Manhattan Jaspers fans think they know Steve Masiello, their head men’s basketball coach but they don’t. They only see the side of him that’s very intense; driven; and a passionate for his program; players; and winning whenever there’s a home game in Draddy Gymnasium or any place there’s a road game.
There’s another side of him that not many people have the privilege to see and experience. The one that Kevin Willard, Seton Hall Pirates head men’s basketball coach, calls “a very loyal friend” from their time together when they were both assistants for the Louisville Cardinals from ’05, when Masiello arrived, to ’07, when Willard went on to coach the Iona Gaels for three years.
“I don’t think a lot of people get to know Stevie. It’s Stevie Mas; it’s not Steve Masiello,” Willard said. “Stevie’s very laid-back, easygoing, has great sense of humor and has a great wit about him. I’ve been lucky to get to know both sides of him.”
Masiello’s personality didn’t derive from coaching, at least not all of it. It came from someplace much more personal, someone close to him. A person he definitively labeled his “best friend.”
His dad: Stephen Masiello Sr.
Masiello’s dad would wake up everyday at 6:00 a.m., travel to his 120,000 square foot warehouse that he owned in the South Bronx and work for 12 hours.
Masiello remembered his dad telling him quite often, “I do what I have to do, so you’ll never have to do what I have to do.”
He added that his dad would call him on his days off, say going back to high school for example, around 8:30 a.m. to tell him, “Get up. Let’s go. Start your day. What are you doing? Get to work.”
“He’s a big cause for everything in my life,” Masiello said. “I would have to say my mother, Kit, is a big part of my motivation. My father he taught me how to do things. My dad was a guy that had an answer or a solution for almost any problem I ever went to him with. He had a phenomenal way of seeing what was ahead, if you went down a certain road good or bad. The best way I could describe my father is he connected every dot before you actually connected the dots, he already had them connected for you.”
Then came the day no one wants to experience or ever expects to happen. On Dec. 16, ’08, at the age of 56, Masiello’s dad died of natural causes. Masiello said he remembered that morning he was on his way to work and when he checked his email his dad had already sent him a message at around 6:18 a.m. His dad wanted to let Masiello know how proud he was of him and how much he meant to him, including their relationship.
“Stevie’s dad was everything to Stevie,” Willard said. “It was a really tough time losing Mr. Mas, for a lot of people. Mr. Mas was very important in people’s lives. Stevie was very connected to basketball through Mr. Mas. It rocked him for a while, losing his father, it took a couple years for him to kind of recover from that.”
“Every professional person you can think of would go to his warehouse to talk to him to get advice,” Masiello said. “It was almost like an urban legend. The thing that was so amazing to me was that when he passed how many people I found myself consoling for what he meant to so many other people. Here I am I’m like, ‘Wait. It’s my father. You’re supposed to be consoling me.’ And here I am consoling people that it’s going to be okay.
“He was my best friend. We spoke like five times a day. We didn’t do much without each other. He was a special, special man.”
Title Role of Coach in ‘Jasper Nation’
After the news on April 15, ’16 that Chris Beard, newly hired as the UNLV Rebels head men’s basketball coach, decided to leave the Rebels for the Texas Tech Raiders less than a month after being appointed to the position. The Rebels shifted their focus on securing the only other finalist for the, again, vacant spot: Marvin Menzies, then-New Mexico Aggies coach.
When Menzie’s name resurfaced, he hadn’t even been given the reigns to the Rebels just yet, and he said Masiello, who he worked alongside with as fellow assistants with the Louisville Cardinals from ’05 to ’07, called him right away and told him, “Okay, let’s talk about what you think we need. Let’s bounce some stuff off each other.”
“He’s like a little brother to me,” Menzies said. “When times are tough going throughout the season, we talk several times and we’ll bounce things off each other, as great sounding boards for each other. It’s a blessing to have him in that role
“He’s a guy that if you’re in his family and you’re a part of his extended circle pf people that he supports then he’s all in. And you could rely on him for whatever you needed, he’s just solid like that. Some of those characteristics would pop up in different ways throughout the years that we worked together, I saw them over and over again. He still does that to this day.”
Masiello’s loyalty as a friend is what has found him success as a coach and why he’s able to connect with his players so well. Willard said he saw that in ’15 when the Jaspers won their second-straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) title. He said Masiello has evolved as a coach, which has allowed his players to evolve at the same time. Willard continued on to say that Masiello’s maturity as a coach has led to some adjustments in doing things differently.
“His players see the real softer side of Stevie,” Willard said. “It compliments him because his players respect the fact that he’s intense and wants what’s best for them, but at the same time he’s fun to hangout with and is relaxed. That’s why guys like to play for him so much.”
“One of the things that’s very appealing for players to Steve was that he’s so passionate about the game, and they have this common bond,” Menzies said. “But he’s very straight-ahead, direct with the guys; he always tells them the truth. He always would say, ‘I might not always be right but I’m always going to tell you the things that come from the right place of motivation.’ The thing that they like about him is that he’s so real with them.”
One of Masiello’s former players who still has fond memories of his time as a Jasper but more so of the relationship he continues to keep with Masiello is Trevor Glassman. When Glassman transferred from the Missouri Tigers to the Jaspers originally, he was shooting around in the gym when, with no introduction, Masiello said to him, “You have to stop flicking your guide hand, and keep it still when you shoot.” Glassman said he knew right then and there that this was someone who was going to pay attention to details, it didn’t matter if it had to do with coaching or building a personal relationship with his players.
“He reminded me more of a father-figure than a coach,” Glassman, who was a part of the Jaspers’ back-to-back MAAC championship teams and current Tigers guard, said. “He walked around like he was a boss, honestly, he carried himself well. He’s a great guy to have in your life, that’s something outside of basketball that’s even more of an accolade to him. I truly value every moment I had at Manhattan, but him and I have had some pretty good moments too. I’ve brought it with me wherever I’ve gone. I’m fortunate to have been coached by him.”
Glassman is just one example of past or present Masiello players who he has an impact on on-court and off. When Masiello was asked about what that means to him, he said it’s beginning to be the favorite part of his job and something that’s affecting him in his own life.
“The thing I’m starting to get the most joy in is when I get a phone call from an Emmy Andujar, who’s in Spain,” Masiello said, “and talking to me about his new contract he’s going to sign next year. Or going through the agent process with Shane Richards, and seeing the demand that he’s in. You’re starting to see, four or five years in, the affects of that we’re having on these guys in becoming men, we’re changing their lives. That’s powerful stuff.
“To think that we’re putting guys in situations for guys’ hard work, sacrifice and their investment in themselves is starting to pay returns, and I’m not just saying that financially I’m saying that in multiple ways. And they’re achieving things they’ve never even dreamed about in their life. That’s really, really powerful for me. I’d put that up there with winning the MAAC championship, maybe even more. The fact that the feeling I get when I hear the things that are going on with a George Beamon or a Rhamel or an Emmy, it’s life-changing.”