LOUDONVILLE — Better than most, junior Manny Camper understands the difference between this upcoming Siena men’s basketball season and the program’s last two.
“My first two years,” Camper said recently, “there were no expectations.”
That’s true on a team level, as Siena went into Camper’s freshman season — Jimmy Patsos’ final in charge — expecting to struggle and entered his sophomore season with plenty of uncertainty following a coaching change and significant roster turnover. This upcoming season, Siena again has a new head coach in Carmen Maciariello after Jamion Christian left for George Washington and also possesses a much different roster from a season ago, but the 2019-20 Saints are expected to contend in the MAAC.
Similarly, Camper’s individual career has followed a parallel path. As a freshman, he almost redshirted. Last season, he started and played big minutes for a team with a limited bench, but he wasn’t ever expected to shoulder a starring role.
This season, that changes.
The Saints need more from Camper.
While the expectation is that the trio of fifth-year senior Elijah Burns, redshirt sophomore Don Carey and sophomore Jalen Pickett will carry Siena’s offense, the Saints need the versatile Camper’s game to make a leap — maybe two — for them to reach their potential.
“And Manny’s the ultimate worker,” Maciariello said. “Every year here, his role and game has expanded.”
Camper spent his offseason continuing on that path. After rarely playing as a freshman, Camper averaged 6.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in 26.2 minutes per game last season. The 6-foot-7, 203-pound Camper, though, struggled with his shot. He made 4 of 30 attempts from 3-point territory and 47 of 90 free throws, so he spent a sizable chunk of his offseason reworking his shot with his trainer Dominic Harris back in Maryland.
“I had changed last season a two-motion shot, which I wasn’t really used to,” Camper said. “So I went back to being a one-motion shooter. That feels better for me, so I’ve stuck with it.”
In a two-motion shot, a player jumps higher before releasing the ball, while a one-motion shot sees a player not jump as high and release the ball quicker.
“Within two or three days, he was back comfortable shooting it that [one-motion] way and we kept it going,” said Harris, who has worked with Camper since early in his high school career. “It gives him more confidence shooting the basketball. With the two-motion shot, he had to think more, and a basketball player shouldn’t think so much when it comes to shooting.”
“And it just wasn’t working for me,” said Camper, who had been a one-motion shooter before attempting to make the change to a two-motion approach last season at the coaching staff’s request. “Once I went back home, I continued to get a lot of reps with the one-motion and it feels a lot smoother for me.”
This preseason, Camper’s jumper has looked noticeably better. He’s appeared more confident to take long-range shots, too.
“It’s because he’s been seeing it go in more,” redshirt sophomore Jimmy Ratliff said.
While Siena doesn’t need Camper to become a 3-point shooting specialist, the Saints do need Camper to become a threat opposing defenses need to respect on the perimeter. Camper’s ball-handling improved last season, while his athleticism and defensive ability already were strengths. Adding a reliable jump shot is the next step for Camper to make, and he’s confident in the work he’s done to address that part of his game.
“He does such a good job getting in the gym,” Maciariello said. “He just has to be consistent with whatever his approach is.”
What likely won’t be consistent this season for Camper is where he plays on the court. In Maciariello’s “positionless” system, Camper athleticism and size will allow him to contribute in a number of ways for the Saints.
“At the end of the day,” Camper said, “I’m a basketball player. I can play the 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5.”
Siena scrimmaged at Long Island University on Sunday, the first of two preseason scrimmages for the Saints. Next weekend, Siena scrimmages vs. New Hampshire.
While unable to discuss specifics regarding the scrimmage’s score or statistics, Maciariello said he was encouraged by the team’s performance.
“Nothing we haven’t seen,” Maciariello said. “Still trying to clean up details and execute, because in practice you won’t see the type of pressure you see in a scrimmage against another team.”
Maciariello said he used double-digit players during the scrimmage, but that sophomore Georges Darwiche (Achilles) and Burns (rest) didn’t play. Throughout the preseason, Burns has had days off. Last week, Burns said he is healthy and the Saints are “just making sure my body is ready to go for the long haul.”
He added: “I feel great. My body feels great. I feel awesome.”
From Sunday’s scrimmage, Maciariello said he was most encouraged with how the Saints’ length and versatility played out on defense.
“We’ll be able to defend,” Maciariello said.
Siena's first regular-season game is Nov. 5 vs. American.
This report has been updated to reflect Siena's correct scrimmage opponent for next weekend.