Last year, heading into the season the biggest question mark facing the Manhattan Jaspers was how they would replace Michael Alvarado, George Beamon and Rhamel Brown.
The Jaspers answered that question; team depth.
Players like Emmy Andujar, Donovan Kates, Shane Richards and Ashton Pankey stepped up and took on a bigger role on the team.
This season, Andujar, Kates and Pankey are gone, but there is another wave of significant contributors in players such as Calvin Crawford, Ak Ojo, Samson Usilo and Zane Waterman, just to name a few.
Only there’s a minor problem. They haven’t all arrived just yet.
Various injuries to several members of the team have trimmed Manhattan’s depth, which has been a major factor in its 0-2 start.
“It’s a tough time with this team,” Steve Masiello, Manhattan’s head coach said about how the injuries have hurt the team. “We could barely even practice because we don’t have bodies. You take away Jermaine Lawrence from the team. You take away Calvin Crawford from the team. You take away Samson Usilo from the team. Now you’re down three bodies of guys that would probably be in your top seven. … It makes it very difficult to see where this team is, but we’ll get there.”
For the first game of the season against St. Mary’s, Manhattan was without Crawford, Ojo, RaShawn Stores and Usilo, all key members of the rotation who sat out due to injury. That left Manhattan with just nine healthy players on the roster, of which only seven were scholarship athletes.
The lack of personnel was exploited by St. Mary, who annihilated the Jaspers 89-63 in a game where Richards was forced to play 38 minutes, Rich Williams played 35 and Tyler Wilson played 39.
Then on Sunday, the Jaspers received some good news, as Ojo and Stores were able to make their season debuts. But the injury bug came biting once again. Samson Akilo sat out with an undisclosed injury and perhaps the biggest scare, Stores, the fifth-year senior and team leader re-aggravated a hamstring injury.
Yet again, the Jaspers find themselves without four players on the team.
It has taken a heavy toll on the Jaspers, as Masiello has been forced to trim his rotation. Masiello has been known for having a nine or 10-man rotation of players who are on the floor for two or three-minute stretches. Masiello trots out almost a conveyer belt of players who come in, provide a burst of energy on defense, go all out on the floor and then come out.
But the injuries on the squad has not allowed Manhattan’s signature team depth to be on display. Instead, Masiello has had to rely on his top players more than he is accustomed to.
On Saturday, Masiello perhaps leaned on Richards too much, as the senior played all 40 minutes. However, after the game, Richards would not admit to fatigue playing a part in his poor 8-21 shooting on the night.
“I just missed some shots,” Richards said. “I’m not sure if fatigue played a part. I really don’t know.”
But Masiello would not let Richards take the blame and interrupted him.
“I think it did,” Masiello said about fatigue affecting Richards. “That’s unfair to him. I didn’t set him up for success tonight. You can’t play 40 minutes in this league. He won’t say that. … I didn’t help Shane tonight and he helped me. I have to do a better job. I have to find a way to, even if it’s down to 36 [minutes], that makes a big deal.”
While the Jaspers wait to get some players back from injury to help alleviate the load on the likes of Richards, Williams and Wilson, there is a player they know they will not get back: Jermaine Lawrence.
Not because he has season-ending injury, but because the junior forward is no longer on the team. Lawrence was supposed to sit out half the season because of a suspension for failing two drug tests, but on Nov. 16, decided to withdraw from the school instead of serving the suspension.
It is a huge blow for the Jaspers, who were counting on Lawrence to—for at least half the season—not only provide some depth in the frontcourt, but perhaps take his game to another level, just like Andujar, Pankey and Richards did with theirs last year.
Lawrence is no longer in the team picture and Masiello will have to adjust. A beneficiary of Lawrence’s departure might be Ojo, who is back from injury, although not yet at 100 percent.
But one guy comes back and the other goes down. Now there’s the injury to Akilo, whose timetable is uncertain, and then there are still question marks that surround Crawford and his hand injury. Added to that is the latest injury to Stores, which leaves Masiello contemplating what he should do with his team.
“Do you play your style and be undermanned or do you adjust to being undermanned?” Masiello said is the question he is facing as a result of the injuries on the team. “It’s two games in so I’m not ready to make that decision yet, but there might be a time where I say, ‘you know what, we can only play eight because of the injuries and health and the lack of personnel that we have.’ We’re not at that place yet. My thing is I’m trying to figure out this team for the big picture.”
In the “small picture,” the Jaspers are 0-2. But as was the case with last year’s team, which got off to a 2-7 start with some injuries also playing a part, the team just needs to get its players back and then it can start showcasing that depth it has been associated with for the last three years.
“I know how the book ends, just sometimes the first eight chapters are tough to read,” Masiello said. “I know how the book ends, I always have. … I don’t worry about going down this road. I’ll put my seatbelt on, drive my four-wheel vehicle and put a bunch of guys in the back seat with me and we’ll be fine.”