Siena Basketball: Interview with Head Coach Carmen Maciariello
In his first season as head coach of the Siena basketball program, Carmen Maciariello led the Saints to a MAAC regular season championship.
Carmen Maciariello knows how to win basketball games. It’s not an easy task to win lots of games right away, but after one year as the head coach of Siena basketball, it’s clear that Maciariello is off to an impeccable start. In year on at the helm, his Saints finished 20-10 (15-5 MAAC), capturing the MAAC regular season title.
The Saints featured four seniors on a very young team. One of those seniors was Elijah Burns, a transfer from Notre Dame, who averaged a stellar 14.4 points per game to go along with 5.8 rebounds. However, with double-digit scorers Jalen Pickett, Manny Camper, and Donald Carey set to all return amongst numerous role players, 2020-21 might be just as, if not even more successful than last season.
This isn’t to say it won’t come with challenges, or especially high expectations. While the Saints may not compete in a Power Six conference, they have boasted a slew of highly respected college basketball coaches, including current Iowa Head Coach Fran McCaffery and Georgetown Assistant Coach Louis Orr.
But Maciariello is a fiery young coach who has learned from two of the greatest already, given his assistant coaching position under Providence Head Coach Ed Cooley, and close relationships with the Albany City Rocks AAU team, where he coached Jimmer Fredette.
We talked with Maciariello to get a feel for year one in Loudonville, New York, as well as his vision for the program.
1. Can you take me through last season as a whole?
MACIARIELLO: I thought we had a great growth mindset every single day and our guys got better. I would say probably the lowest point in our season, was when we were 2-0 in the MAC and we were going on the road to play at Manhattan, and they do a great job and it was probably my fault. I told this to my players and the staff afterwards, I’m thinking we just beat Monmouth and we have a short light workout on Friday, and we go down Saturday and have a nice day and have a nice light workout Saturday. I’m thinking I’m going to save my guy’s legs and we’re going to be ready to play. And my team took that as maybe overconfidence and we were getting our butts kicked at Manhattan.
And then from that point, I made sure we guarded the opposing teams sets like how we’re going to defend live, and not take for granted that we know what we’re going to do just by going over a walkthrough with pace. I think that was a learning point for me and also it showed my ball club that I had no problem shouldering the blame and taking the responsibility of the team. Obviously I’m the head coach. And I thought from there on out we did a nice job.
We still had a tough stretch out in Buffalo. We lost to Canisus and Niagara back to back. I thought we played better in that Niagara game. We changed the starting line-up, and I just think it was a credit to our guys in our upperclassmen, our leadership of Elijah Burns and Manny Camper.
And guys like Matt Hein, who was a graduate transfer, a senior manager in Danny Cohen. So all these guys did a nice job of just putting the team first and really understanding what they had to do to win games. And then to go on a 10 game winning streak to end the season and to win on the road in some tough venues at Marist, at Fairfield, and at Iona. And so our guys, I thought did a nice job just understanding how hard they had to play every single possession and really working on themselves every day and getting better individually. But with that mindset of everything they were doing was for the betterment of the team.
2. What type of pride and motivation do you have being the hometown kid from Albany and former Saint yourself, to come back and coach Siena basketball?
MACIARIELLO: I think it’s the ultimate compliment. But also with that being said, it’s so much pressure, but I tell our guys to play in front of over 6,300 fans a night at home is an honor. With that comes that pressure, but that pressure is a privilege. We work our tails off and we try to do things the right way in all that we do and show respect and carry ourselves on and off the court with pride. For me, obviously there’s still professors and teachers on campus that I had when I was a student athlete at Siena. How our guys act in class and how they participate, and how they relate with their peers on campus is important to me.
I think the guys saw how prideful I was and how much it meant to me to be their head coach. I think that was something also that showed them how invested I was in them, as well. As a true student athlete, I didn’t care about a missed shot. I didn’t care about a missed defensive assignment or a lack of execution on an offensive play, as long as they were doing their best and all that they did. I think that also took time for them to see that I was just a genuine guy.
Obviously having been the defensive coordinator the year before, most of the guys knew me, but sometimes there’s apprehension, like: “Is coach going to be different? He’s the assistant that was doing this now he’s the head coach and he’s the boss. Is there going to be some change?” I think I alleviated that from our guys’ minds when they saw how I was every day.
Nothing changes with me. I’m always positive. I’m always upbeat. I’m always enthusiastic, because we have a great responsibility and we have a blessing to be able to impact lives every day to do what you love. And when you do what love, it’s not really work. Obviously it’s a job and I’m thankful for it, but when you do what you love, it’s not work.
3. You mentioned how you didn’t change your mindset whether being an assistant or the head coach. But where there any challenges that you did have in your first year as the head coach for Siena basketball?
MACIARIELLO: We were obviously successful. When I came with Jamion Christian, we inherited a team that won eight games and a coach had been removed. So we had turned that thing around and won 17 games and he was able to move on and get a job at George Washington. To inherit a team that won 17 games, where there was really no expectations, to now going to a team that we were picked preseason six before the season. For us, no one really gave it any mind. We thought we had a chance to win the league. And, and that’s why everyone does it. You all believe in yourself and you want to be the best team in the league in whatever conference you may be in.
We were the second slowest pace team in the country, because that was how we had to play. And then we surrounded those guys with a lot of shooting. And that wasn’t necessarily my style of play. I worked for Fran McCaffery, I worked for Ed Cooley. So I took a bunch of my philosophy from them. Obviously I worked for Joe Jones and Jamion. So, you’re able to mold your philosophy and kind of show how you were as a player too. I wanted that to kind of be conveyed in our team, and I love being able to attack the elbows and the blocks. I love being able to put pressure on the rim and get the ball in to the paint, and being able to drive the basketball.
To transition a team from the second slowest pace in the country behind Virginia, which was fine, Virginia won the, National Championship that year, to a team that I wanted to try to lead the league in scoring, which we did. I did a study when I got the job, and over the last 10 years in the MAAC, the team that’s won the league was always usually top three in scoring. I’m usually in the upper half in efficiency. I knew we’d have to be able to score the ball more. I thought we would be able to push the ball.
But I think that was the biggest thing, is getting the guys to understand why. You always want them to understand why we’re doing things and being able to push the ball, having some guys that can also make plays off the bounce. It wasn’t solely on Jalen, but also Jalen trusting in us, saying, “Hey, we’re going to get the ball back to you so we can go your bread and butter, which is the pick and roll.”
4. There was a point in the season when you lost three straight, but followed it up winning 13 of 14 to close out the season. What sparked that turnaround?
MACIARIELLO: I just think it was a constant process of always of doing the right thing day in and day out. It was just that accumulation of all that work built up and finally paying dividends. You always want to trust the process. And I feel like that phrase is so overused. But that’s what comes to mind: trust the process. And our guys also understood, us coaches telling them exactly what we need to do to win these games. I thought my staff did a better job, and I thought I did a better job communicating what I exactly needed. I’m a pretty organized and detailed guy. You can’t just rely on the organization and the detail of a plan. You have to still work that detail and work that organization on the court.
I was making sure I was holding everybody accountable, since you’re only practicing 60 to 75 minutes on the court. I thought that was good, because we were able to be really efficient and go at a high level. Guys could see when they gave it everything they had for that 60 to 75 minutes, that it would pay dividends. We were making sure we were mindful with our bodies in a weight room. Our strength coach does a great job. Greg Dashnaw, our training room guy does a great job. I was making sure I was scheduling guys to get their rehab in and to get their body maintenance in.
And so I just thought the guys over time, realized, “Hey, coach has a plan. He has a process we believe in.” And then I think it just kinda took off. I thought we were playing our best basketball at the end of the season, like you said, 13 out of 14. And that’s what you want to do. You want to be great in February. I don’t think we lost a game in the month of February. That’s a credit to my staff, and a credit to my players for believing in us. That power of belief is something that can move mountains. And I truly believe that.
5. One thing that stands out is your ties to the Albany City Rocks AAU program, which is in my opinion one of the top AAU squads in the country. Is that a way that Siena that continue to improve on the recruiting trail?
MACIARIELLO: The Jalen Pickett story is a funny one. I was an assistant at George Washington at the time and Jalen played for the City Rocks and he had gone to Aspire Academy in Ohio. He was really under recruited, but I just grew a relationship with him and got to know him and I always look out for those guys, whether I can recruit them at the school I’m at, or just to help them find a good home, because I think it’s all about fit regardless of what level you’re going to play. For me, it’s always going to be about fit. It’s always going to be about the relationships.
Obviously, Jim Hart is like a big brother to me. He spoke at my wedding. He inducted me into the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame. His wife is tremendous and close friends with my wife. I was one of the first guys to get a division one scholarship from the City Rocks before they were a sponsored by Nike. And so I look at that as I wasn’t a typical AAU guy that was reeling and dealing players. I was giving back to the program that helped get me a scholarship. When many people didn’t believe I was a division one player, Jim Hart believed in me. So when I was playing overseas in Europe, I’d come home and I would work with whatever teams he had and I would give back and go to the under 10 and under 13. I would go to all the different age groups and make sure guys were doing the right drills. And there was a foundation for success, both offensively and defensively. I was helping fundraise. I was mentoring guys, and for me, that’s really why I love the coaching aspect.
For me, I never knew I wanted to be a coach until I was overseas playing professionally. And you have so much time to think and kind of look at yourself in the mirror and see what makes you tick. And so from there, I was able to give back to the City Rocks and I was able to coach them.
I agree with you. I think they’re one of the best programs just because I think they do it the right way. Everyone has their own way of running programs, but I just think the way Jim does it, he gives his assistants and all the guys that volunteer their time, so much freedom to make an impact in these young men’s lives. And that’s what it’s all about.
Isaiah Stewart, obviously will get drafted this summer from Washington. When I got the job at Siena, he called me out of the blue just to check on me, to tell me I was going to do great and to see how I was. I thought that was pretty cool, and I’m a big fan of Isaiah’s and I just wish him nothing but the best.
Those are the type of kids that are in the program. You have Naz Carter, Jimmer Fredette, Mark Lyons, Talor Battle, etc. And it’s great, because hopefully I’m blessed enough to give those guys jobs when they want to get back into college basketball when their careers are done overseas. Obviously Talor’s done now. Mark’s still playing. Jimmer’s still playing. It’s great just to have that program, but for me, it’s somebody that believed in me and gave me a start and I always want to do right by those people.
6. Heading into next year, you don’t lose much scoring talent. When you look at that, on top of bringing in a transfer from Rhode Island in Dana Tate, how do you see the direction of Siena basketball in the future.
MACIARIELLO: What will be missed is Elijah Burns, just because he was a local kid who came home and he played how I knew he could play. In our home games, he averaged 18, again, he shot over 50% from three, over 60% from the floor, and 88% from the free throw line. So being able to get somebody that can, I’m not saying they have to be Elijah Burns, but that can be productive, that can have a great relationship with Jalen Don, Jordan King, and be a guy that can be able to read defenses and be a leader.
That leadership piece is what helps teams. When you have a unified locker room and that culture is intact and you have guys that are always spreading the good word, everybody should stay in line.
I think it’s a big year for Gary Harris, his sophomore year. With him understanding all the details that matter, because he’s such a tremendous athlete. Just getting him to think the game a little more. And I think he’s doing that. I think he’s working on his ball handling. Obviously Don Carey’s back, who had a great stretch run for us at the end of the season. He shot the ball extremely well. And you know, he’s a bonafide double-digit scorer for us. Manny Camper, first team All-Conference, he’s just a hard hat guy. He’ll do whatever it takes to win. And obviously he had over 20 double-doubles this year, which is super impressive. And then you still got Jalen and like you said, Dana Tate.
Dana, it’ll be interesting to see, and that will be one of our obstacles, is how do we transition him to play, because he’s a midyear guy. But I think with that being said, him being able to kind of get in our system for a full year. He was here second semester and then he’ll have this first semester to kind of bridge that gap in kind of getting those cobwebs off. I’m excited for Dana because he can play basically two through five for us in our system. He can come off ball screens, he can make reads, he’s a great communicator. He loves the gym, he loves working out, and he loves to play and he loves his teammates.
I’m expecting big things from Aidan Carpenter, even though he’s a freshman, I think him coming in that semester early helped with his development and understanding how hard he had to work. We still have Jordan King, who is obviously a deep threat for us on the floor and can stretch the floor. And I think we have a great freshman class coming in.
We want to be able to push the ball in transition. We’re going to be able to score it at the free throw line and get extra possessions off the glass. With it be in so early right now and us not being able to work with our guys until hopefully the start of school, I’m just hopeful these guys are doing everything they need to do and they’re showing good signs because they got over a 3.0 that second semester, when you have a built in excuse with remote learning. Just excited where this program is going in and thankful to be their head coach.
Featured image from The Daily Gazette