LOUDONVILLE — It was one of the first promises Carmen Maciariello made after taking the position as Siena College men’s basketball head coach last spring.
“We’re going to be able to play with pace,” Maciariello said at his introductory press conference in Albany. “I can’t tell you exactly what our adjusted tempo is going to be . . . but we’re definitely not going to be the slowest in the country, or the second-slowest in the country behind Virginia.”
For a variety of reasons, Siena played last season at the second-slowest pace in the country, only playing faster than the sport’s national champion. With a roster boasting more talent and depth than last season, next season’s Saints are equipped to play much quicker — and they have already started taking steps to prepare for that in their first couple weeks of summer workouts.
“He’s giving us a lot of freedom,” rising redshirt sophomore Jimmy Ratliff said earlier this week of Maciariello’s offensive approach. “He doesn’t want to call a play for us every time down.”
Instead, Ratliff said, Maciariello has started to train the Saints that the first six-to-eight seconds of each possession belong to them to look for fast-break opportunities and easy baskets.
Last season, the Saints — especially as the season moved along — eschewed fast-break opportunities and relied heavily on Jalen Pickett to create scoring opportunities in the half-court setting. While Pickett starred and guided Siena to a surprising winning season, next season’s Saints have additional playmakers such as rising redshirt sophomore Donald Carey and several athletic wing players, a group that includes rising junior Manny Camper, incoming freshman Gary Harris and Ratliff.
“So far, we’ve been getting out in transition. We want to push the pace,” Camper said of the Saints, who started summer workouts last week. “Last year, we were the slowest team. That’s not what we want.”
In the past, Camper — who grew an inch in the last year and now stands 6-foot-7 — has been able to use his ample athleticism to allow himself to play multiple positions for the Saints. In a faster-paced system, Camper said he expects to be even more comfortable.
“Absolutely,” said Camper, who started 22 games last season, and averaged 6.4 points and 5.4 rebounds. “If we’re getting out and running, I can use my athleticism to my advantage.”
While the Saints return several major contributors from last season and gain use of key transfers who sat out in Elijah Burns and Carey, Ratliff said Siena’s newest players have already shown an ability to fit in with their teammates. Besides graduate transfer Matt Hein, Siena adds three incoming freshmen in Harris, Lucas Sutherland and Kyle Young for next season.
“We’re trying to run a lot more this year, so we’re doing a lot with [fast-break opportunities], and the new guys have been amazing so far with catching onto everything,” Ratliff said. “It’s been a great start.”