cameras.
It didn’t get any better for Poole when he was informed that head coach Jimmy Patsos had just compared him to the Fonz.
“Wait. Who’s the Fonz?” said the junior, who was born well after “Happy Days” ended its run.
Ready or not, the young Saints will be in front of the cameras on Thanksgiving Day.
Siena returns to the Old Spice Classic at DisneyWorld in Orlando, Fla., this week as the Saints continue a rugged non-conference schedule that includes nine of 11 games on the road to open the season.
It was only five years ago, but the Saints went to Old Spice with vastly different goals in 2008, a talented, veteran team looking to perhaps knock off one or two opponents from the power conferences for valuable seeding capital later when the NCAA tournament field would be picked.
Siena has no such delusions this time.
The Saints will play nationally ranked Memphis on Thursday, LSU or Saint Joseph’s on Friday and then who knows on Sunday, after a Saturday off.
Patsos would like to take the team to Cape Canaveral, but the players have some say in the decision and prefer a day at the beach, none of which these games will be.
What they certainly will be, though, is an important step in the continuing maturation process for a young team relying heavily on freshmen who are quickly being thrust into never-before-experienced spotlights, like the Purdue game on Sunday that was televised on the Big Ten Network.
Thursday’s game will be shown live on a much broader platform — ESPN2 — at a time, 6:30 p.m., when Patsos hopes that people will be planting their broader platforms on the couch for some post-dinner hoops.
“I hope by 6 o’clock people are tired of football and turkey and want to go to basketball,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for our fans and our team.
“The [value of the] exposure . . . you can’t look at our record.”
OK, so let’s look at their record.
The Saints are 2-4 and very well could be 2-7 by the time they come back from Florida for more road fun, a weekend in Buffalo to play Niagara and Canisius.
The 2008-09 team went 17-0 at home and had a 27-8 record that included a double-overtime win over Ohio State in the NCAA tournament.
Three of the eight losses came early in the season at Old Spice, to Tennessee, Wichita State and Oklahoma State. In large part because Siena took on such a difficult schedule, the Saints got a No. 9 seed for the tournament.
The field for this year’s Old Spice also includes Oklahoma State, Butler and Washington State.
If the Saints lack many of the advantages and known quantities from the 2008-09 team, they do share this: a willingness to play the big boys.
The Memphis Tigers are ranked 21st on the AP Top 25 and 19th on the USA Today Coaches poll.
“Maybe it’s a good draw, because we’ll get another team that’s not as good as Memphis when they’re a little tired,” Patsos said. “If you’re asking me if I’m afraid of Saint Joe’s and them, I don’t want to use this for fodder, but we’ll play anybody, anytime, anywhere.
“But you’ve got to play three games. This isn’t fun. And that game against Memphis is important, because nobody thinks we have a chance to win, but I think we do. If we can handle them early, we can give them a good game, and when you give someone a good game, then you have a chance to win.”
In spite of the schedule, the Saints are on a little bit of a roll.
They pulled out a 72-70 win over St. Bonaventure on freshman point guard Marquis Wright’s wild runner just before the buzzer, came back from down 10 with less than four minutes to win at Cornell and played Purdue tough at Mackey Arena before losing, 81-73.
For his efforts, Wright earned Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rookie of the week.
“We’re playing these teams very tough, and we have to keep it up,” he said. “We can prove to a lot of people that we can at least play with these teams.”
“They have a lot of NBA prospects, they’re all studs,” Poole said of Memphis. “But what we have to use these tournaments for is to get ready for the conference schedule.
“I think the team believes that we can beat Memphis. They’re a great team, but if you match their intensity, you can stay in the game.”
Poole said it’s important not to get caught up in the cameras, bright lights and national exposure on a day when many people will be camped in front of their TVs.
Siena’s program has fallen off the radar to some degree in the last three years, and an ESPN2 game against Memphis has plenty of potential to persuade the public that the Saints are still around.
“When we were on the Big Ten Network, I got a text from my mom after the game saying, ‘You looked horrible out there. You looked like you were mentally down or something,’ ” Poole said. “And I’m thinking the next time I better keep a smile on my face the entire game, because I don’t want to look like that. But you have to stay together as a team, you have to have more positive energy as a team, because people are watching you.”
Siena usually makes the western New York swing later in the season, but each MAAC team is in a rotation to allow the Buffalo teams to play at home early, and this happened to be Siena’s year for the early ship west.
That could only compound what would’ve been a rough schedule heavy on travel, anyway.
What’s at risk is that the Saints could come out of the end of it with double digits in the loss column before the New Year. What’s to gain is a tougher, road-hardened team heading into the bulk of the MAAC season.
“The Old Spice probably is the second best in the country behind Maui; to be part of that is great, and you hope it helps you,” Patsos said. “The storm is always fun when you survive it in the boat, after it’s over. I don’t want it to be a perfect storm. I don’t want this to knock them back.
“I didn’t like the end of that movie.”
FOR THE RECORD
Liz Maloy’s job just got tougher. Or not.
For last Saturday’s column about the former Holy Names/Georgetown star, I was under the impression that the Troy Turkey Trot women’s 5k record was 16:27, set 17 years ago by Cheri Goddard, but it’s actually 16:03, set by Christine Bergeron (Merrill) in 1983.
Thanks to Ed Neiles for digging that up.
In a text informing her of the mistake, Maloy said, “I don’t foresee 16:03 then.”