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With Williams back, Jaspers primed for comeback

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Last season does not in any way fall into the category of “memorable” for the Manhattan College men’s basketball team. 

Miserable would be more like it. 

How so? Let us count the ways.

There was the knee injury to current senior Rich Williams, costing him the entire season. There was the 10-22 overall record, the 5-15 mark in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and the heartbreaking one-point loss to Rider in the first round of the MAAC tournament that put an end to the Jaspers’ forgettable season.

But optimism abounds in Riverdale this year as Williams is now healthy and the Jaspers boast a roster that can make a serious run at a third MAAC title in the last five years.

Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello, as you might expect, is ecstatic to have Williams back in the fold for his final go-round this season.

“It’s nice to have a guy back who has been through so many battles with you, been through a lot on the court with you, and off the court with you,” Masiello said. “He’s a guy I count on in a lot of ways, so it just puts your mind at ease as a coach when you got a guy who is a competitor like him and who is as tough as him, and a guy who will basically run through walls for you.”

The return of Williams gives the Jaspers a deep offensive arsenal, one that could conceivably give the Jaspers as many as five different double-digit scorers on any given night. It’s a luxury Masiello didn’t have last season.

“I think it’s a good thing in a sense that we have a lot of guys who can hurt you in a lot of different ways,” Masiello said. 

“But if we have a selfless attitude, which we have shown so far (in practice and the preseason), I think we become a tough team to match up with. I don’t think we have anyone who is going to average 24 (points), but I do think we have five or six guys who could average between nine and 18. And I think those are really dangerous teams when you have those kinds of weapons.”

Williams will be joined by 6-foot-9 senior Zane Waterman (14.9 points per game, 7.0 rebounds last season), 5-foot-9 senior guard Zavier Turner (14.9 points., 3.3 assists), 6-foot junior guard Thomas Capuano (6.2 points) and 6-foot-9 senior forward Calvin Crawford (9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds) as the key contributors on offense. 

That’s a lot of veteran leadership Masiello can rely on.

“It’s comforting,” Masiello said. “But what I talked to my seniors about was that a year older doesn’t mean a year better. It’s when your seniors are working the hardest and are the hungriest, that’s when you have success with senior leadership. Your seniors have to set the example every day and that’s something I’m on these guys about every day.”

Masiello also is high on some of his newcomers this season, like the 6-foot-8 freshmen Pauly Paulicap and 6-foot-9 forward Warren Williams.

“I think Pauly can be a major game-changer for us defensively,” Masiello said. “I think he’s really athletic. Pat, I think, is a Shane Richards clone (referring to the former Manhattan three-point specialist). He can really shoot the ball at a high clip. 

“Bud Mack is really going to help us, and Warren is a big body, a low-post scorer. So I like all those guys and I think all of them will see their share of minutes.”

Despite last season’s struggles, the MAAC coaches picked Manhattan second in the conference preseason poll, a testament to how the Jaspers are being viewed around the league after rebounding nicely from down years in the past.

“I think that’s because of our success in the last four years,” Masiello said. “I think there’s some of the, ‘Hey, Manhattan has done this before.’ But this is a different team and (it) has a different makeup. That doesn’t mean we can’t be as good, it’s just that there are still some question marks with this group. 

The Jaspers tipped off their season Nov. 15 hosting St. Francis College of Brooklyn, a game that wasn’t played by the time the paper went to press.

“This group has been together for a few years, but they haven’t proven themselves yet,” Masiello said. “But I’m very optimistic. I’m confident in their attitude, confident in their work ethic, and confident in their talent.”

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