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Siena seeks replacements for departed stars

Unlike the rest of the MAAC, the Saints need to define their on-court leaders. Who will take the reins?

NCAA Basketball: Siena at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

The MAAC features a number of teams that return four-or-more starters, a pair of teams that return three starters and add an impact transfer, and Iona, with some talented bigs and talented transfers...

...and the back-to-back regular season champion Siena Saints, who return to the court — and their loud, fan-filled arena — with questions.

The Saints lost three of the team’s top four scorers from last season and placed nobody on the preseason all-MAAC teams. Not surprisingly, Siena was picked eighth out of the 11 teams.

Star wing and 2021 MAAC Player of the Year Manny Camper graduated. Jalen Pickett, the 2020 MAAC Player of the Year, moved on to Penn State. Guard Jordan King departed from his hometown at East Tennessee State. Center Kyle Young opted to take a year off of the program.

In a defense-oriented MAAC where so many teams return on-court leadership, Siena won’t curl into a defensive shell. The players who will lead the attack may be new, but the approach continues in head coach Carmen Maciariello’s third season.

“I want these guys to be able to score with a good shot or good scoring opportunity within the first 10 or 12 seconds of the shot clock,” Maciariello said. “I want to be able to get up and down, let the ball do the talking, have guys move with pace and cut with purpose. I want these guys to play aggressive, confident and loose.”

But the Saints need to find reliable players to execute that desire against the MAAC’s stout resistance.

The Saints return 6’9 forward Jackson Stormo, the team’s third-leading scorer last season; Aidan Carpenter, who was more of a role player last season, and leading three-point shooter, Nick Hopkins.

Outside of the big man Stormo, who was used just over 20% of the team’s possessions while on the floor, that group has no high-usage player to seek points and carry the team like Pickett and Camper did last season. It is possible for players to take more of an aggressive, leading role when scorers depart, but not every player is wired to make efficient decisions.

The goal in the first few weeks for the Saints is figuring out who can take on a bigger load effectively and consistently.

Stormo will be joined by Northwestern transfer Anthony Gaines. Gaines, from an hour away in Kingston, NY, is a strong rebounder from the wing who was a team captain with the Wildcats.

“Siena’s history — the last few times winning the MAAC — is one of the reasons I wanted to come here,” Gaines said. “I wanted to win, I wanted to be home, and have family at these games. We’re very excited, very motivated to win.”

The Saints will look to other transfers for scoring as well. Given the amount of playmaking that has departed, a few players will emerge.

Utah transfer Jordan Kellier brings a big body but barely played in his single season out west. Cal Poly transfer Colby Rogers was a high-usage player, but inefficient for the struggling Mustangs. Middle Tennessee transfer Jayce Johnson is a scoring wing, but is recovering from an injury in the offseason.

The 6’4 sophomore Carpenter has gained muscle in the offseason and hopes to step into the scoring gap opened by last season’s departures.

“I redshirted here,” Carpenter said. “I’ve been here for three years. It’s going to be my first year [with fans on the floor].”

It’s been mostly quiet in Albany’s Times Union Center for two years (minus when it served as a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site). The coaches and players are also excited to see the fans back in the seats.

“It’s something that people have been talking about,” Stormo said. “Everyone’s hyped up. I’m anxious to get in there but trying to stay level headed, to enjoy whatever it turns out to be.”

The first exhibition, next Monday against the local Saint Rose Golden Knights, may be the first opportunity for most of the roster to see the unique home environment in the MAAC. But that game will also be the beginning of a journey for the Saints in redefining who they are and figuring out how to stamp their brand of play on the league.

“I’m just excited,” Carpenter said. “[Coach tells us] to go out there, perform, prove everybody wrong. Of course it’s a new team — but we’re really ready.”