Masiello shaking things up at Manhattan

NEW YORK -- If you walk into a Manhattan College men's basketball practice this season, the first thing you'll probably notice is the noise.

At first, all the shouting is a little disconcerting -- until you pick up what all the players are yelling to one another.

"Ball!" "Help!" "Dead!" The communication among the five players on defense is constant -- or at least it's supposed to be. God help you if you fail in that regard.

"What is wrong with you! Did your girlfriend break up with you or something? Where is your brain right now!?!"

That is not the voice of a player, but rather of new head coach Steve Masiello. The 34-year-old still looks young enough to pass as a player, but there was no question who was in charge at practice on Thursday afternoon. Masiello had lots to say and clearly had the strongest vocal cords of the bunch -- vocal cords Manhattan hopes are strong enough to rejuvenate its struggling basketball program.

"They need to understand what work is all about -- what hard work is," said Masiello of his new players. "It's more of a mindset that we're trying to develop right now.

"It's getting them to think like winners, is what I'm really trying to change. That's probably the hardest part. But once you get them to think that way, the rest falls into place."

Masiello, a New York native and a former assistant at Manhattan, was hired here six months ago, after serving the previous six years as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville. He took over for Barry Rohrssen, whose five-year tenure ended following a dismal 6-25 record last season.

Despite his youth and lack of head-coaching experience, Masiello made big promises at his introductory news conference in April. He said, "We're gonna win and win big." He said Manhattan would "take New York back over." He said the Jaspers would be "the hardest-working team in the country, bar none."

And even though he has only a week of practices under his belt, Masiello has already made some significant changes.

"We put rules in that our guys have to get to class five minutes early," Masiello said. "They have to sit in the front two rows, and they can't bring any type of gadgets -- phones, iPads, anything -- to class. We want our kids to shake the teacher's hand after every class. When they're on campus they can't have headphones in because we want them to be approachable by the student body. When they come to practice they're always gonna be 15 minutes early.

"What we talk about is being professional -- from the way we talk, dress, act, everything. Are we being professional with it? And that's what I have our guys ask themselves all the time."

The players admit that all the new rules have made for a big adjustment -- but they're getting used to them.

"It's real strict," said senior guard and co-captain Kidani Brutus. "But it's worth it, if that's what it takes to win a championship."

On the court, many of the faces are the same as last season's -- but some of the bodies look very different. Brutus, for instance, has lost 30 pounds thanks to Masiello's new training regimen.

"This is the hardest I've ever worked in my life," Brutus said. "Practice is more intense. Everybody is working real hard this year, way harder than last year."

How many more wins the hard work will translate into is difficult to predict right now. The team does return four of its top five scorers -- including 6-foot-4 junior guard George Beamon, who finished third in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference at 16.3 points per game last season. But the roster doesn't boast much in the way of size, and Masiello surely will be looking to increase the talent level on the recruiting trail.

That said, Manhattan should at least be a pain in the neck for other teams to play this season, with Masiello planning to employ the full-court-press style that his mentor, Pitino, is known for.

"We're gonna get up and down," Masiello said. "Our whole philosophy is, we want to take you out of what you do all year. So if you practice doing A, B and C, we want to make you do D, E and F."

Masiello also continues to get guidance from Pitino. The two of them have known each other since the younger was a ball boy for the New York Knicks and the elder was the coach of the team. Masiello refers to Pitino as "a second father," and the two speak with each other every single day.

"The biggest thing Coach Pitino taught me is, stay humble," Masiello said. "No matter how much success you have or don't have, just stay humble. Just be appreciative of where you are, and that's something I try to do every day.

"I'm very fortunate to be here -- this is a dream job for me, I love where I'm at. I try to just approach this with, I'm gonna try to outwork everyone, have humility about it, and just have a lot of fun with this."

Masiello was clearly working very hard on Thursday, as were his players. And the young coach sounded just as confident as he did in April.

"I think the changes have already started," Masiello said. "When they equate to winning and us being competitive to go to the NCAA tournament and be a contender in the MAAC, I don't know that. But it's gonna happen. And hopefully it's a lot sooner than later."

His new players sound confident, too.

"A lot better than 6-25, I'll tell you that much," said Brutus, when asked about his expectations for the upcoming season. "We could be the top team in the MAAC if we work harder. We're working real hard right now. The sky's the limit for us."

Sounds like the new coach's words are sinking in.