LOUDONVILLE — They’re in no rush.
These Saints know they need some time to figure this thing out.
When they do, they expect the finished product to be worth the wait.
“I just want to come out and take it one game at a time,” sophomore Jalen Pickett said Wednesday at media day for the Siena College men’s basketball program. “I want to just play and attack at 100% for 100% of the time.”
First thing to attack?
That’s figuring out how all the pieces head coach Carmen Maciariello has at his disposal best mesh together — and that won’t be settled before Siena opens its season Nov. 5 vs. American.
“We definitely need a few games to see what this team is going to be like,” Pickett said.
Excitement around the Saints’ chances in the 2019-20 season has essentially built since the close of its surprising 17-16 campaign a season ago in the MAAC semifinals. That optimism was dampened for a couple days when Jamion Christian left the program to take over at George Washington, but quickly rebounded after Maciariello was promoted from his role as an assistant coach and one Saint after another re-upped their commitment to the program. A couple more speed bumps were hit during the offseason — Pickett declared for the NBA draft, but came back; Sloan Seymour ended up following Christian to George Washington after spending part of the summer with the Saints — but it’s mostly been a smooth ride for the Saints since Maciariello took over in March.
Now, though, the Saints need to figure out how all the talent they’ve collected fits together into a championship-worthy team.
Pickett — last season’s MAAC Rookie of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection — remains the focal point and his presence alone is enough to guarantee the Saints the chance to contend in the MAAC. While Siena’s offense last season, though, completely centered around Pickett and his playmaking ability, this upcoming season’s Saints want to be different. Redshirt sophomore Don Carey is eligible to play after sitting out last season following his transfer and he’s a capable playmaker, while fifth-year senior Elijah Burns — who couldn’t play last season for the Saints after transferring from Notre Dame — and junior Manny Camper provide the Saints with a couple veterans expected to produce right away.
“Those four guys are going to be the cornerstones,” Maciariello said. “They have to be.”
Like every other team in the country, though, Siena is going to use five players at a time. Right now, Maciariello said he hasn’t settled on a starting lineup and is still working to find combinations he likes. The Saints have plenty of options to use around its four-man core, but none of them are an obvious slam-dunk pick.
Siena has high hopes for several of its freshmen, including 6-foot-6 guard Gary Harris who instantly becomes one of the MAAC’s top athletes. Sophomore Georges Darwiche and redshirt sophomore Jimmy Ratliff each had solid moments during their debut seasons at Siena, and senior Sammy Friday showed positive signs of development last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Fifth-year senior Matt Hein, a graduate transfer from Illinois State who is immediately eligible, can provide toughness and maturity on the perimeter.
So, to be clear, there are plenty of options for the Saints — and they were clear Wednesday that they are confident they will figure out how their talented roster best comes together.
“I think we have a group of humble and hungry guys,” Carey said. “I just want to see us compete day in and day out.”
“We want to play hard every possession we’re out on the court. We want to play for each other,” Burns said. “We’re not really worried about the outside noise. We’re just focused on making each other better each and every single time we step on the floor.”
If the Saints do that, everything else takes care of itself. In all likelihood, there is too much talent for that not to be the case. This is a Siena team that controls its own destiny within the MAAC.
“We know there’s expectations, but we’re not focusing on any of that,” Camper said. “We’re remaining in character and doing the things we do well — staying hungry and competing.”
“I’m not going to worry about any outside expectations,” Maciariello said. “I’m just making sure we’re getting better every single day, and making sure these guys understand how hard it is to be a champion.”
Growing pains, Pickett said, are expected.
But he doesn’t expect them to last.
“I feel like this team here has something really special in it,” Pickett said. “I feel like as the season progresses and goes on, we’re just going to get better as the season goes.”