Siena’s Strong Start Fueled By Veteran Leadership, Youth

Siena is off to their best start since their NCAA tournament appearance in 2010, but head coach Jimmy Patsos is happy that Monmouth is clogging the spotlight.

“Good, I hope nobody’s watching us,” Patsos joked of their 7-4 start compared to the Hawks’ rise over the season’s first month.

One development Patsos has seen in his third season is how strong the chemistry is of his group. Marquis Wright and Brett Bisping are the team’s two captains and junior Javion Ogunyemi has earned the same trust. Patsos has seen a group that works well off the court translate that trust to on the court leadership.

“Javion has been a very good guiding force,” Patsos said. “Javion’s kind of emerged as a guy that’s got a lot of good things to say and he’s playing at a really high level.”

Ogunyemi was a question mark entering the season because of eligibility issues, stemming from his transfer to Boston University and return home to be closer to family, but since being given the go-ahead he has thrived. He has scored 12.5 ppg, grabbed 5.4 rpg and leads the team with 1.9 blocks per game. Add him to the steady presences of Bisping and Wright, who established themselves during Patsos’ first season as leaders, and the Saints have created the core of a MAAC contender.

Even with a group of veteran leaders, Siena also has energy from their back court coming in the form of freshmen Nico Claerth and Kenny Wormley. The 6’ Wormley has started at point guard, which has helped move Wright to the shooting guard spot where he has thrived, leading the team with 17.1 ppg.

“Kenny’s pretty steady, but him and Nico are both bringing us energy, Kenny’s is more like a quiet conservative energy, but it’s still good energy,” Patsos said. “Nico’s a smart dude. He has high IQ for the game and life and everything, but he’s a freshman, he’s emotional, he cheers for his teammates. He’s great on the bench, the more I coach him the more I appreciate Nico.”

Most of all Wormley has helped improve the Saints defense, which was porous last season in allowing opponents to shoot 45.2% from the field. This season they are making just 42.2% of their shots.

“Kenny has complete defensive pride, that’s what he prides his game on and I think that help us,” Patsos said. “Kenny Wormley’s playing D, Marquis takes pride in D and Lavon’s gotten a little better, but Brett’s intensity in taking charges and all that stuff is insane.”

“Everybody plays a little bit of defense, which last year nothing wrong with guys, Poole couldn’t move, Evan Hymes is a smaller guy – you could shoot over him – Poole couldn’t move, Brett was out. We just gave up way too many three-pointers last year.”

However for the Saints to take another step Patsos would like to see one of his most veteran players, senior Ryan Oliver, add a more consistent dimension to their team. The senior has made a three-pointer in all but two of their games this season.

“He could be the X-factor of this team, because when he plays well we play pretty well,” Patsos said. “When he makes jumpers it opens everything up and such, but he knows what to do.”

His message to one of his two seniors is to push forward through what could be the final three months of his playing career to help push the Saints over the top.

“Ryan is a senior business major who worked at Enterprise all summer, he’s trying to get a job and this and that and I understand all that,” Patsos said, “but also I’m like ‘hey, we can really use you and just gear it up a little more for three more months to play hoops’.”

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

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