22 Strong Endures Manhattan To Become Repeat MAAC Champions

It is hard not to hear the phrase “22 strong” in any Manhattan Jaspers huddle.

In fact, it isn’t hard to hear it from senior RaShawn Stores leading the huddle as Manahattan managed to repeat and became the first MAAC champions to go back-to-back since Siena finished its three-peat in 2010.

Steve Masiello’s pep talk prior to Iona vs Manhattan #maachoops @gojaspers @maacsports

A video posted by Ryan Restivo (@ryanrestivocbb) on

//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.js“We all lose people every day man and we just fight for them; 22 Strong and that’s all that matters,” Stores said. “Last year it was T.O.E, it was Team Over Everything because we had doubters last year. This year, 22 Strong.”

This season could have gone in plenty of different directions, starting at this point almost a year ago when their head coach Steve Masiello was on the verge of taking the head coaching job at South Florida, only to see him return to the school on leave. Masiello was very clear after the championship that he had dedicated this title to his players; the ones who came back and united behind the 37 year-old head coach after his return.

“This program rose above a lot of things, a lot of things,” Masiello emphasized after their second straight championship win. “They took the high road, they handled themselves with class, and the cream rises.”

“For me to be where I’m sitting and to be associated with these young men, I’m the lucky one. I’m the luckiest coach in college basketball and it’s about these kids. That’s what we can’t lose sight of. It’s about these kids.”

The fourth-year head coach of the Jaspers even gave credit to Stores for helping come up with Monday’s game plan to stop one of the highest scoring teams in the nation. The 5’11’ point guard stopped the head coach on Sunday night, after the win over Saint Peter’s, to help figure out how to attack the Gaels.

“He literally came up with the scheme of how he wanted to play the game and that’s not an exaggeration,” Masiello said. “He told me he wanted to fan out, not trap David [Laury], play single coverage and let’s see how they played it.”

“He’s going to be a superstar in this coaching business and I’m lucky to have him. I’ve got three phenomenal seniors who understand winning. They sacrifice personal accolades and everything that everyone else is about for the things that are important. Ashton Pankey, Donovan Kates, Emmy [Andujar] and RaShawn are a coach’s dream.”

The group came together through the tough circumstances, which is where the “22 strong” originated, representing the 14 players on the roster and eight staff members.

“Just everybody being against us, not believing in us, that’s why we came up with 22 Strong,” Andujar said. “Just the coaches to the staff to the managers, that’s our circle right there, that really believes in each other. We felt like everybody was really against us, so that’s how it went down.”

Stores, along with Andujar and Kates were the first class that Masiello brought to Riverdale. Nowhere was 22 strong more relevant than during this past season, especially in the championship game when the senior Kates came through with a season-high 13 points, including a dagger three to put the Jaspers ahead 67-63, a deficit the Gaels never overcame.

The 6’6″ senior wing said that the coaches and teammates confidence in him helped deliver his best scoring game since 2013.

“That was just the big thing; everybody kept confidence in me so I kept confidence in myself,” Kates said. “When you can look around and the guys around you have confidence in you, how can you not have confidence in yourself? That’s pretty much it for me. I give all the credit to them. I play for these guys.”

A group that emphasized team over itself last season, managed to build a new way to stay together and play for each other. Their reward? A second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

“The main goal as the leader of this team was to keep everybody level-headed and we know all we’ve got, 22 Strong,” Stores said. “A lot of people don’t see what we go through day in and day out, and it feels good. It feels good to be back to back.”

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.

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