LOUDONVILLE — In the hour after he found out Jamion Christian was no longer the Siena College men’s basketball head coach, Jalen Pickett’s phone kept buzzing and ringing.
“Oh my god,” Pickett said Thursday. “It was crazy.”
Each call and text asked, essentially, the same question: Where are you playing next season?
A little more than a week later, Pickett confirmed to new head coach Carmen Maciariello last Friday that he intended to stay at Siena.
Maciariello’s first directive?
Tweet out the news.
“It’ll get your phone to stop ringing,” Maciariello told the star freshman.
Which, effectively, it did — ending a wild stretch of days for the 19-year-old Pickett, who eschewed becoming one of the nation’s most-coveted transfers in favor of staying at Siena, a mid-major MAAC program that projects as one of its conference’s best teams for next season with the 6-foot-4 guard leading it.
Along with his teammates, Pickett found out March 21 that Christian had left Siena after one season to take the head coaching position at George Washington. Maciariello — serving then as interim head coach — was tasked with delivering that news to the team, but several players had already found out via social media. Pickett said he initially found out from redshirt freshman teammate Jimmy Ratliff.
“It was so out of the blue,” Pickett said. “I didn’t believe him at first.”
Then, he found out it was real.
“There was a lot of emotions flying around, but you have to move on and keep working hard,” Pickett said. “I believe in coach Carm. [Next season] will be just like last year, except maybe even a little better.”
Pickett’s confirmation he’d stay at Siena was delayed, but perhaps helped along, with what came next for the freshman who won ECAC and MAAC rookie of the year awards. Pickett became ill ahead of a previously scheduled trip home to Rochester, and he ended up staying home for several extra days to recuperate and consider his options.
“Relax. Breathe,” Pickett said was his mother’s advice. “You’re going to make a good decision.”
Pickett was confident he’d make the right choice for him, but the calming-down part wasn’t the easiest, given how much his phone kept buzzing and the way social media posts offered predictions — and suggestions — on what he’d end up doing.
“I read everything and I see everything. Mostly, I think it’s hilarious,” Pickett said. “But it was good that I was home. My mom settled me down and told me to take my time.”
Pickett cheered on Maciariello succeeding Christian, but said Maciariello becoming the Saints’ new head coach was not the only reason he stayed at Siena. While the freshman said he “probably wouldn’t be here if it was anyone else,” it was just as important that the program’s core group of players stayed at Siena.
“I wanted to make sure our team wasn’t breaking up,” said Pickett, who led Siena to a 17-16 season with per-game averages of 15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.1 steals.
Some Saints, such as sophomore Manny Camper and Ratliff, told Maciariello immediately they planned to stay at Siena. Junior Sammy Friday let Maciariello know the next day — on a Friday, of course — that he would be back. Not long after that, redshirt junior Elijah Burns re-committed to finishing his college career at Siena, while sophomore Don Carey alerted Maciariello shortly before the coach’s introductory press conference that he intended to stay.
“I gave the guys their space,” Maciariello said of his players, who talked and texted throughout those days among themselves.
Pickett was unable to attend Maciariello’s press conference because of his illness, but re-committed to Siena three days after it. Before telling Maciariello, Pickett said he called his mother Gwendolyn from outside the Saints’ locker room down the hallway from the school’s Marcelle Athletic Complex’s practice gymnasium — the same area in which he’d stood the previous year when he’d told her he wanted to go to Siena.
“I’m going to stay with Carm,” Pickett told her.
Minutes later, Pickett’s tweet was sent out. Several hours after that, fellow freshman Sloan Seymour also announced he planned to stay at Siena.
“We all had a whole year to really get close to each other,” Pickett said. “Everyone on our team is excited about what we can do in the future.”
Pickett said he was able to communicate eventually with Christian regarding the coach’s departure.
“Great guy. Great coach,” Pickett said. “Love him to death.”
“I’m excited I’m here,” Pickett said.
Pickett said he’s looking forward to playing for Maciariello. Back in 2015, Pickett said Maciariello — then, ironically, an assistant coach at George Washington — was the first coach to contact him as a potential recruit. Pickett said his phone’s contacts section still lists Maciariello as “Coach Carm GW.”
Still working back from his illness, Pickett said he plans to return to participating in full team activities next week. Before needing some time off, Pickett said he had started playing without the protective splint he wore on his right hand’s middle finger for his freshman season’s final two months because of a torn tendon that didn’t require surgery.
“We had something special last season,” Pickett said. “Now, we want to take a better step — a bigger step.”
Maciariello said that Friday (knee) continues to make progress in his recovery, while freshman Georges Darwiche’s “lower-leg” injury that caused him to miss the Saints’ final games of the 2018-19 season required surgery.
Darwiche, Maciariello said, has surgery to fix an injured — but not torn — Achilles tendon. The coach said it’s possible Darwiche could be healthy enough to return to full basketball activities toward the end of August.
Friday is expected to receive a medical redshirt after tearing the meniscus in his left knee early in the season. Maciariello said “there’s still some healing going on” for Friday, but that Friday has been able to take part in on-court work.