By Jeff Goodman
Steve Masiello knew what the skeptics were saying.
"Can he coach?"
Masiello was always regarded as a relentless recruiter, the former Rick Pitino walk-on at Kentucky who had a wide array of contacts - especially in his native New York.
"I think people still have questions," The Manhattan first-year coach said. "Rightfully so." But Masiello has the Jaspers -- who haven't been relevant since Bobby Gonzalez departed -- off to a 7-4 start, including a four-game winning streak (the program's longest in nearly five years). Masiello has already exceeded last season's win total and we're not even midway through December.
"We want to build this thing back up," said Masiello, a former assistant under Gonzo when in the early 2000's when Manhattan had it rolling. "I think this can be a great mid-major program -- not only because of the school, but due to the location."
Masiello admitted that he's trying to become a Triple-A version of what his mentor, Pitino, has done at Louisville.
"I don't care if you call us a mid-major or low-major version of Louisville," Masiello said. "That's a compliment as far as I'm concerned."
Masiello said being around Pitino for as long as he has (he spent the past six seasons as an assistant at Louisville), he's picked up some of the same habits.
"I catch myself folding my legs the same way," he said. "I don't even realize how much of an influence he had on me. The main things I learned from him are the unbelievable professionalism and to stay humble."
Manhattan was tabbed to finish eighth in the league in the preseason, but Masiello said that former coach Barry "Slice" Rohrssen hardly left the cupboard empty. Junior guard George Beamon leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game, senior Roberto Colonette has been solid up front (7.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Rhamel Brown is averaging 9.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per game in the last four games. Masiello brought in four freshmen -- three that play -- including talented local kid Emmy Andujar.
"He did a terrific job evaluating talent," Masiello said. "We have some very good pieces. I'm fortunate to step into a situation like this, and that's a credit to Barry because they set the groundwork."