After an emotional win on Senior Day against Quinnipiac, Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello sat in between the team’s three seniors, and Ashton Pankey, as they addressed the media.
It was not an ordinary press conference for Masiello, who is known for his jokes, analogies and money quotes after a win that could turn an empty room with three reporters into “The Steve Masiello Show.”
This one was different.
An emotional Masiello sat in his chair, looking down, without saying a word.
Nearly one year ago, he was the most scrutinized man at Manhattan College.
After taking a head-coaching job at the University of South Florida, news broke that Masiello had never graduated college, prompting USF to rescind its offer.
The scandal received national attention and even more controversy on campus. A satirical edition of “The Quadrangle” ran a parody of the head coach on the front page, while faculty at the school sent letters to the school president asking for further explanation on the decision to allow Masiello back.
Masiello later went on to tell the “New York Post” that he did not want to leave his house, as he was uncertain if he would ever coach again.
But 11 months later, Masiello has led Manhattan to another winning season and will have a chance to win his second consecutive MAAC championship and third straight finals appearance. While Masiello has faced his own off-the-court adversity, it is just the beginning for a team that has overcome a myriad of troubles.
Regardless if the team wins another MAAC championship, they have proved something bigger.
They have won over each other.
“I can’t put it into words,” Masiello said about what his team has done for him. “With everything I’ve been through – from my degree situation – these guys are the reason I’m back. They never left my side. It’s tough. It’s tough to explain because the highs are easy, but when you got guys like this during the lows, you know, it’s special.”
“I’m going to miss these guys [three seniors and Pankey] so, so much,” he continued. “They believed in me when no one else did.”
During Emmy Andujar’s freshman year, his brother was murdered. When Andujar went to court this past December to testify for the prosecution of the three men charged with murdering Andujar’s older brother, Masiello went with him, according to the “New York Daily News.” This was just one day after Andujar recorded 15 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists in a win against Marist at Draddy Gymnasium.
Just last month, sophomore Carlton Allen’s father passed away. The team came together and defeated Siena, 80-74, in his honor.
“I can name each family member that passed away my four years here,” Andujar said about how the off-court adversity has turned the team into family. “It’s just crazy. But we just stuck together and that’s what made us stronger.”
“We all we got,” senior RaShawn Stores said. “We know that at the end of the day. It don’t matter about the refs, the fans, anyone. At the end of the day when we get on that bus, it’s all of us on that bus. It’s 22 strong.”
For Masiello, being accepted back into Manhattan was never an issue. It was bigger than basketball for the players on the team. He became a father away from home for some of the players on the team who were forced to grow up quicker than they expected.
If the adversity didn’t turn the team into family, Masiello sure did.
This weekend, the Jaspers will travel to Albany as defending champions, a title that may feel forgotten due to Iona’s prowess in the MAAC this season. Manhattan will not be the favorite to win it all, but to the players on the team, it will not really matter.
All they need is each other.
“I think our brotherhood makes us even better players,” Pankey said. “We’re all so close. We go through struggles together and we fight together. Obviously, I came in as an immature kid who transferred from Maryland, obviously for my family, but just being here for a couple years, I learned to love these guys. They’re my second family. I love all of these guys.”