Manhattan’s returnees look to build on the achievements of last season’s senior class

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Manhattan’s Steve Masiello (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

When it comes to sports, for as much as we like the spontaneity of the events, many are also fans of the storyline. And when it comes to the NCAA tournament, one of the usual storylines is that of the smaller school that takes advantage of its opportunity on the big stage. Whether its an upset victory or a valiant fight to the bitter end, that program becomes (for the time being) a fan favorite and the head coach, if young enough, is labeled the next “rising star” in the business.

In making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004, the Manhattan Jaspers looked to fit the bill, playing an uptempo, attractive brand of basketball led by a passionate coach in Steve Masiello, who both played for and coached under Rick Pitino. Led by seniors Rhamel Brown, George Beamon and Michael Alvarado the Jaspers gave Louisville a run for its money before falling short, and shortly thereafter Masiello came to an agreement to take over as the head coach at South Florida.

The familiar storyline seemed to fit Manhattan … until it didn’t.

A background check revealed that Masiello hadn’t completed his bachelor’s at Kentucky, resulting in USF pulling its offer off the table and many wondering how Manhattan would handle the situation. The school gave Masiello the opportunity to take care of the situation, reinstating him once that was accomplished. But what about the players? To say that the situation was a roller coaster for them would be an understatement, as they went from having a coach to seeing him prepare to move on, only to have him return amidst controversy.

They simply made the best of the situation, applying some of the lessons learned during a three-year process in which Manhattan went from winning six games in the season prior to Masiello’s arrival to reaching the NCAA tournament in March.

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“In every situation I think you have to find the positive and learn from things, good, bad or indifferent,” Masiello told NBCSports.com earlier this month. “The one thing that really hits home is that I deal with 18, 19, 20 and 21-year old men every day, and something I did at that age could have cost me my career. I’m thankful that it didn’t. So I’m constantly preaching to my players that the decisions they make today can affect them at 35, 40, 45 (years of age). It’s a great lesson of accountability in that everything we do there are consequences.

“We’ve really put a microscope on it from a preaching standpoint,” Masiello continued. “What we want our culture to be, how we hold ourselves accountable, how we view ourselves and putting ourselves in the best position to be successful at all times. I think it was a great lesson to learn from my mistake, and make yourself better because of it.”

What also helped the players was the fact that they had veteran leaders capable of shepherding them through that period, and that includes the three seniors (Alvarado, Beamon and Brown) who exhausted their college eligibility in March. At a point in time when most seniors would be focused solely on what their next step would be, whether it’s moving into the work force or playing professionally, those three helped the remaining Jaspers stay on task with the goal being to make sure that the work put forth to rebuild the program didn’t go to waste.

“I give a lot of credit to the seniors, who helped me a lot both on and off the court,” senior forward Emmy Andujar told NBCSports.com. “Especially with the leadership role that I’ll have to take on this year.”

And while the losses of Alvarado, Beamon and Brown are big, Manhattan returns multiple contributors from last year’s rotation. From a leadership standpoint one player in particular, senior guard RaShawn Stores, is expected to be the “influencer.” Stores is the classic case of a player who’s overlooked by the uninitiated, with the focus on statistics resulting in some not understanding his impact on the team. As a junior Stores accounted for 4.9 points and 1.9 assists per game, but it’s the intangibles he brought to the locker room that were so valuable to the Manhattan program. And that isn’t expected to change at all, with his head coach noting that the team will go as far as Stores can lead them.

“As much credit as I want to give those three seniors, and they deserve it all, we had a lot of guys who were big pieces of the puzzle. We bring a lot back,” Masiello noted. “As for RaShawn, I’ve said for the last two years that we go as he goes. When he’s in a good place and feels good about himself, this team is a different team. RaShawn Stores has a greater impact on this team than I do, and I’ve said that for years because he’s such a great leader and guys follow him.

“I can be in a great place, but if RaShawn’s not I know the team’s going to struggle. It’s my job to make sure RaShawn Stores is in a good place because of the impact he has on this program.”

Players such as Andujar, Shane Richards and Ashton Pankey will be asked to take on greater responsibility on both ends of the floor in light of Manhattan’s personnel losses as well. Richards was one of the best freshmen in the MAAC in 2012-13, and he followed up that debut season with a solid sophomore campaign. Richards led the Jaspers in made three-pointers (77), scoring 8.3 points per game while shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from beyond the arc. The goal for Richards heading into his junior season is easy to see when looking at his numbers from a season ago, but it’s a goal that can be tough to reach for a player who was most productive as a jump shooter.

Richards will need to expand his offensive game in order to help Manhattan account  for the perimeter scoring provided by Alvarado and Beamon, and that’s something he’s worked to do this offseason. Of Richards’ 203 field goal attempts in 2013-14 183 were three-pointers, and he made just 35 percent of his attempts inside of the arc (7-for-20). Similar splits aren’t expected from Richards this season, and his progression will be something to keep an eye on as Manhattan works to navigate a difficult non-conference schedule.

source: AP
Emmy Andujar and Shane Richards will be key players for Manhattan. (AP Photo)

“You’ll probably see the biggest jump in Shane Richards,” Masiello said. “He’s by far the most improved player (on our team); I love Shane, but I don’t recognize him now. His mind is in a great place, he’s really confident and he’s put in a lot of work on his game. He’s doing a lot more things that he hasn’t done before on the basketball court; he’s become more than just a spot-up shooter.”

As for Andujar, his versatility is one trait that should serve the Jaspers well in 2014-15. The senior has been a steady player throughout his time at Manhattan, averaging 8.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per contest last season. Shooting just over 53 percent from the field, Andujar also ranked second on the team in assists, and his passing ability from the forward spot can help Manhattan attack opposing defenses from multiple areas of the floor. But after starting just five games a season ago, Andujar’s had to prepare for a greater role in advance of his final campaign.

“Being more vocal on the court and getting quicker,” Andujar noted when asked what he worked to improve upon this offseason, and he also made note of his need to be a little more aggressive offensively. That plays into his coach’s desire to see a more consistent Andujar in 2014-15, as noticeable stretches of single-digit scoring nights were occasionally broken up by a double-figure night (he scored 28 in a home win over rival Iona in February).

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Andujar’s one of three players expected to lead the way in the front court for Manhattan, with Pankey and Cincinnati transfer Jermaine Lawrence being the others. Pankey was solid in his first season after transferring in from Maryland, averaging 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Yet while he’ll be asked to step forward from a productivity standpoint, and the same can be said for Lawrence, they can’t get into the mindset of having to play the way Rhamel Brown did. Brown averaged 10.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game as a senior, winning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in each of his last three seasons. He brought a different set of skills to the table than either Pankey or Lawrence.

And in the eyes of Masiello, while new players will look to earn the minutes left open by Brown’s departure there’s no replacing a player of his caliber.

“I don’t think you’re going to be able to account for Rhamel Brown,” Masiello stated. “He was one of the best big men in college basketball bar none, and I don’t think anyone realized how good he was. He was extremely underrated. That being said, what Ashton and Jermaine bring I don’t know if Rhamel could’ve brought so we’ll be different in that sense. Doesn’t mean we’ll be better or worse, I think you’ll see a different team.

“Jermaine and AP can affect the game in a lot of ways, and that’s what I really like about this team. This team will be different than teams I’ve had here in the past, but I think this team has a ceiling higher than any team I’ve had here.”

The scenario in front of Pankey and Lawrence is, in a sense, similar to what the entire program faces as it approaches the start of the 2014-15 season. Ten players played an average of at least 11.9 minutes per game last season, and given Manhattan’s style of play that should once again be the case with senior Donovan Kates and sophomores Rich Williams and Tyler Wilson back with four freshmen joining the program. Yet even with this being the case, this is a group different than any that Masiello has coached during his time at Manhattan.

Many of the available players having the combination of size and athleticism that can help the Jaspers in games against major conference opposition. Both Pankey and Lawrence are 6-foot-10, and in total Manhattan has six players who are at least 6-foot-8; last year’s team had just two (Pankey and 6-foot-10 Carlton Allen) with the 6-foot-7 Brown serving as the stalwart in the middle. Yet while some of the tangible characteristics have changed, Manhattan’s path to sustained success will continue to include the intangibles that resulted in the program’s turnaround.

While Masiello and his staff certainly deserve credit for the fact that Manhattan is in a position where the goal of extended success is undoubtedly attainable, the seniors who left this past spring shouldn’t be forgotten either. Not only did Alvarado, Beamon and Brown go through the full process of helping to rebuild the Manhattan program, winning just six games as freshmen, they also stepped forward at a point in time when uncertainty surrounded the program. And their efforts haven’t been forgotten in Riverdale, where the latest group of veterans hopes to build on what that trio was able to accomplish.

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

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CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

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Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

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Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.