LOUDONVILLE — When he visited Siena men’s basketball practice earlier this fall to watch one of his former star players lead his own program, Jim Zullo appreciated several things.
He got a kick out of noticing some elements he used with his Shenendehowa High School teams introduced to the Saints.
Felt pride seeing how his former player communicated with his players.
Left impressed with the way the new head coach was already comfortable allowing his assistants to have their own voices.
One thing, though, stood above the rest.
And that’s simply that he watched Carmen Maciariello lead the program that it means the most for Maciariello to lead.
To be clear, Zullo — who coached Maciariello at Shenendehowa in the mid-1990s — would have been happy to see Maciariello get a head coaching job anywhere within the Division I landscape. Zullo followed Maciariello’s coaching travels for years, hoping he’d earn a head coaching role of his own somewhere.
But Maciariello at Siena?
That’s how this was supposed to go.
“I think that’s his dream job, really,” said Zullo, whose distinguished coaching career included spending more than two decades at Shenendehowa. “I don’t think Carmen set out to coach at UCLA or anything. I think he wanted to coach at Siena, and, so, it means more that he’s there than anywhere else he could be.”
Maciariello has said as much, too. A 2001 alumnus of Siena who grew up in nearby Clifton Park, Maciariello described his promotion from Siena assistant coach to Siena head coach back in March as a “dream come true,” but . . . well . . . nearly every new head coach everywhere says something along those lines.
Lori Anctil heard Maciariello, though, and believed it. Hired as Saint Rose’s athletic director in August, Anctil worked for most of the two decades before that within the Siena athletic department and first met Maciariello back when he was a player and she was his academic advisor. Maciariello started his college playing career at New Hampshire and ended it at Siena, where he sat out as a transfer during Paul Hewitt’s final season leading the Saints before playing for Louis Orr. Anctil and Maciariello kept in touch throughout the years that followed; she’s watched Maciariello grow for 20 years, but never outgrow his connection to Siena.
“He really wanted to be a student-athlete at Siena, and that says a lot. I don't think he ever took that for granted or anything," Anctil said. "He embraced that and really believed in what Siena and that program stood for. For Carm, and I don't mean to discredit any Siena coaches before him, but there's a little something more to [coaching at Siena] for him.
“People talk about dream jobs and I don’t know if they really mean it,” Anctil continued. “But, for Carm, this is it.”
Maciariello, 41, debuts as Siena’s head coach 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Times Union Center in Albany against American, the first game in a season that the Saints head into with ample expectations after a surprisingly successful 2018-19 season. The program hasn’t won a MAAC championship since the 2009-10 season, but this season’s roster with sophomore guard Jalen Pickett — a first-team all-conference selection and the league’s rookie of the year last season — boasts enough talent to end that drought.
“And I think these guys understand what it means to me to be the head coach here,” Maciariello said. “I think they respect that, and will play hard for me because of that.”
The 2009-10 season was the last of five that Fran McCaffery led the Saints, a run that included Siena winning three consecutive MAAC titles and earning two NCAA tournament victories. Now the head coach at Iowa, McCaffery’s first coaching staff at Siena included a then-27-year-old Maciariello as its director of basketball operations. Jim Hart, founder of the Albany City Rocks AAU program, suggested Maciariello to McCaffery, who was looking to find someone with Capital Region and Siena connections to add to his staff.
Besides his local ties, though, Hart pitched Maciariello as someone willing to work in the truest sense of the word. Maciariello was a member of the City Rocks’ first graduating class of players, and Maciariello later graduated to working alongside Hart with the City Rocks. On and off the court, Maciariello’s work ethic, Hart said, was what set him apart.
“Carm’s that dude,” Hart said “that if you were sweating, he made sure he was sweating as much as you, if not harder.”
Maciariello’s hire paid off right away for McCaffery. Maciariello was only making several thousand dollars for a position that was technically a part-time one and he lived at home with his parents — Carmen Sr. and Rita — but he helped Siena land two of the foundational pieces for the McCaffery era. At the AAU level, Maciariello had coached Edwin Ubiles and had coached against Kenny Hasbrouck; Maciariello’s relationship with Ubiles helped pave the road toward his commitment to Siena, while Maciariello’s scouting report sent McCaffery after Hasbrouck.
To this day, McCaffery said he values Maciariello’s take on players.
“If I know he’s seen a guy that I want to evaluate,” McCaffery said, “I trust his opinion.”
Throughout his time as an assistant coach, Maciariello was known as a dogged recruiter with a skill for identifying talent. After his first job at Siena, Maciariello spent time working on coaching staffs at Fairfield, Providence, Boston University and George Washington before making it back last season to Siena. Maciariello worked for head coach Ed Cooley at Fairfield and Providence — the former where Maciariello worked for three seasons, the latter where Maciariello briefly worked before heading to Boston University — and Cooley liked a lot of the same things about Maciariello as McCaffery did. Maciariello worked hard, was organized and understood the game at a high level — but Cooley said it was the way Maciariello interacted with people around him, especially players, that most stuck out.
“He was very kind with people,” said Cooley, who is entering his ninth season at Providence. “His calling card for me was how he treated people.”
As it was with McCaffery, one of Jamion Christian’s first calls to make after accepting the head coaching position last year at Siena was to Maciariello. Hart, again, had suggested Maciariello as a potential hire if Christian wanted someone on his coaching staff with Siena ties — and Christian needed that. He had just wrapped up coaching at his alma mater, Mount St. Mary’s, and understood how valuable it was to have someone around who could help navigate learning a new college, campus and conference with firsthand knowledge.
Maciariello ran Christian’s defense last season, but he did more than that, too. Now the head coach at George Washington, Christian said Maciariello’s knowledge of what it took to be successful at Siena helped spur a program picked to finish in last place in the MAAC to make the conference’s tournament semifinals.
“He helped with that adjustment for me. He knew the area. He knew the campus. He knew how McCaffery had done it, how Hewitt had done it,” Christian said. “So our learning curve was a lot shorter because we’d had someone there who had done it there.”
When Christian left Siena, Maciariello was quickly named the program’s interim head coach. Within a couple days, Siena athletic director John D’Argenio and Maciariello had agreed to a four-year deal that removed the interim tag. No other candidates were considered, as Siena opted to hire the coach who had memories of watching the team play from the stands of the campus’ Alumni Recreation Center in the 1980s and had dreamed of playing at Siena right out of high school, but was told he’d have to serve as a walk-on to do that.
While he is a Siena alumnus, nobody question’s Maciariello’s qualifications for the job he now holds. His resume speaks for itself. He played college basketball, worked on coaching staffs for more than a decade and built a solid reputation before his alma mater pegged him as its next coach.
It’s no secret, though, that Siena wanted to act quickly in making its next hire in an attempt to keep its promising roster together as much as possible. Maciariello was likely the only person capable of doing that, and he largely succeeded in his first key task of keeping Saints at Siena. In the switch from Christian to Maciariello, Siena only lost one incoming recruit and one potential returning player in Sloan Seymour, who opted to transfer to George Washington.
“So, from that regard, he did an outstanding job,” D’Argenio said, “and that was one of the critical concerns we had.”
So that mattered — but it mattered more to decision-makers at Siena that Maciariello valued what it means to be the head coach at Siena, a program that means so much to its community.
“I think he wants to make sure the players understand that, too,” D’Argenio said. “Carm recognizes that people worked over decades to get it there. He doesn’t want people to take that for granted.”
That knowledge, McCaffery said, is why Maciariello was the right choice for Siena. Even before he spent years leading the Saints, McCaffery said he understood the role Siena men’s basketball played in the Capital Region as something more than a sports team.
Maciariello, McCaffery said, gets that better than anyone.
“He can bring everybody together there in a way that I think puts that program at the forefront of things going on in the Capital Region,” McCaffery said. “You have to have a head coach at Siena who understands all that, gets out into the community and is involved — and that’s easy for him because he’s from there.
“There’s nobody,” McCaffery said, “better for that role than him.”
Since McCaffery left Siena, the Saints have registered three winning seasons. They’ve had three 20-loss seasons, one more than its total 20-win seasons during that span.
Maciariello wants the next decade to be different.
“I want to build this thing into a contender, year in and year out,” said Maciariello, who lived at his parents’ house again last season when he was an assistant, but moved into his own home earlier this year in Ballston Lake with his wife Laura and young daughter Reese. “We want to compete for championships in the MAAC, play in NCAA tournaments and hopefully do things that haven’t been done here before.”
To do all that will take time, but Maciariello understands that. It’s college basketball, so nothing is guaranteed. Coaches come and go in a blink, and Maciariello will be an attractive candidate for a larger program if he produces winning seasons at Siena. That’s why it was notable when he said back in March shortly after his introductory press conference that the program “was going to have an opportunity to do some special things here — and I don’t plan on leaving.”
As a rule, introductory press conferences are events where hyperbole wins out. Months later, though, Maciariello smiled when his remark was brought up to him. He gets the profession he’s in, and understands what winning at Siena could mean for his future.
That future, though, is off in a distance that exists beyond the dreams Maciariello created. He’ll get to them when he gets to them.
Right now, he’s the coach at Siena.
That, he knows, is something special.
“I’m two feet in here,” Maciariello said. “This is where I grew up. This is where I have a passion for. I love the people here. I love the community. I love what being a Siena basketball player meant to me as a player, and now as a head coach.
“I’m happy where I am.”