Steve Masiello has the Manhattan Jaspers dancing once again

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The last time Manhattan qualified for the NCAA tournament, current head coach Steve Masiello served on staff as an assistant. In 2011, he took over the program, inheriting a 6-25 team. In only his second year he had the Jaspers one-win shy of punching their ticket.

Those dreams were dashed last season by rival Iona. On Monday night, Masiello and Manhattan returned the favor with a 71-68 victory over the Gaels in the MAAC Tournament championship game at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. advancing to the tournament for the first time since 2004.

“It’s just been something I’ve been working my whole life to get to this point,” Masiello said. “I’m just fortunate to be around a lot of great people, who have helped me along the way, and who have meant the world to me. They’ve really taught me about coaching, basketball, life, and it’s all helped me tremendously.”

In September, the midway point between Masiello’s heartbreaking, season-ending loss to Iona and Monday night’s MAAC title win, Masiello’s former coach Rick Pitino was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, forever having his greatest coaching achievements stored in Springfield, the birthplace of basketball.

Following Monday’s championship win, Masiello will link his most memorable coaching moment, maybe the best in his basketball career, with Springfield as well.

“I’ve been to two Final Fours and this is right there with it,” Masiello said.

Masiello met Pitino when he was 12-years-old as a ball boy for the New York Knicks. Seven years later, he followed Pitino to Kentucky where he was a walk-on. He logged 215 minutes of action in four years, compiling 42 total points.

“Don’t cheat my playing career,” Masiello joked during Monday night’s press conference. “I won at national title. That’s pretty good.

“And I have another Final Four with Rick [in 1997].”

Pitino and Masiello were reunited again in 2005, when he joined Pitino’s staff at Louisville for the first of six seasons before taking over the Manhattan program.

Maseillo was known as a top recruiter while with the Cardinals. When he was hired at Manhattan, his roster wasn’t exactly filled with guys he had helped land for Pitino.

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“The irony for us is you look at these young men and Mike Alvarado, I was told not to keep. George Beamon had no scholarship offers. … Rhamel Brown, no one knew about,” Masiello said.

In three seasons, the senior trio have helped the Jaspers win 60 of their last 98 games.

“I didn’t know him,” Beamon said. “I knew [former Manhattan guard] Luis Flores, he told me he was a good guy. And I just believed in him. Coming from 3-15 (MAAC record) you have to put your trust in something. I got my guys together and we believed in him. Last year we made it to the championship game and now we are here. We made it.”

The winner of the MAAC was being projected as a No. 13-seed entering the evening, which has to be an unsettling feeling for numerous top-25 teams. Manhattan ranks among one of the nation’s top 50 teams in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Jaspers are 71 in the RPI while ranked 69 by kenpom.com.

The third-year head coach has rejuvenated a once struggling program. He’s been embraced by past stars such as Durelle Brown, who stayed up watching film with Manhattan until the early hours of Monday morning.

“There is a lot of tradition with these guys,” Masiello said. “They started it and we’re finishing it and we’re keeping it going. That’s where I’m lucky.”

He’s been to a pair of Final Fours and won a national championship at Kentucky. As a coach, he helped bring in the pieces that set up another title in 2013 for Louisville. He won the MAAC on Monday night. He’s come back home and led Manhattan to a NCAA tournament berth in less than 36 months, and that might just top all of his previous March moments.

“It’s pretty amazing,” he said.”This is home for me and for me to be able to do at home is special.”

Memphis center Karim Sameh Azab diagnosed with leukemia

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Memphis center Karim Sameh Azab announced on Saturday that he’s been battling leukemia lymphoma.

The 6-foot-11 big man from Egypt has been receiving medical treatment since the beginning of April as he took to Twitter to announce his current status.

Sameh Azab played in 15 games this season for the Tigers as he saw action for 84 total minutes. The reserve big man was a late addition in former head coach Tubby Smith’s first recruiting class at Memphis as he didn’t quality to play during his first season.

“Karim has my full support and the support of our whole team,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said in a statement earlier this month. “While we appreciate the support of the Tiger family in this matter, we would also like to protect the privacy of Karim and his family.”

South Dakota State’s Mike Daum declares for 2018 NBA Draft without an agent

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South Dakota State big man Mike Daum will enter the 2018 NBA Draft without an agent, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 redshirt junior has been a mid-major draft darling the past few seasons as Daum was one of the most productive players in the country last season. Putting up 23.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, Daum shot 46 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range during the season.

With his size and unique floor-spacing ability, Daum is going to be an interesting player to track during the NBA draft process. Teams are always looking for big men who can space the floor, and if Daum shoots well in workouts, he could wind up staying in the draft.

If Daum returns to South Dakota State, then he once again makes them a major NCAA tournament contender after the Jackrabbits won the Summit League last season.

Marquette lands Fordham grad transfer Joseph Chartouny

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Marquette pulled in a quality graduate transfer commitment on Friday as Fordham guard Joseph Chartouny pledged to the Golden Eagles.

The 6-foot-3 Chartouny was a three-year starter for the Rams as he should help offset the loss of guard Andrew Rowsey to graduation. While Chartouny isn’t nearly the perimeter threat that Rowsey was, he should be able to help significantly on the defensive end for Marquette. Chartouny put up 12.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game last season as he was one of the more productive all-around players in the Atlantic 10.

One of the nation’s leaders in steals the past three seasons, Chartouny has much better size to play alongside Markus Howard in the Marquette backcourt than Rowsey (5-foot-11) had. Since Howard is also 5-foot-11, Chartouny can now guard the bigger and more athletic perimeter matchup as Marquette tries to improve its porous defense from last season.

Marquette still has an open scholarship for next season as they’ve been investigating other transfer options to bolster the roster. Returning most of last season’s roster, the expectation will be for the Golden Eagles to make it back to the NCAA tournament next season.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.