LOUDONVILLE — The coaching staff at Emory & Henry College was looking for a word or phrase to rally its Division III men’s basketball program around.
So 22-year-old Jamion Christian — an assistant coach just months removed from graduating from Mount St. Mary’s — offered the word stored in his notebook that screamed out the loudest to him.
It didn’t make the cut.
Christian’s “Mayhem” lost out to “Running Attack.”
“Nobody was listening back then,” said Christian, now 36 years old.
Christian delivered that line with a laugh before one of this year’s preseason practices. The new head coach at Siena College debuts in that role 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Providence, and has plenty of people listening now — including a fanbase eager to discover what Christian’s Mayhem will bring to the Saints after a turbulent ending to predecessor Jimmy Patsos’ tenure with the program, a five-season run that ended with Patsos’ resignation amid a school investigation into alleged misconduct following an 8-24 campaign.
Hired in May after six seasons at his alma mater, Christian inherits a program that last made the NCAA tournament in 2010, won’t have any of its top-six scorers from last season’s opening-night roster in uniform this season, and was picked to finish last in the MAAC.
None of those negatives seem to concern Christian. He is calm ahead of a season that starts for his team against a Big East Conference opponent, a coach confident in how his Mayhem — a playing style, mindset and brand — will quickly change things for the Saints.
“We can be as good as anybody,” Christian said. “That’s the reality of it.”
His players seem to believe that, too — and believing that is the first step toward success for the rebuilding Saints.
“I feel like we’re trying to be a new culture,” Siena redshirt senior Kadeem Smithen said. “We’ve all bought into that.”
“We have something we stand for now, something that we represent,” said Siena junior Khalil Richard, who suffered a season-ending knee injury a couple weeks ago. “Mayhem means enthusiasm. It’s up-tempo. Positive. Togetherness. There’s a whole lot that Mayhem means.”
Mayhem, for Christian, goes beyond a simple definition. Yes, it’s a good word choice to describe his preferred frenetic style of play, but he also uses that word to encapsulate the optimistic and enthusiastic approach he wants his program’s coaches and players to have away from the court.
“It’s a mindset. It’s something that keeps us all on the same page,” said Saints assistant coach Carmen Maciariello, a 2001 Siena graduate. “Mayhem is something that brings together everything for us.”
Christian knows most people think he either adopted Mayhem after coaching at Virginia Commonwealth with Shaka Smart — Smart favors “Havoc” — or because of the easy way it went with Mount St. Mary’s, but neither of those explanations are what brought Christian to embrace Mayhem.
“I just always really loved the way it sounded. It’s up-tempo, and you have to play that way,” Christian said. “It’s frenetic. It’s important to how we want to play defensively.”
Christian’s offensive system is “ball-screen-centric,” while his defense offers relentless pressure all over the court. Statistics available through kenpom.com offer further illustration of the results that come from Christian’s Mayhem style of play. Offensively, Christian’s teams generally shoot about half their shots from 3-point territory, don’t earn a lot of trips to the foul line and eschew going to the offensive glass. Defensively, Christian’s teams turn opponents over at a high rate and tightly guard the perimeter to make it difficult for opposing teams to shoot a lot of 3s.
“On the floor, it’s about a connectivity with the guys. They’re playing at a such frenetic pace and together,” Christian said. “It’s about playing at such a frenetic pace that the other team can’t keep up with you.”
That “connectivity” is another keyword within Christian’s Mayhem.
“That’s actually our word of the day,” Siena fifth-year senior Braedon Bayer said, “but it’s that every single day.”
“That’s what we stand by, is being connected,” Siena sophomore Manny Camper said. “There are going to be times when we’re in a tougher environment and all we’ll have is ourselves.”
That is the situation the Saints are likely to find themselves in Tuesday when they take on a Providence program with a passionate home crowd. In the six months Christian had to prepare his program for his first season leading it, Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said he is confident in the foundation the school’s new coach has built.
“I think he came in with a good sense of his plan and what he wanted to do,” D’Argenio said. “I think he has implemented that, and stayed true to it as opposed to when adversity hits to go in a different direction. He has a good road map of what he and his assistants are going to follow.”
Mayhem is that guiding principle, and a moniker Christian said he never considered ditching when making his move from Mount St. Mary’s to Siena.
“Not at all,” Christian said. “Six years in with it, that’s as big a part of me as anything.”
It’s going to stay that way, too.
“I think the best have a thing that they do. I think it’s our job as leaders to tell our players what our thing is, and have them be able to speak to it,” Christian said. “Being able to have a simple statement like Mayhem allows our guys to understand what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. By giving a brand, it gives a point of contact to the excellence that we need to bring every day.”