LOUDONVILLE — For a second time this offseason, Jalen Pickett is back.
This time, for real.
Now, the Siena College men’s basketball program can charge forward without any hesitancy. With its top star firmly back in the fold, the Saints will enter next season as one of the favorites in the MAAC, a conference Siena has not won since 2010 when it finished off its run of three consecutive championships during the program’s strongest stretch.
“I just can’t wait to get all these guys back on campus again,” said Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello, who said the Saints will return to campus on June 23 to start summer workouts.
Pickett withdrew Wednesday from the NBA draft, announcing his decision to do so in a press release through the school’s athletic department. Initially, he declared for the draft just a few weeks after he announced he didn’t plan to transfer following Siena’s coaching change from Jamion Christian to Maciariello.
“I'd like to thank everyone who supported me throughout this process,” Pickett said in the school’s press release announcing his decision. “It was a great experience, and I gained valuable feedback about what it will take to make it at the next level. I'm excited to return to Siena, and eager to get back to work on our pursuit of a MAAC championship.”
Early in his NBA draft process, Pickett said he planned to make a decision about his future well before Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline. Instead, Pickett didn’t make his decision official to return to Siena until several hours before the deadline, following a process that saw him participate at the NBA G League Elite Camp in Chicago earlier this month and in workouts for several NBA teams.
“He’ll be even hungrier,” Maciariello said of Pickett, who was MAAC Rookie of the Year and a first-team all-conference pick as a freshman. “He’s a hungry kid, anyway.”
And he’s back to lead the Saints, and serve as their driving force as they look to build on a 17-16 season. Pickett projects to team with Don Carey — who sat out the 2018-19 season after transferring from Mount St. Mary’s — in a talented backcourt made up of potent playmakers, while the rest of Siena’s roster is more talented and versatile than it was a season ago when the Saints played at the second-slowest tempo in the country.
Maciariello said Pickett — who averaged 15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.0 steals as a freshman — should be even better as a sophomore with the Saints playing at a faster pace and with more talent around him.
“Now we’re hoping there’s more possessions and more scoring,” Maciariello said. “There’s more pieces around him that are multi-dimensional, and that can showcase more of his talents.”
There is a strong core for the Saints to develop from as they move forward with Maciariello — an assistant coach last season — now leading the program. Like Carey, forward Elijah Burns adds more offensive punch to the Saints after not playing for them last season following an in-season transfer from Notre Dame. Returning starters Manny Camper and Sloan Seymour project to build off strong campaigns as each continues to learn the college game. Meanwhile, big man Sammy Friday and wing Jimmy Ratliff showed encouraging signs last season before injuries derailed each of them.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Maciariello, whose program has two open scholarships for next season. “We need to make sure we’re sharp in everything we do. . . . There’s going to be more expectations now and with expectations comes responsibility.”
While filling out Siena’s roster remains atop Maciariello’s to-do list, the coach said he is also focusing on crafting the program’s non-conference schedule for the 2019-20 season. He said it’s likely the team’s game Nov. 8 at Xavier will serve as the Saints’ opener, and that the rest of Siena’s non-conference schedule will offer plenty of meaningful opportunities for the Saints to get ready for their MAAC season.
“It will keep our guys’ attention,” Maciariello said of the program’s 2019-20 non-conference schedule, which he said is a game or two away from being complete.
Siena’s 2018-19 season closed in the MAAC semifinals. After that loss to Iona, Pickett said the Saints’ 2019-20 season would end in different fashion.
“We’re going to come back with a MAAC chip next year,” Pickett said.
If that prediction is realized, Pickett’s return to Siena will be a major reason why that happened.
“Jalen Pickett wins,” Maciariello said. “That’s the biggest thing about him.”