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Siena's 'positionless basketball' on display at open practice

Siena's 'positionless basketball' on display at open practice

Saints allowed fans to watch Monday's preseason workout
Siena's 'positionless basketball' on display at open practice
Siena's Manny Camper, left, is shown during a game last season.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

LOUDONVILLE — During Monday’s Siena College men’s basketball practice, which was open to the public, first-year head coach Carmen Maciariello’s brand of “positionless basketball” was on display.

While the ball often found its way to primary playmakers such as sophomore Jalen Pickett and redshirt sophomore Don Carey to initiate the offense, other Saints were free to push the ball in transition during the Saints’ drills.

“The 1 through 4, you may see any of us bringing the ball up and starting the offense,” Siena junior Manny Camper said before Monday’s workout started. “We want to make it as hard as possible for defenses to scout and guard us.”

Siena rarely — like, almost never — pushed the ball in transition last season. Instead, it relied on getting the ball into the hands of Pickett to operate in a half-court setting. Since he was hired in March, Maciariello has promised the Saints’ offensive attack is going to be different for the 2019-20 season, and Monday’s practice provided a glimpse at how that change will look.

Maciariello views his players as either guards or forwards within his scheme — and, really, almost everyone is a “guard.” Only redshirt senior Elijah Burns, senior Sammy Friday, junior Denzel Tchougang and freshman Kyle Young qualify as pure forwards within Maciariello’s system, while the coach said freshman Luke Sutherland could rotate between guard and forward spots.

“Ideally, it doesn’t really matter,” the 6-foot-7 Sutherland said, “because everyone’s got to do the same thing in transition. Every position is interchangeable.”

Maciariello has said he wants to play with four guards and one forward. Those positions within his “positionless” system, though, are more like designations.

“[Calling positions] 1 through 4, for me, is just a way to have a guy remember an action he’s supposed to do,” Maciariello said. “It has nothing to do with position.”

“And we have a lot of guys that are very versatile,” said fifth-year senior Matt Hein, who comes to Siena from Illinois State where the 6-foot-4 guard occasionally guarded opposing 4s in small-ball lineups.

Siena played at the second-slowest pace in the country last season during a 17-16 campaign in which the Saints outdid expectations and made it to the MAAC tournament semifinals. Siena found success allowing Pickett — last season’s MAAC Rookie of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection — to dominate the ball, but the Saints likely need to diversify their offensive attack to become a true MAAC contender. Last season, when Pickett was on the court, he took 26% of the Saints’ shots and assisted on 42.6% of his teammates’ made shots, according to kenpom.com. 

Siena isn’t trying to limit Pickett’s touches just for the sake of doing it, but the thought is the Saints can make their best player more effective if defenses aren’t able to hyper-focus on him the way they often did last season, especially during the campaign’s second half. At Saturday’s fan event at Times Union Center, Pickett said he understands that Siena wants to utilize multiple playmakers this season. In a half-court setting, Pickett is still the No. 1 option for the Saints . . . but he’s no longer going to be the Nos. 2 and 3 options, as well.

“It all depends on who we’re playing and what matchups we get,” Pickett said of how the Saints will look to attack opposing defenses.

In terms of off-the-dribble creation, Siena likely will rely heavily on Carey and Pickett, while players such as Camper — who demonstrated an improved, and smoother-looking, long-range shot during Monday’s workout — and freshmen Gary Harris could play a role in that department. Maciariello, though, wants all of his players to be capable of attacking off the dribble within a half-court setting.

“Everyone should be able to put it on the floor for one or two dribbles, regardless of position,” Maciariello said.

Throughout summer workouts, Siena focused nearly all its energy on offense. Specifically, Camper said, making sure a variety of players were comfortable leading the fast break was an important aspect to the Saints beginning to retool their offensive approach.

“That’s expanded our offensive game and allows us to get out in transition more,” Camper said. “That’s been a key point.”

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