LOUDONVILLE — This past week delivered a lot of clues as to where the Siena College men’s basketball program is headed.
Weeks before that, though, new Siena head coach Jamion Christian sent the first signal.
That's when Christian landed his first commit as the Saints’ new head coach. That player was Jalen Pickett, a 6-foot-4 swingman from Rochester, whose commitment sent a clear message to other players within the Albany City Rocks AAU program he competed with for several years.
“Oh, wow. Pick’s going to win there.”
That is how City Rocks founder Jim Hart saw it. Pickett isn’t the flashiest of players, but he stars at doing the little things winning teams need done. Going hard after Pickett was a sign Christian valued that — and, perhaps more importantly, valued immediately forming a connection with a powerhouse City Rocks program based in Siena’s backyard that the school often struggled to connect with in past recruiting cycles.
“It’s an organization that is run well and that’s prominent, right? I think any time you want to be a successful organization, you want to be able to be branded with other successful organizations," said Christian, who is nearly two months into his tenure as the Saints’ head coach.
“If you’re a candy company, you want to be branded with the best candy companies, right? That just makes a lot of sense. It’s just something where I wanted to reach out and take care of our home base. I think that’s vitally important.”
That relationship took another step forward this past week when Christian’s coaching staff was announced. Among the staff’s four members, three of them — Ryan Devlin, Harley Fuller and Carmen Maciariello — have strong ties with a City Rocks program that generally features the best prep talent from Albany to Buffalo. Devlin and Fuller have recently coached with the program, while Maciariello’s connection with the AAU program goes back to his own playing days.
“I was actually one of their first guys to go D-I,” said Maciariello, who graduated from Siena in 2001 after starting his college career at New Hampshire.
Seeing Maciariello and Co. at Siena?
“That makes the first phone call a little easier,” Hart said. “These are people you know. Now, there’s a little more trust.”
“And that’s all recruiting is, right?” Maciariello said. “Recruiting is all about relationships. . . . The more relationships we [assistants] can foster for [Christian], the more bridges we can build for him — and that’s our job.”
Since becoming the Siena program’s 17th head coach, Christian has likely spent more time building relationships with potential recruits than doing anything else. More than 30 players have visited campus since Christian was hired.
“That’s a big number, so you are surprised by it, but you expected it, too,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said. “I knew he was going to be very thorough with that.”
Besides recruiting high school players, though, this last week showed a new area of recruiting now more readily available to the Saints. While not officially signed yet with the school, Braedon Bayer gave his commitment to join the Saints as a graduate transfer, according to multiple reports.
Bayer spent his last two seasons as a walk-on at Syracuse after playing for two seasons at Division III Grinnell, and will be immediately eligible to play for the Saints. Bayer, a 6-foot-4 guard, is expected to take advantage of an MBA program Siena is officially rolling out in the fall semester of 2019, but will start on a limited basis next spring.
In the past, Siena’s only program available to attract graduate transfers was a highly specialized master’s in accounting. That left the Saints severely restricted when it came to adding graduate transfers to its program, a type of player so many Division I programs now feature.
“That [MBA program] is going to allow us to bring student-athletes in that can play right away,” D’Argenio said. “It’s going to really help us.”
While Christian has worked to restock the Saints after they lost five players to transfer from their opening night 2017-18 roster, he has already spent ample time courting players for future classes. According to verbalcommits.com, which tracks college basketball recruiting, a dozen rising high school seniors already have scholarship offers from Siena.
A number of players on the Saints’ radar have ties to the City Rocks.
“And they’ve gone to visit Siena and they’ve loved it,” Hart said. “They’re feeling that positive energy. There’s a great method to what they’re doing there.”