Men’s Basketball Preview: New coach, new attitude

John Ferraro, Sports Editor

The men’s basketball team is looking to improve on last year’s missed opportunity at a playoff run with a new head coach and a new outlook that comes with it.

As The Wood Word previously reported, Enrico Mastroianni was named head coach approximately two months before the season began. Mastroianni was fresh off trying to build the Georgian County men’s basketball program from scratch.

Mastroianni does not see a difference in building a brand new program versus arriving at a team that just missed the playoffs.

“I don’t think my approach is any different. I have the mindset that every year your team is different regardless of what university you are at or what program you are coaching,” he said.

According to the Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC) coaches’ preseason poll, the season might be yet another challenge for Mastorianni.

The coaches seeded the Pacers to finish eighth in the standings, topping only Cairn University and Summit University of Pennsylvania. Those teams combined for a dismal record of 5-55. On the other hand, the Pacers finished last year above .500 (14-11).

Mastroianni hinted at the doubt surrounding his new team in relaying his main message to the players. “I told them that the theme for us is to believe. That is the main thing we are trying to do,” he continued. “We need to stay together through whatever comes our way, whatever adversity or doubt is out there about our program. We were ranked eighth in the preseason poll, but we don’t see it that way.”

According to Mastroianni, the subpar ranking only motivates the team to work even harder. “We have high expectations for ourselves. But, it certainly has helped that the conference hasn’t given us much credence in the league and where we are supposed to finish according to everyone else.”

To motivate his players even more, Mastroianni has posted the actual preseason poll in the Pacer locker room. Even so, he does acknowledge that the competition in the CSAC is tough.

“It’s a good league and it’s only going to continue to get better. Cabrini is always going to be at the top. Teams like Gwynedd Mercy will be competitive also. It seems that since I have gotten away from the conference Rosemont has gotten better. Centenary has improved too,” said Mastroianni.

To combat the high level of CSAC competition, Mastroianni has implemented a new defensive scheme for his players, a scheme he said will take some time to click.

“They are learning a new system that they were not familiar with. It’s exposing some bad habits,” Mastroianni continued. “We are trying to get guys to do things the right way. That is very hard to do when you already defined who you are as a player to this point.”

He further explained the new system as a “wall” of sorts. “It’s predicated on help. We have to trust each other. If guys are going to pressure the ball like we want them too; there has got to be a backline of help. We call it ‘building a wall.’”

Amidst the challenge of learning a completely different defense, Mastroianni sees a major positive with the team that could carry them a long way.

“We are obviously a very good shooting team. As a team, we shot a very high percentage last season. We have seen improved shooting during the scrimmages we’ve been having in the preseason. We have some really talented shooters,” said Mastroianni.

Two players the coach expects big things from are team captain Shane Letthand and second-year player Connor Callejas.

“Shane is very experienced. He’s playing very well and is leading the team. Connor has been a pleasure to coach so far. He has a very high basketball IQ,” said Mastroianni.

Letthand, a senior social work major, said that for him it has been difficult to adjust to Mastroianni’s newly implemented defensive scheme. “It is pretty difficult to adapt to a new scheme. The principle of this defense is helping our teammates more than we did in the past. It’s a learning process for sure.”

Callejas, a sophomore guard, echoed Letthand’s comments about adapting to a new scheme. “I think we are having some difficulties, but every team does this early in the year.”

As a freshman, Callejas averaged 9.2 points in nearly 22 minutes per game last season for the Pacers. He hopes to see his role expand even more this year.

“I definitely think it is growing. I’m trying to lead by example. But, we definitely recognize Shane as our captain. I try and do as much as I can to help him out with that,” said Callejas.

Coach Mastroianni admits that the team is very young. Therefore, he stresses that they put as much work in as possible. “I’m just here to make sure that the effort is there every game, every workout, and every practice,” said Mastroianni.

With a young team, a new defense, and a new head coach, Mastroianni admits that this season is going to be tough. His expectations are still very high.

“The common thread is to make the playoffs and win a championship. I don’t think you lace them up if you’re not trying to accomplish that,” said Mastroianni.

The Pacers’ CSAC competition begins at home on November 24 against Gywnedd Mercy.

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