New coach has big plans for Manhattan

AD Bob Byrnes (left) and Manhattan president Brennan O'Donnell (right) welcome Steve Masiello. Courtesy of Stockton Photo Inc.

NEW YORK -- The newest college basketball coach in the metropolitan area made a bold statement Wednesday afternoon at his introductory news conference.

"As far as Manhattan basketball [is concerned], everybody better watch out," said Steve Masiello, the new head man at Manhattan College. "Because we are going to create a new brand, and it's gonna be the best in the city. And we are gonna take New York back over and be where we belong."

That wasn't the only bold prediction Masiello dished out at Draddy Gymnasium. Here's another one:

"I know one thing about my program and our program: We are gonna be the hardest-working team in the country, bar none. We will be in the best shape in the country, bar none. And we will be the most prepared team there is."

Masiello, 33, returns to Riverdale after spending the past six seasons as one of Rick Pitino's assistants at Louisville. Prior to that, he spent four years as an assistant at Manhattan under Bobby Gonzalez.

Masiello grew up in White Plains and served as a Knicks ball boy during his youth.

"I was in sixth grade, a little kid being a ball boy for the Knicks. I knew I would never quite be good enough probably to be a pro [player]," Masiello said Wednesday. "I always wanted to be a coach. And since that age, I've always chased that dream. And it's full circle for me here today."

He played for Pitino and Tubby Smith at the University of Kentucky from 1996 to 2000, appearing in 70 career games and scoring 42 points. His first coaching job, prior to joining Manhattan the first time around, was serving as an administrative assistant at Tulane from 2000 to '01.

Masiello replaces Barry Rohrssen, who was let go last month after amassing a record of 58-95 over five seasons at the Manhattan helm. This past season, the Jaspers were just 6-25, tied for last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

On the bright side, Manhattan will return its top two scorers, 6-foot-4 swingman George Beamon (16.3 ppg) and 6-foot-2 point guard Michael Alvarado (11.2 ppg). Masiello likes what he has seen since officially accepting the job Monday.

"I think they have so much room to grow. I think there is so much potential with these guys for them to improve and get better," Masiello said. "I think Barry did an unbelievable job of evaluating talent and bringing guys in that have great ability. Now it's a matter of molding them into players and creating a good environment of discipline for them to be successful."

Masiello said his team will play a style similar to that of his mentor's squads at Louisville -- go up and down on offense, try to wear people down with pressure defense and play a lot of bodies. His new players have been impressed so far.

"We've had a couple workouts with him, and him telling us we're gonna be the best-conditioned team in the country might not be far from the truth," reserve forward Kevin Laue said with a chuckle. "His enthusiasm is really good. He obviously knows what he's talking about on the court. But he pushes us, he really does push us -- but in an optimistic manner, so that we're not down. He coaches us all up.

"I was very impressed, and I think I can speak for us all, that we respect him already."

The one thing Masiello does not have yet is head-coaching experience. Rohrssen, like Masiello, had a reputation for being an all-star recruiter, at Pittsburgh. But he wasn't successful in his first head-coaching stint here in New York.

Then again, look at the success Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart (both 34 years old) have had in their first head-coaching gigs, taking Butler and VCU to the Final Four this past season.

Masiello actually made reference to those two coaches and schools in his remarks Wednesday.

"We're gonna win and win big," Masiello said. "If the Final Four this year didn't allow young men to dream today, [those] who don't get recruited at the highest level, I don't know what would."

Immediately after saying this, the new coach took a step away from the podium, and leaned over to the table where Manhattan president Brennan O'Donnell and athletic director Bob Byrnes were sitting.

"Don't expect to be in the Final Four," Masiello said to them, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

Smart move. That would have been one bold prediction too many.