The concept of interchangeable parts helped revolutionize modern manufacturing in the 19th Century. Parts, made to the same standard of quality, that when put together form a machine. When one part required repair, it could be exchanged for a new version and the machine would work again. When one part failed, the machine itself was no longer doomed to fail with it.
That same concept will be put to use in Riverdale this season. Not to revolutionize industry, but to refashion the Manhattan Jaspers. For the first time in three years, the Jaspers aren’t wearing the MAAC crown, and it falls on head coach Steve Masiello to guide his team back to the throne.
Under Masiello, the Jaspers have built their trademark upon a high-pressure defensive system, designed to confound and disorient the opposition. It is a system carried over from Masiello’s time as an assistant under Rick Pitino at Louisville, a six-year period of 20 or more wins including four NCAA Tournament appearances.
It is that signature system which aided the Jaspers in their pursuit of back-to-back MAAC championships in 2014 and 2015. It led Manhattan to be ranked 35th in the nation in steals per game last season, and this year it may be the adoption of interchangeable parts which bolsters the system and ignites a bid to regain the conference crown.
“The thing I love about this team is our depth,” Masiello said at last month’s New York College Basketball Media Day hosted by Hofstra University. “We can get guys to come in and play for three or four minutes as hard as they can, then get two new guys in right away and constantly have fresh bodies. When we’ve been able to do that, we’ve had our most success.”
Manhattan returns three of its top four leading scorers of a season ago, but loses leading contributor Shane Richards. Rich Williams, Zane Waterman, and Calvin Crawford are expected to be leaned upon this season not just for their on-court prowess, but their experience with the demands of the system. All three averaged double-figures last season – Williams posted 14.8 ppg while Waterman and Crawford averaged 11.0 and 10.8 respectively.
“The thing no one really knows about Rich is he’s finally playing his natural position back at the 3,” Masiello said of his senior guard. “Now we’re getting Rich back to a scoring area, and he scores like people breathe. He’s a very gifted scorer.”
The junior duo of Waterman and Crawford project to be fixtures of the Jaspers’ frontcourt, though Masiello anticipates continued improvement as each player’s skill set flourishes.
“Zane’s a guy who should be a double-double guy almost every night,” Masiello said. “Calvin Crawford is more out of that Emmy [Andujar] mold in a sense that he can do a lot of different things. He can hurt you in the post, step out and shoot it, put it on the bounce, and rebound the basketball.”
Players joining the cast this year include Ball State transfer Zavier Turner, 7-foot-2-inch center Ahmed Ismail of Cairo, Egypt, and freshman Aaron Walker Jr., a star at Cardozo High School last season. They, along with four new faces and five other returners, should provide Masiello with enough pieces to effectively run his high-pressure system.
“There’s a lot of options now that I don’t think we had maybe last year,” Masiello added.
Turner especially owns the potential to develop into one of Manhattan’s key pieces this season. The 2014 Mid-American Conference Rookie of the Year averaged 8.7 ppg and 3.3 apg as a sophomore in 2014-15 before sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules.
“What I think is really going to separate him is how much of a student of the game he is,” Masiello said of Turner. “He’s got so much upside. He’s very good right now, but I think he has a chance to be really special throughout the year.”
One might think the rise of conference foes Monmouth and Siena, widely projected as the top two teams in the league, coupled with cross-town rival Iona’s league championship last season might take the pressure off the Jaspers and allow them to fly under the radar. Not so fast, says Masiello.
“At the end of the day, when you see Manhattan on your schedule you’re just going to get up a little different.” Masiello petitioned. “I would love to come in and say we’re the underdog, but I’ve already seen a lot of schedules and [schools] have their Whiteout, or whatever it is against Manhattan. That’s all you need to know right there.”
As it is with industry, the performance of the individual parts will determine the quality of the machine. It is the interchangeable parts, and the man at the helm responsible for their standard of quality, which will determine if Manhattan is again able to rise to prominence in the MAAC in 2017.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.