LOUDONVILLE — The next several days will go a long way toward determining how the immediate future of the Siena College men’s basketball program will look.
There is a level of uncertainty associated with that, but new head coach Carmen Maciariello isn’t sweating that.
“I’m not worried about it,” Maciariello said. “I hope he does great and come back, but if he does great and he’s drafted, that’s fine, too.”
The “he” is freshman Jalen Pickett, Siena’s top star who declared for the NBA draft last month, but could still opt to return for a sophomore season with the Saints. The NBA G League Elite Camp that Pickett earned an invitation to attend starts Sunday, and Pickett hopes to advance from the three-day event to the NBA draft combine that follows and runs through next weekend. Both events take place in Chicago, and Maciariello said he’ll head there to support Pickett.
Already, Pickett has worked out for several NBA teams, and it’s possible he will work out for more after the upcoming camp and combine. Previously, Pickett said he plans to make his decision regarding staying in the draft vs. returning to Siena “well before May 29,” which is the deadline to decide.
“He’s doing well,” Maciariello said. “He’s had some good reports and some average reports, but any feedback is good because it’s coming from the top of the top.”
As Siena moves forward from its 2018-19 season with Jamion Christian at the helm to a 2019-20 campaign with Maciariello leading it, Pickett’s decision weighs heavy as the program’s top player and No. 1 building block. Maciariello, though, said he doesn’t view the program as needing to wait on Pickett, either, in terms of putting together the rest of the Siena roster for next season. Siena has two open scholarships for next season, and Maciariello said his plan on how he wants to use them won’t be greatly affected by Pickett’s decision.
“I’m glad we have three. I never want to rush. . . . You can do so much with it. We can mix and match,” Maciariello said a few days prior to the Saints receiving a commitment Saturday from Matt Hein, a 6-foot-3 graduate transfer from Northern Illinois who averaged 1.6 points per game in 18 appearances last season and announced his move to Siena in a tweet. “Jalen’s piece is integral, but we still want to recruit players, regardless, and we want guys that want to thrive in competition.”
With Siena’s open scholarships, Maciariello has previously stated that bringing in a transfer or two needing to sit out a season could be preferable given the Saints’ roster makeup for next season. If Pickett returns, Siena will have three returning starters — sophomore Manny Camper, Pickett and freshman Sloan Seymour — plus redshirt junior Elijah Burns and sophomore Don Carey, who both sat out last season after transferring to Siena, all likely to play major minutes. Outside of that group of five players, junior Sammy Friday and redshirt freshman Jimmy Ratliff would appear likely to have significant roles for next season, while several other Saints — such as incoming freshmen Lucas Sutherland and Kyle Young — could factor into the rotation.
“So we need to take guys that fit our program,” Maciariello said. “We’re looking for the best fit.”
He added: “You have to be careful. It’s better to miss on a prospect than to take the wrong kid. That can blow up your program.”
Right now, even if Pickett opts to pursue a professional basketball career right away, Siena is in a stable spot and looks capable of staying in the MAAC’s top tier for the foreseeable future. Pickett’s return would make Siena a possible league favorite for next season, but his departure also wouldn’t totally derail the Saints.
“We have a great program and a great college to sell,” Maciariello said. “At the end of the day, [recruits] wants to be able to buy in, and play with great kids and great guys, and that’s what I can sell right now. We have great guys who care about each other and, when it’s all said and done, we’re going to win a championship here because our guys care more about the guy next to them than they do about themselves.”
Siena’s players are currently taking a break from organized activities, but Maciariello said he’s been encouraged with the way the Saints have continued to work out on their own. Notably, he mentioned how Seymour — listed at 6-foot-9 and 205 pounds as a freshman — has put in major work in the weight room since season’s end.
“His shoulders are getting broader and he’s done a great job,” Maciariello said.
Roster clarity should start to form in the next few weeks for the Saints. The real work, Maciariello said, will start toward the end of June when Siena starts summer workouts.
“For me,” Maciariello said, “I’m waiting for June 23, June 24 to have the whole team here with the incoming freshmen, and that’s when we’ll lay our foundation.”
Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.