by Pete Janny and Whit Anderson, Sports Editor and Assistant Sports Editor
The college basketball landscape is in the midst of its most unconventional offseason yet thanks to the complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Transfer activity has skyrocketed as players have had a chance to take a step back to assess their options during the shutdown. In addition, the postponement of the NBA draft until October has bought early entrants more time to make a decision than in the past, but there has at least been more clarity on that front for college programs recently.
The Manhattan Jaspers are a team that has experienced both the good and bad of these weird circumstances.
Steve Masiello’s program needed a restart. After five straight losing seasons, the braintrust of the program needed to think bigger and better to improve a team that has been offensively challenged in recent campaigns. So far this offseason Masiello has shown increased focus and determination by doubling down his commitment to the transfer market.
The massive size of this offseason’s transfer market gave the Jaspers no shortage of options and they made sure to capitalize on the opportunity to add more talent. Early on, Manhattan secured commitments from transfers Joseph Douglas Stanley, Samba Diallo, and Anthony Nelson, who all have multiple years of eligibility remaining coming from reputed programs.
The trio of Douglas-Stanley, Diallo, and Nelson comes with a lot of untapped potential and a hunger to succeed. It’s a good bet that all three will get consistent playing time in the Jaspers’ rotation and will be entrusted key leadership roles given their past experiences at good programs.
Douglas-Stanley spent his first two seasons in college at George Mason University. Despite his reputation as a scorer, the shooting guard was never able to breakthrough at George Mason, averaging two points per game as a freshman and one point per game this past season as a sophomore in limited action.
“Being there for two years was cool and it was a nice switch up, but at heart I’m just a New York kid,” Douglas-Stanley told the Quad. “I needed New York back in my system. My favorite part of New York is the people and the atmosphere. Especially with basketball, I just feel it’s a different animal.”
Indeed, Douglas-Stanley’s love of New York and the hometown comfort it provides him played to the Jaspers’ advantage this time around. Just a few years ago, Manhattan was a strong contender for his services coming out of Mount Vernon High School. The respect Douglas-Stanley has for Masiello has not faded since then and he is now motivated to reward his coach for not losing faith in him as a player. He appreciates Masiello’s holistic view of his game without pigeonholing him as just a scorer.
“I know that he believed in me and what I was capable of and also that he wanted to win just as badly as I want to,” Douglas-Stanley said. “Coach Mas never looked at me as just a scorer.”
At Mount Vernon, Douglas-Stanley opened eyes with his three-point shooting ability. His lack of success in that area at George Mason was perhaps the most shocking part about his tenure at the school. A fresh start at Manhattan may do wonders for his confidence and allow him to return to being the impact player that hit 100 three-pointers as a senior in high school. It’s important to not forget that we’re talking about a player who dropped 50 points in a game, marking the highest scoring output in a single game in Mount Vernon history.
“Jason is a gifted scorer and is a winner and comes from a high pedigree program in Mount Vernon High School,” Masiello told the Quadrangle. “I recruited him a lot out of high school and am really excited about his addition. Great kid, high energy, fun to be around, and just a young man I click with.”
Originally from Senegal, Diallo comes to Manhattan from a UMass program that has underperformed in recent seasons. When he came to the states, he moved in with a host family in New Jersey and attended Pope John XXIII, where he developed into a bona fide division one prospect and was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN. After tearing his ACL his senior year, Diallo lost many of his original suitors, including high caliber programs like Virginia and Rutgers. Manhattan was also on his initial list of schools, but UMass made the best pitch to get him.
“I was recruited by pretty much all A-10 teams but I definitely remember having a conversation with him [Masiello] and him keeping things up front,” Diallo told the Quadrangle. “He cares about his players and he’s always there for them.”
Playing time wasn’t an issue for Diallo at UMass. He averaged 27.1 minutes per game last season and posted solid per game averages of 6.7 points and 5.9 rebounds. Standing at 6’7 with tremendous athleticism, Diallo is still scratching the surface of the player he could be. He has a quiet confidence about his game and his maturity belies the brevity of his basketball experience. He’s only been playing basketball in the United States since his sophomore year of high school.
“Samba Diallo is a high talent and had a lot of success at UMass,” Masiello said. “Just a great young man with a high character and is a self-motivator. He’s a guy I think can be a major impact player at Manhattan.”
Diallo’s decision to attend Manhattan was purely based on internal opportunities at the school ahead of any other factors, saying the location “had nothing to do with what I want to do.” Nevertheless, he is looking forward to playing closer to his home in New Jersey.
“Definitely feels good to be close to home and now people don’t have to drive three and a half hours to come see me play,” Diallo said.
There is a lot of optimism over the addition of Anthony Nelson. A native of Harlem, Nelson was a highly-regarded, three-star prospect out of South Kent School who had a quality list of suitors. Just like Douglas Stanley and Diallo, Nelson previously had dialogue with Manhattan in high school but wanted a bigger spotlight at Seton Hall.
“Coming out of high school I had a lot of big schools coming after me and Mas knew that,” Nelson said. “So we didn’t really have the type of relationship that we do now.”
Nelson’s modest contributions over two years at Seton Hall was simply the byproduct of getting lost in the shuffle of a stellar roster. Playing for a national championship contender at Seton Hall, Nelson chipped in 2.7 points per game and 2.3 assists per game as a sophomore last season. He possesses the playmaking package of a point guard, which figures to be fully unleashed at Manhattan with increased playing time. In addition, Nelson brings the type of defensive energy and shrewdness that perfectly compliments Manhattan’s aggressive style of play.
“The situation I was in I wasn’t really believed in as a player but I got to showcase what I was capable of,” Nelson told the Quadrangle. “I feel like as long as I’m in the right situation, I’ll be able to do those things.”
Over the past few seasons, Manhattan has lacked an orchestrator from the point guard position who can set up others and create for himself with regularity. It remains to be seen if Nelson is ready to be that kind of dynamic player for the Jaspers to help take the offense to the next level.
“He’s a point guard that we haven’t seen the likes of in quite some time at Manhattan,” Masiello said of Nelson. “Great young player with Big East experience.”
Coming to Manhattan means Nelson will be closer to his family for this next chapter in his basketball career. His grandfather, Steven Cherry, passed away from the coronavirus in April and was a big influence in Nelson’s life. His passing provided an epiphany moment for Nelson, prompting him to rethink his career goals.
“He told me, ‘you need to go somewhere you’re wanted.’ I always kept whatever he told me in the back of my head at all times,” Nelson told The New York Post after choosing Manhattan.
By transferring to Manhattan, Nelson has satisfied his grandfather’s wishes, and guaranteed that his family will be able to watch him play in person more often. He has one special fan in particular waiting to cheer him on at Draddy Gymnasium.
“Most of my family wasn’t able to see me play just because of the tickets we were able to give at my old school,”Nelson said. “I have a grandma whose 104 years old and she’s never seen me play so being closer to home it will be cool to have her come see me play.”
According to Zach Braziller of the New York Post, Nelson’s request for a waiver has been granted and he is now eligible for the upcoming season. That news is huge for a Manhattan team looking to get back into contention in the MAAC in year 10 of the Masiello era. Nelson will slot in alongside rising juniors Samir Stewart and Elijah Buchanan in the guard rotation for the Jaspers.
Nelson’s availability next season should at least somewhat alleviate the blow of having lost Pauly Paulicap (DePaul), Tykei Greene (Stony Brook), and Christian Hinckson (Binghamton) to the transfer portal this offseason. All three of those players were important contributors during their time with Manhattan and losing the trio hurts in a couple of different facets of the game.
Losing Paulicap — a fan favorite and an experienced leader — came as a shock and left behind a significant void both on the court and in the locker room for the Jaspers. It’s a disappointing ending to a memorable tenure for Paulicap at Manhattan, but it’s a move that will give him more exposure at DePaul.
“He obviously had a very good career at Manhattan and we’re going to miss him and wish him nothing but the best,” Masiello said of Paulicap. “He gave his heart every night out there on the court and that’s all you can ask. He wants to take his talents to a bigger stage and you have to respect that.”
The statuses of Diallo and Douglas-Stanley heading into next season are unknown at the moment, but the likely outcome is that they will have to sit next season and then have two years of eligibility remaining. Regardless, they seem to be prepared for when their time comes to wear the Kelly Green and White.
“Everyone wants to win so we have to do everything we can to get some wins,” Diallo said.
In July, Masiello obtained commitments from JUCO transfers Nick Brennen and Marques Watson, who will each be immediately available next season with two years of service remaining for both players.
Watson hails from Brooklyn originally and played last season for Miami Dade College where he averaged 9.8 points per game on 32.8 percent shooting from three.
Brennen played at Harcum College last season and averaged 12.3 points per game with a 39.5 percent clip from long range. Brennen, a native of Irvington, New York and a graduate of Iona Prep in 2017, follows in the footsteps of Paulicap, Tyler Reynolds, and Michael Okafor to have enrolled at Manhattan from Harcum in recent years.