The Manhattan Jaspers were picked 2nd in the MAAC Preseason Poll, and superstar guard/forward Jose Perez was selected as the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year on Oct. 18. Hype was building for a team with a higher average age than the Oklahoma City Thunder to have its first winning season since 2014-15 - when the program won its second straight MAAC title.
A week later, Perez woke up with 38 missed calls from head coach Steve Masiello. Masiello had been fired, and Perez promptly entered the transfer portal. Teammates Omar Silverio and Samba Diallo, who were both expected to start, followed suit. By the time the season tipped off on Nov. 7, Masiello was behind the bench at Iona, helping out his mentor Rick Pitino, and Perez was on his way to Morgantown, to play for Bob Huggins.
Flash forward to Nov. 18, where, the 0-2 Jaspers, led by interim head coach RaShawn Stores, opened up their home season against Division III Mount St. Vincent in a nearly empty Draddy Gym. The depleted Jaspers got Stores his first win behind 18 points from a resurgent Ant Nelson.
For a Manhattan team that was looking at potentially finishing very high in the MAAC, there was a shift of expectations totally overnight. Once Perez announced that he was entering the portal, he told Adam Zagoria that he thought he would be joined by “everyone.” However, this wasn’t the case, as Stores retained the majority of the team.
Listening to Stores, his relationship with the team was definitely helpful in keeping the team together.
“I’m just trying to be in a leadership role, and be here for these young men,” he said.
Stores is not a new face around Riverdale, as from 2012-2016, he started 92 games for the Jaspers, helping win back-to-back MAAC titles, and finishing top 10 all-time in assists for the program. The two-year captain joined the coaching staff in 2017-18, with just one year in between his playing and coaching days.
As soon as he found out that he had been elevated to the interim head coach, Stores organized a team meeting. He told the team that “we’re going to start a journey,” and was focused on “one game at a time, one day at a time, that’s all that matters.”
Despite their relationships with Masiello, the players responded well to Stores.
“I just wanted to play for [Stores] and [Assistant Coach] Tyler [Wilson] again,” Elijah Buchanan said about his decision to come back for his COVID year. “[My teammates and I] love each other a lot. We were playing a lot together in the summer in Jersey, so I just wanted to come back and play with them again.”
Buchanan and Samir Stewart are the only fifth-year players, but there’s a group of guys that’s stuck together for a long time. Nelson, Josh Roberts, Marques Watson, Nick Brennen, Adam Cisse, Logan Padgett, and more all return for this team. The Jaspers are still one of the oldest teams in the country. Through five games, Manhattan is 2-3, which includes a heartbreaking overtime loss to Northeastern and a come-from-behind win against Army.
Roberts has been the most impressive player on the team this year. He is playing like one of the best big men in the MAAC and is living up to the potential that we knew he had. He is averaging 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, along with a ridiculous 2.8 blocks while being on the court for 33.2 minutes per game. Roberts’ ability to efficiently get buckets is incredible, his 80% field goal percentage is among the best in the country.
After missing the first four games, Stewart returned to the court against Army, and stepped right in to find his shooting touch. In 26 minutes, Stewart attempted 11 3-pointers, and he knocked down four of them. Doing that every game would be a really solid output, and that’s what he does. He looks to be the main 3-point shooting threat.
Buchanan has also stepped forward on offense, getting back to averaging double digits, and he’ll need to in order for the Jasper team to be competitive.
Manhattan’s framework stats on defense actually have improved this year, and they’re moving the ball significantly more, with a lot less iso-ball this season. Perez was a true superstar for Manhattan, and they could rely on him to get buckets, but there were moments where the Jaspers relied on him too much.
This year, they have a completely new look to this team offensively. It will be a project for this team, as they’ve really struggled offensively, still with a ton of turnovers, but they’re significantly more efficient inside the arc.
Manhattan is scheduled to open MAAC play at home against Fairfield Thursday night.