LOUDONVILLE — Siena men’s basketball sophomore Jalen Pickett retweeted several tweets critical of him after he was benched for Saturday’s loss at Colgate.
A couple coined him as “Mr. NBA,” a reference to the time Pickett spent after his freshman season going through the NBA pre-draft process. Another said he had a “bad attitude.” One compared him to Nico Clareth, whose promising career at Siena fizzled out.
At Wednesday’s practice, Pickett took responsibility for the mistakes that led to head coach Carmen Maciariello benching him for last weekend’s game, a 10-point road loss in which the Saints committed 21 turnovers without their lead guard available to play. He said the benching — which Maciariello said was the result of Pickett being late to a team obligation — made clear to him he needs “to grow as a person, as an individual.”
Pickett didn’t appreciate, though, the way his attitude and commitment were seemingly questioned by those outside of the program.
“Because I don’t understand what that really means. I’m here. I’m all about the team,” Pickett said of retweeting the critical posts. “I’m at Siena. My goal’s to win a MAAC [championship]. I wanted it last year and I didn’t get it last year, so this year I’m here and I’m all about the team. I’m not even really worried about that [NBA] stuff. I actually want to graduate here because I want to coach, so I’m all about Siena and I’m here to win.”
Previously, Pickett was late to a weight-lifting session and didn’t start the team’s season-opening win against American because of that infraction. Pickett said “just normal college stuff” has led to his lateness, which he credited to not setting his alarm clock and oversleeping, but acknowledged such mistakes amounted to him “not being smart about it.”
But Pickett disagreed with any notion his college career is headed the wrong way.
“Well, I bet you some other people have probably slept in, too, and missed something,” Pickett said. “I mean, it’s not probably something uncommon.”
Pickett, though, isn’t leading the life of a common college student. He’s the top star on a men’s basketball program with a strong fan base, and he has realistic aspirations of playing in the NBA after his college career.
Going forward, Maciariello said he’s “not at all” concerned with Pickett’s reliability for Siena, which is 2-4 on the season and looking to snap a three-game losing streak when it plays Saturday at Cal Poly. Maciariello said it’s his responsibility to make sure Pickett is better supported in dealing with the “external pressures” his tremendous freshman season helped create.
“I think [Pickett’s infractions] brings to attention, maybe a little bit, my leadership and being able to help Jalen more handle the pressure of the stardom that’s come,” Maciariello said.
Benching Pickett for last Saturday’s game, Maciariello said, was also meant as a reminder that each Siena player is held to the same standard. The first-year coach could have handed out a lesser punishment, or none at all, but opted to sit out his best player to make a point.
“It’s just about bringing these guys along and growing them all together,” Maciariello said, “and I think that was probably one of the first steps we could do was make him sit that game against Colgate to show that no one is above the team, and [then] getting those guys to really rally behind Jalen to help him with those issues with that external pressure.”
Pickett said those pressures have affected him “a little bit,” but that he cannot let that continue.
“I definitely think we had some distractions, myself included,” Pickett said. “I think that’s been holding us back a little bit.”
Siena junior Manny Camper said the rest of the Saints are confident their star player will bring the right mindset into the rest of the season.
“I know Jalen. He’s learned from it,” Camper said. “It’ll never happen again. He’s going to come back strong."
“My teammates had my back and I have their back,” Pickett said. “We all love each other. It’s just a learning experience for me.”