Steve Masiello will now say the best thing that ever happened to him might have been an injury.
Three seasons ago the Jaspers slogged along at this time of the year, barely cracking .500 in league play and hoping they could find their best basketball in March as George Beamon heard the bad news that his season was over. Manhattan found a way to adjust and made a run to the MAAC tournament final, where they fell to Iona and finished with a 14-18 record. But it was turning around a team that started 6-15 to an 8-3 final stretch that taught the young coach how to adjust with a roster that didn’t lend itself to his system.
“Greatest thing that ever happened to me was not having George Beamon because it was the first time I ever lost in my life,” Masiello said. “It wasn’t just go out and play, we’re going to have to adjust, that was when I learned how to be a head coach was that second year.”
The head coach in his fifth season with the Jaspers learned that 2012-13 season to adjust his team around players like juniors Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado to salvage a season that saw them start 3-9. Masiello credits that season towards helping him learn how to change and adapt when his team was more suited to play a slower style of basketball than his preferred tempo.
Nowhere has that been more useful than his Jaspers this season and a group that primarily plays seven players after defections of Jermaine Lawrence preseason and Carlton Allen during the year.
“This team three years ago I don’t know if we could have accomplished what we’re doing now just because I would’ve been too stubborn,” Masiello said. “What I’ve learned is we might not do certain things well that our typical teams have done, but we might actually do other things a little better than certain teams have done.”
“I’m really trying to play to our strengths and not talk about our weaknesses as much. It doesn’t mean we’re not working on them, we’re trying to get better, but we’re really going to try to placate to the strengths of this team maybe more so than any other team.”
So far the Jaspers have absorbed a five game losing streak in the first month of the season and now have played to a .500 record in conference play. Manhattan takes the most time per possession on offense in MAAC play and works to grind their opponents out by getting to the free throw line and, when they can, apply appropriate pressure on their opponents and produce plenty of turnovers. From that they are only one of two teams in the MAAC to register a win over first place Monmouth.
“My job is to get these guys to do enough to put us in situations to be successful,” Masiello said. “Out of the framework of what we’ve done over the years, does it mean we press as much as we used to? No. Does it mean we’re as good defensively as we were? No, but look at our numbers the last five minutes of games, they’re the best we’ve ever had here.”
“If there was 11 of us I really would love this team, there’s really playing seven or eight or the rotation, but we’re not used to that. I don’t think anyone understands the belief I have in our system and in our process, what we do in the offseason and during the year. I don’t think anyone can rattle that.”
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.