The clock was winding down for Manhattan at the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament, and with it, so was the men’s basketball season.
The dream and the quest to become just the third team in MAAC history to win three consecutive titles was about to be over at the hands of the Siena Saints. The streak of playing in three consecutive championship games, the last two, which resulted in championship victories, was close to being terminated.
A foul was called in the last 25 seconds. Shane Richards checked out and hugged head coach Steve Masiello.
“Thank you seniors,” Manhattan’s fans chanted.
Six seconds later, another foul. RaShawn Stores left the game and like his teammate, embraced his head coach.
“Thank you seniors,” the fans chanted again.
The clock hit zero. The season had expired, and so did the careers of Richards and Stores, two of the winningest players to put on a Manhattan uniform.
With the loss to Siena, Richards and Stores ended their illustrious collegiate careers, which have seen them gain both individual and team success, and have been rivaled by few players in program history.
“Five years ago when we came here, they came here with no vision,” Masiello said of Richards and Stores. “They came and we hadn’t accomplished anything. … I think if you evaluate it five years later, 9-2 with these guys in MAAC Tournaments, two MAAC Tournament championships, three seasons of postseason play, obviously you want to get a third. … Obviously we wanted to win tonight. Obviously we wanted to win this tournament, but it’s tough to do it every year.”
When Stores and Richards committed to Manhattan, they did so on blind faith. Manhattan had had very little success in the MAAC, and had not won a tournament since 2004. But both Stores and Richards placed their trust in Masiello, who had a vision for the program and wanted both to be a part of it.
“I have trust in coach Mas since I stepped in that office on day one,” Stores said. “I just thank God for putting him in my life because I don’t know where I’d be at right now.”
Right out of the gate, Richards and Stores validated Masiello’s faith in them, showing signs of the players they would become. Both had superb rookie seasons, which resulted in an All-MAAC Rookie selection for Stores in 2012-2013 and a share of the Rookie of the Year Award for Richards in the same year.
Yet despite the early individual success for the players, it was their contributions to the team’s accomplishments that they were most notable for.
“If you told me four years from now we’d be back-to-back champions and would’ve had the career that I’ve had here, I wouldn’t believe it,” Richards said. “Obviously, I’ll take it as well. … These guys are my brothers and I’ve made a lot of great friends and a lot friendships that are going to last forever.”
The duo transitioned from being contributors on the squad early in their careers, to the main pieces and the glue of the team. This past season, Richards and Stores were the leaders of the team, and served as the veteran voices for the younger players on the squad.
“Having Shane and RaShawn helps you learn a lot how to be leaders because they’ve won before,” Tyler Wilson, Manhattan’s junior guard said. “Us coming up, following them, you learn a lot, so we just have to take what they taught to us and add to them.”
Following the loss to Siena, Stores held his head high. The senior had been a part of three consecutive championship games. Had won the last two, and had culminated a memorable career at Manhattan.
All he had left to do was give advice to Rich Williams and Wilson, who will constitute Manhattan’s senior class next season and will be the team leaders.
“After the loss tonight, I went in there and told them ‘keep their heads up’,” Stores said was his message to Williams and Wilson. “There’s no reason to be down. Shane [Richards] and I won. We won. It’s your time now.”
Richards leaves Manhattan as the all-time 3-point leader with 312 in his career. The 6-foot-5 forward also ranks eight in school history with 1,472 points. Manhattan’s 3-point king entered Manhattan after not receiving any scholarship offers to play Division 1 basketball, and exits as an All-MAAC First Team selection.
Stores will be remembered for his big-shot making ability, veteran savvy and defensive tenacity. The senior had a knack for drawing key offensive fouls in significant games, and was more often than not relied on to take and make important shots. Although the 5-foot-11 guard sacrificed individual success for the good of the team, he was consistently among the MAAC leaders in 3-point percentage, steals and assists.
And while Richards and Stores leave with individual resumes rivaled by few in Manhattan history, their simple presence is what stands out. Richards and Stores were around for the resurgence of Manhattan’s basketball program, and it is for that that Masiello is most grateful for.
“You look what these guys have accomplished,” Masiello said, “and more importantly, the people they are and how they went about it, what they’ve meant to each other. We wouldn’t have a Rich Williams in this program if it’s not for RaShawn and Shane. Tyler wouldn’t be here, Zane [Waterman] and Calvin [Crawford]. You’ve got to have good character to get character. These guys understand that. They’re two of the greatest to ever wear the green and white.”