One thing Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello will tell you is that he is a devout New York Yankees fan.
While he might enjoy the exploits of a team that has won the most championships in any sport, his test comes with having his team defend their own championship. Manhattan can’t hold onto a ‘Core Four‘ for a decade, and while most of the group has had a taste of success, they will need to earn it again.
The MAAC has sent five different teams as their tournament champion representative to the Big Dance in the last five seasons, and in order to buck that trend, Manhattan will have to understand what this group lost when George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Mike Alvarado finished their time in a Jasper uniform.
“George, Rhamel and Mike knew the best thing we had is those three guys knew what 6-25 felt like,” Masiello said. “This group has never experienced that, they’ve never experienced desperation, they never experienced what it’s like to have no one in the gym.”
“I don’t say that negatively, I say that was a great motivator for this program and now it’s different to motivate when you’re coming from a place of never want to be there again versus coming from a place of how do we surpass what we did.”
Masiello admitted it would be easier to motivate a team coming from six wins than to the level they are at right now. This group, whose seniors Masiello recruited in his first class, are the foundation of what he would like to see surpass the success of last season.
“I’m really challenging these seniors,” Masiello said. “What do you want to go out on now, what do you want to be known for, do you want to be known for turning it around, do you want to be known for turning it around and keeping it there or do you want to be known for really making history.”
The players might change, but the mentality that Manhattan wants to have this season is clear: to continue to build on their foundation of tough defense as well as explosive offense. Much of the pressure will be on players such as senior RaShawn Stores to run the point, his classmate Emmy Andujar to realize his potential as well as Donovan Kates to expand his role.
“To see these guys emerge as the players they’ve become and the people they’ve become is really something special, something that I take great pride in,” Masiello said. “The flip side of that is my standard for them is probably so unfair.”
The head coach, entering his fourth season with the Japsers, admitted his standard for his seniors are close to his expectations for his assistant coaches. Though he would not give them such a difficult task if he didn’t believe they are capable of it; they will have every opportunity to show and prove their growth this season.
“RaShawn Stores is the best leader I’ve ever been around other than Peyton Siva,” Masiello said. “I think those are the two best leaders and RaShawn has more of an impact on the program than I do. It’s really important for me that RaShawn is in a good place.”
The most difficult part to defending a championship in college basketball is the inevitable target every night. However, the most difficult part of sustaining a program at championship level has to be making sure the new group embraces the challenge as much as last season’s group. Though the slate has been erased to start the 2014-15 season, the hope is that parts of the foundation will rise and create a sustainable future.
“I think the thing I’m the most proud of is I really feel we built a program here,” Masiello said. “We’re going into our third straight MAAC championship game, trying to go to back-to-back NCAA [tournaments], I think we’re building this thing in year four the right way.”
“I think it’s going to be something that’s bigger than Steve Masiello, than Kadani Brutus, George Beamon, Mike Alvarado, Emmy Andujar. It’s going to be bigger than all of us.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.