In what was considered a disappointing season for Manhattan’s Men’s Basketball team, the Jaspers finished 10-22 overall (5-15 in the MAAC), landed themselves at the bottom of the conference, and suffered a heartbreaking loss to Rider in the first round of the MAAC tournament.
While the team was not predicted to succeed by their usual standards, Steve Masiello’s team was still projected to finish sixth in the conference. After not having the opportunity to three-peat in 2016, Masiello was motivated to take Jasper Nation back to the top of the conference.
“It’s always personal,” Masiello said at the inaugural New York College Basketball Media Day, as published in The Quadrangle’s season preview. “Anyone who says it’s not personal is giving you media talk. … I don’t want to see anyone else win a championship but us, and I’m going to be selfish with that. I want to win a title every year. … I just want to keep winning as much as we can. … Seeing anyone else win, it hurts. It should hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re in the wrong sport.”
Manhattan had plenty of new faces join the team this season. After graduating RaShawn Stores and Shane Richards; Masiello added freshmen Na’Quan Council, Oliver Ehrnvall, and Aaron Walker Jr, transfers Ahmed Ismail, Zavier Peart, and Sky Williams, a healthy Samson Usilo, and an eligible Zavier Turner to the roster.
This was a needed revival for the team, after injuries and suspensions plagued the 2015-2016 season. Adding talent to a roster with proven seniors like Rich Williams and Tyler Wilson, as well as key contributors such as Zane Waterman, Calvin Crawford, and Thomas Capuano kept the Jaspers relevant within the conference.
However, the team suffered their first loss when pre-season All-MAAC Second Team nominee and team leader Rich Williams went down with a knee injury before the season started. He was projected to come back towards the middle of the season, but setbacks along with a disappointing start forced William’s hand to apply for a medical redshirt.
“My job is to be here, I’m just trying to be the best teammate I can be,” William’s said in an interview with The Quadrangle earlier this year, “I’m learning a lot, it’s going to help me evolve”
Following the loss of one of the team’s best players in Williams, who averaged a career-high 14.8 points and 6.0 rebounds as a junior, Manhattan’s offense struggled. As the student body returned from the winter intercession in mid-January, the team was 2-5 in conference and just 7-11 overall.
Although the team showed signs of struggle, Masiello remained confident in his guys and his system to lead them to winning basketball.
“If I was everyone else I would panic,” Masiello said, after a win against Niagara earlier this season, “We have the blueprint… but you know what, we’ll get there and we’ll be ready come March.”
The Jaspers would go on to lose their next three of their next four conference match-ups, and all by double digits. With the teams hopes for a regular season comeback dwindling, frustration started to build around the locker room.
Manhattan’s woes culminated in the Alumni Hall press room on Sunday, January 22nd. Following the team’s 81-68 loss to Siena, Steve Masiello took to the podium in front of the media and delivered an agitated monologue on the millennial generation, more specifically, the generation his team was comprised of.
Masiello’s statement was definitive, controversial, and aggressive. It shook-up Jasper nation, and when it went viral, it shook-up many Manhattan College Alum. Many of these alumni voiced their opinions on social media, or like Natalie Sullivan ‘14, through The Quadrangle.
Many of those opinions, including Sullivan’s were combative towards the Masiello’s comments. They felt the coach was out of line in what he said, and was misrepresenting the school as well as its alumni
With the intent to further investigate the roots of these comments, and the overall image of the school, The Quadrangle spoke with school president Brennan O’Donnell, Ph.D. For those concerned alumni, O’Donnell had a confident – but vague – answer to the questions of how the situation was handled.
“We took the situation seriously, and decided to address it internally was the appropriate way.” O’Donnell said.
From there The Quadrangle was directed to the office of head athletic director Marianne O’Reilly. She re-affirmed what the president had said; as well as her confidence in Masiello. As an alumnus of the school herself, O’Reilly connected with the emotion communicated to Sullivan’s letter to The Quadrangle.
“I don’t think he meant anything maliciously,” O’Reilly said, “I think in reflection, he mis-stepped, he misspoke, he should have been more focused on the team.”
Manhattan’s Sports Information Directors office maintains that O’Reilly’s statement represents the position of the entire athletic department, and declined The Quadrangle the opportunity to question Masiello on his comments.
The second half of the season did not prove to be much more rewarding then the first for the Jaspers. They struggled, showed flashes of brilliance, but also of inexperience; as the team stumbled into their last place finish after being blown-out in the final game of the season at Iona.
One of the bright spots towards the end of the season was the emergence of Aaron Walker Jr. The freshman from Brooklyn, NY averaged 15.8 points and 3.0 assists in the team’s last four contests of the season.
More importantly, Walker Jr. earned the trust of his head coach by the end of the season. When the game was on the line in their loss to the Rider Broncs in the MAAC tournament, Masiello wanted the ball in Walker Jr.’s hands, and on the biggest stage, the freshman almost helped Manhattan complete a heroic comeback.
“I feel like I learned a lot from everything that’s happened this year, and I’m just looking forward to next year.” Walker Jr. said, after the teams loss last week.
As the team enters the off season, they will only be graduating senior guard Tyler Wilson. A player who Masiello greatly adores, Wilson took sole possession of fifth among the schools all-time assists leaders in his final game. In addition to that, he walks away from Manhattan basketball a two time MAAC champion, and an idolized team leader.
Next season, the Jaspers will be led by the return of a healthy fifth-year-senior Rich Williams. They will also be graduating Zane Waterman, Calvin Crawford, Ahmed Ismail, Zavier Turner, and Zavier Peart; so long as they all return.
According to Masiello, the experience his team endured this season was necessary, and he is confident that his guys will build off their bitter loss to Rider to come back stronger next season.
“Unfortunately, sometimes you have to go through this.” Masiello said, “I’m not worried about the basketball, I’m worried about us as people growing. And I believe they’ll do that so I’m optimistic about it.”