LOUDONVILLE — With a social-media post Wednesday, Manny Camper confirmed two things.
One, he plans to play his senior season of men’s college basketball at Siena after testing the NBA draft waters.
Two, that the Saints are the clear-cut favorite in the MAAC for that season.
“We can go be back-to-back champs,” Camper said during a phone interview. “This is a special team.”
Camper, a 6-foot-7 wing player coming off a breakout junior season, finalized Wednesday his decision to withdraw from NBA draft consideration, a move that provides head coach Carmen Maciariello with arguably the MAAC’s top-two players heading into the 2020-21 season. Rising junior Jalen Pickett is the reigning MAAC Player of the Year, while Camper — one of 29 players last season to average a double-double — joined his teammate as an All-MAAC first-team selection during a campaign that saw the Saints win a regular-season championship and their final 10 contests in a 20-10 season that concluded when the MAAC tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He’s a cornerstone of our program,” Maciariello said of Camper, whose athleticism and versatility is critical to making his coach’s four-guard system work.
Camper averaged 13.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game last season after rarely playing as a freshman and serving as a role player during his sophomore season. Camper declared for the NBA draft in early April and had until next Monday to withdraw in order to maintain his college eligibility, but was unable to work out for any NBA teams during the last few months because of the pandemic. Despite that, Camper was able to garner feedback from NBA clubs on his game and what he needs to improve in order to be able to play at that level.
The evaluation Camper received? His athleticism and defensive versatility makes him into a potential prospect, but he needs to improve his shot from the foul line and behind the 3-point line. Camper made 15 of 45 shots from 3-point range last season after attempting only 32 shots from deep during his first two college seasons, while Camper made 65.4% of his free throws after connecting on 52.2% as a sophomore.
“The smartest decision for me was to return,” Camper said. “Getting my degree is huge. That’s a big thing I want to do. So, now, I can get my degree — and, my team is special.”
While the outlook of the 2020-21 college basketball season remains uncertain because of the coronavirus pandemic, the quality of Siena’s roster is clear. Beyond Camper and Pickett, a third starter returns in rising sophomore Gary Harris. While the Saints need to replace nearly 26 points per game with the departures of Elijah Burns (graduation) and Don Carey (transfer), there are rising sophomores who showed promise in Jordan King and Kyle Young, incoming transfers expected to play key roles in Harrison Curry, Nick Hopkins and Dana Tate, and talented freshmen such as Aidan Carpenter who spent the second half of last season practicing with the Saints.
“When you have a very versatile team,” Camper said, “the sky is the limit because you have so many different lineups.”
“There’s going to be a lot of competition for us, and competition breeds success,” Maciariello said.
And that’s true — but everything for the 2020-21 Saints comes back to “Manny and Jalen,” as Maciariello often groups them together when discussing his squad. When those two players are on the court next season in MAAC play, the odds are in Siena’s favor that its lineup will always include the best two players on the floor.
Camper said he’s unsure on when exactly he’ll head to upstate New York. A Maryland native, Camper may arrive as early as next Monday to begin a mandatory two-week quarantine prior to classes starting Aug. 24 since Maryland is on New York’s travel advisory list. The 21-year-old Camper is one of several Siena basketball players that needs to arrive early in order to be ready for classes, and Camper said he plans to be back at school within a couple weeks.
While playing in the NBA remains Camper’s dream, he said back in April that a return to Siena for the 2020-21 academic year “would be great, too.”
He doubled down on that take Wednesday.
“I’m extremely happy,” Camper said. “I’m feeling good about the decision.”