“The process.” Recently, it’s been the term associated with the Philadelphia 76ers’ rebuilding effort.
The seemingly endless dragging out of said “process” led the NBA to push Philadelphia to hire Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations this week with the team floundering at a record of 1-21 and once again projected to pick near the top of the NBA draft.
The process in Riverdale isn’t operating under the same level of scrutiny as the one taking place in Philadelphia, but it is a process nonetheless. It’s a process that evokes memories of last year’s Manhattan team. A squad coming off the high of a championship season, which started the year 2-7, yet somehow found their way back to the top of the MAAC.
The 2014-15 Jaspers went 13-7 in league play, good for third place in the MAAC. They finished the season just 16-13 overall, but their focus was not on the regular season. Their focus was on the postseason. Head Coach Steve Masiello built his team to peak at the right time, and they rode late momentum past their biggest rival and into a second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Gone are George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado (although Alvarado did join Masiello’s staff as a Special Assistant to the Head Coach this season). Gone are Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey. This is the team that Masiello built, and it is undergoing its own process.
The latest entry in this year’s process came in heartbreaking fashion. Manhattan fell to local rival Columbia 72-71 Wednesday night at Draddy Gymnasium thanks to a 3-pointer from Columbia’s Luke Petrasek in the waning seconds. The loss dropped this year’s Jaspers to 1-6 on the season following an 0-2 start in MAAC play last weekend.
But just like last year, the slow start has not affected Masiello. In fact, he has embraced it.
“Does it matter if you go 20-0 and lose the MAAC tournament?” Masiello asked. “I don’t want to lose, but at the end of the day it comes down to what we do on three nights in Albany this year. End of the day, that’s what my program plays for: to go to the NCAA Tournament. That’s what I’m about. If I lose in the semis, ask me how I feel then. But until that point, it’s about a process. People who don’t have belief in their process and their system, they panic now. We don’t panic. We know what’s important. We know what matters.”
Wednesday’s loss came despite a career night from forward Zane Waterman. The sophomore surpassed his previous career high in points before the game even reached halftime. Waterman finished 7-for-13 from the field to lead Manhattan with 22 points. Despite the breakout performance, Masiello was hesitant to laud the sophomore, instead opting to set new goals for his forward.
“I think it’s a process for him,” Masiello said of Waterman. “I think he’s understanding when he can go and when he can’t go. Zane did some good things tonight, but defensively he did a lot of bad things, and that’s part of the process.”
Rich Williams powered Manhattan through the second half and finished the game with his first career double-double on 17 points and 11 assists. Williams scored 15 of his points and grabbed eight boards in the second half alone. Shane Richards managed 12 points despite shooting just 2-for-11 from the field and 1-for-9 from 3-point range. The senior guard and well-known sharpshooter is converting just 17.6% of his shots from behind the arc over his last five games.
For the Jaspers, it is about sticking to the process. Players may sulk after a disappointing loss, as is only natural. But whether or not the players are thinking it, Masiello is taking the big picture view for them. Just don’t be surprised when the Jaspers are making noise in March yet again, regardless of the record next to their name.
“I have no problem coming out, taking a couple of losses, and getting better when it matters,” Masiello said. “Sometimes you can learn from winning, and other times you have to taste defeat and pain to understand what you can and can’t do.”
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.