New Manhattan College head coach Steve Masiello catches up with SLAM.
by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
It all made perfect sense for Steve Masiello. Having grown up in White Plains, NY — only minutes away and just north of the Manhattan College Riverdale campus — there was no greater job scenario for the 33-year old. He knew that being head coach of the Manhattan College men’s basketball program was just his destiny and calling. Masiello spent the last six seasons as an assistant under head coach Rick Pitino at Louisville. Prior to his stint with the Cardinals, he was an assistant coach with the Jaspers from 2001 to 2005, where he helped Manhattan reach the NCAA Tournament twice and the NIT once. In his college days, Masiello played at the University of Kentucky from 1996 to 2000 under Pitino and Tubby Smith.
Soon after being announced as the new head coach of the men’s basketball program, Masiello wanted to give SLAM an insight at the trajectory the program will now look to embark on with him at the helm. In recent years, we’ve seen mid-major programs build up teams through four-year players, and ultimately grow and land wins against the elite at the biggest stage of college basketball. Masiello is now looking to add to the trend.
SLAM: How does it feel to get your first head coaching job so close to your hometown?
Steve Masiello: It’s awesome. To have my first head coaching position at a place where I have so many memories and experience, it makes it that much better. To have a chance to bring back a place and winning tradition that you care about so much, especially in New York City, makes it unbelievable.
SLAM: What do you feel about the challenges and competition that will bring from recruiting in the NYC-area, where there is a big pool of talent but also many different high-major and mid-major schools looking to recruit from and in the area?
SM: New York has a ton of talent. But what people don’t see is that there is enough talent to go around to all those schools because there are so many good players. The key is can you keep the talent home. Even if all the talent stays home, there is plenty to go to in Hofstra, Fordham, St. John’s, LIU, Iona, and Manhattan. But you got to have those relationships with those coaches, the families, the AAU guys, where they feel comfortable with you, they trust you and believe in you. If you don’t have that, then it’s going to be a very hard job. If you do have that, you’ll be able to keep some of the guys home and get the New York City favor and buzz home.
SLAM: You had a lot of success at Louisville in recruiting this NYC-area and helping land Edgar Sosa, Sarmado Samuels, Francisco Garcia, Earl Clark, Russ Smith, etc. You must feel pretty confident about your chances of landing players in the area.
SM: The New York City coaches are probably the most powerful group of guys there are. Being from here and raised here, obviously is an advantage because you know more people and you know how to navigate some of the stuff. I’ve had success in recruiting in this area because I’ve actually become friends with a lot of the guys and they trust me. They know that if they send a young man to me, whether it is as an assistant or a head coach, they know I’m going to look after them on and off the court and help them develop into fine young men.
SLAM: Obviously Rick Pitino is a very accomplish coach, what are some of the things that you were able to learn from him?
SM: He’s a perfectionist. One of his favorite lines is: good is the evil offset of great. Where a lot of people will just settle for good and be contempt, he wants greatness, he wants perfection. Those are the things I will take from him, as well as having my teams in great shape, very prepared and playing hard. Those are staples at all programs in Louisville, and the same here.
SLAM: Is there a timeline that you are looking to set in place as far as progress is concern with this team moving forward?
SM: There is no timeline. This is going to be a process of getting this program back to where it needs to be. And it’s going to take some time. That being said, the change has already started happening. And that’s just with our guys and the mentality, how they talk, how they walk, how they believe. Our guys are going to walk very hard. The one things I want to see is improvement everyday. I don’t know if that is going to equal to winning but I know that if we improve everyday we get on the basketball court then we’re going to become a good team.
SLAM: The last few years in particular, mid-major schools have been making a lot of noise in the NCAA tournament against high-D1 schools. What do you think are some of the reasons for that?
SM: I think it has to do with that if you look at a lot of the mid-major schools, you see that they have four-year seniors while some of the high-major have young guys. Experience plus talent is a tough combination to beat. Talent alone is tough to beat, but when you have experience, which a lot of mid-major schools have, it’s a lot harder to beat than with just talent. The other thing is that young men today believe they could go anywhere in the country today and be recognized, because they believe that with the internet, Facebook, and Twitter, if you can play – they will find you. That goes for the collegiate level, NBA, and any other level. So guys think more than ever, that they can go to a VCU or a Butler and be Conference Player of the Year and take my team to the Final Four. That I can go to a school and get national exposure like high elite BCS schools do and still be ranked up high like the rest of those guys. It wasn’t like that ten or fifteen years ago. Maybe there was one or two guys that you knew about but now you know about 20 or 25 guys at the mid-major level that are really good. So I think that the dynamics, because of the media, marketing and internet, have really changed them.
SLAM: On a personal level, being from White Plains, New York, how does it feel to now be able to represent your own area?
SM: Unbelievable to represent New York and go out and show New York’s people. Who wouldn’t want to be in New York City, with an opportunity to play at the Garden, be in the New York Daily News, SLAM Magazine — have that type of media coverage and be the buzz of New York? What kind of young men today wouldn’t want that? You could share the back page of the paper with Carmelo. How many people can you say that to? So it’s the ultimate deal to sell it and it’s something that we are really going to sell and sell it hard. We want to be New York basketball. When you say New York, we want you to say Manhattan.
SLAM: How was the process of you getting this job, your first head coaching position?
SM: I’ve had head coaching opportunities in the past. Some I didn’t get and some I got but didn’t take. But this job was right for me. When you work for Rick Pitino, and I don’t say this because of me but because of what he has done, I think he has put out like 10 head coaches out, and I think he has nine right now coaching. So you’re going to have a future because of the guy you work for, you’re going to have exposure and people are going to want to be curious about you. What I love about this job is that I was familiar with it, and it was home for me. I had a great relationship with Mr. Byrnes [Director of Athletics] and I knew that he and I would be on the same page and have a great win combination. Now obviously, with the new administration, they’ve been tremendous. But I just didn’t want any job to say I’m a head coach. The Manhattan job I wanted, and I’m very fortunate to get it.
SLAM: And to finish things off, what can we expect from this team on the court this upcoming season?
SM: It’s going to be a fun style. You are going to watch us and say, ‘Wow, those guys are getting after it.’ We’re going to play really hard and our guys are going to have a lot of fun. And they are going to have a little bit of a chip of their shoulder, in a classy way. They are really going to be playing exciting and enthusiastic basketball. They are going to care and they are going to take pride in everything they do. I don’t know how much we are going to win but I know one thing, when you leave, you are going to say, ‘Those guys really get after it and those are a great group of young men.’