LOUDONVILLE — When it comes to the system and guiding ethos that head coach Jamion Christian is bringing to the Siena College men’s basketball program, it’s important to remember something.
Christian’s “Mayhem” has a much different definition than the word’s traditional one. Really, Christian’s “Mayhem” carries its own self-created meaning, one that centers more around the “connectivity” he preaches than anything else.
All that is to say that it’s not particularly surprising that Siena is playing at the slow pace it has so far this season. Christian’s system is frenetic, but not necessarily fast-paced — especially on the offensive end of the court. While the Saints try to speed up opposing offenses with its full-court press, Siena’s own attack is going to continue to be a deliberate one that emphasizes ball movement over quick-hitting plays.
“It’s not so much about tempo as it is getting the right look and running our offense right,” Siena junior Thomas Huerter said at Tuesday’s practice as the Saints prepared for Wednesday’s 6 p.m. home opener at Times Union Center against 3-1 Lehigh. “We’ll create tempo, though, through our ability to turn other teams over and then getting out in transition off defensive stops.”
Through Monday’s games, Siena ranks second-to-last in the nation in pace of play, according to statistics from kenpom.com. Part of that is because the Siena defense has not created as many turnovers as it would like through the team’s 2-2 start, but the Saints’ pace statistics are not wildly slower than Christian’s teams from past seasons.
While the Saints rank No. 352 in adjusted tempo this season, Christian’s Mount St. Mary’s team from last season ranked No. 325. Overall, in Christian’s six seasons at Mount St. Mary’s, his team on average finished ranked No. 189.5 in adjusted tempo. In the 2013-14 season, Christian’s Mount St. Mary’s team finished ranked No. 39 in the country in adjusted tempo, but his Mount St. Mary’s teams never finished in the top-100 in any other season.
This season’s Siena team, too, is a taller one than Christian has had in the past — especially since 6-foot junior Khalil Richard is out for the season with an injury. The Saints, per kenpom.com, rank No. 6 in the country in height.
“I think with the team we have [this season], we’re playing a system and playing a pace that I think we can really play well,” Christian said.
Thanksgiving dinner includes 63 guests for @JamionChristian who is having @SienaMBB players & family members over.— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) November 20, 2018
“It’s just all about the family environment that @_AllieChristian & I are trying to create here. ... We really want to set the tone that we do everything together.”
In future seasons, and once Christian has more players he recruited on his roster, the coach said he envisions playing a bit faster than the Saints have this season. Still, though, a lot of the key aspects to Christian’s offense are designed to slow things down rather than speed them up. The coach’s ball-screen-centric offense requires players to fill key spots on the floor before plays develop, and Christian’s guiding offensive instruction is to eliminate turnovers.
“Coach really just has us focused on getting a great shot every time, whether that’s on the first option or the fifth option in our offense,” Siena freshman Jalen Pickett said.
“You always want to have more opportunities to score than your opponents, so I think taking care of the ball is very [important] for us,” Siena senior Evan Fisher said. “That’s definitely an advantage for us over playing an up-tempo pace when we don’t have to.”
Siena does want to find more opportunities to run. The Saints, though, won’t push the ball off made baskets of their opponents — and their opponents have shot 45.4 percent from the field this season, while only turning the ball over an average of 9.3 times per game.
“So we want to get out and play in transition, but we have to get stops first,” Pickett said. “That’s really the style we want to play.”
Christian announced the Saints’ first three signings for the Class of 2023.
Luke Sutherland, Shawn Walker Jr. and Kyle Young have signed and returned their National Letters of Intent during the early-signing period and will enroll at Siena College next fall.
A 6-8, 205-pound wing from Syracuse, Sutherland is coming off a breakout junior season at West Genesee last season. He averaged 20.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 blocks, while being named an NYSSWA Class AA All-State, All-Central New York, and SCAC Metro Conference First-Team selection.
Walker Jr., a native of Elizabeth City, N.C., is set to begin his senior season playing for Bishop Sullivan Catholic in Virginia Beach, Va. The 6-6, 180-pound guard spent the past two seasons playing for NCISAA powerhouse Wesleyan Christian Academy in North Carolina, which he helped guide to a 55-11 combined record and a state ranking of fourth each season. Walker, Jr. was rated the 18th best player in the Class of 2019 from North Carolina by NCPreps.com. His father, Sean Sr., is the head coach at Division II Elizabeth City State University.
Young, from Bethlehem, Pa., is a 6-10, 240-pound forward. He helped lead Bethlehem Catholic to a 28-4 record and Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and District 11 Class 4A Championships last season. He tied for the team-high with a 14-point performance in the PIAA Class 4A state semifinals. Young played AAU for the Jersey Shore Warriors, which also produced recent Siena stars Rob Poole and Ryan Rossiter. His older brother, Ryan, is a freshman on the Northwestern men’s basketball team.