Carmen Maciariello takes over a Siena team that went 17-16 last season, which has raised expectations for this year. Maciariello, who grew up in Clifton Park and played one season with the Saints, is enjoying every minute of new job, including spending time with daughter, Reese.
Carmen Maciariello takes over a Siena team that went 17-16 last season, which has raised expectations for this year. Maciariello, who grew up in Clifton Park and played one season with the Saints, is enjoying every minute of new job, including spending time with daughter, Reese.

It is not very often that someone can say they have their dream job, but Carmen Maciariello does. The new Siena men’s basketball coach, who took over for Jamion Christian in March, grew up in Clifton Park, led Shenendehowa High School to a section championship and played collegiately for four years; three seasons at New Hampshire and one at Siena. While playing overseas in Italy, Maciariello got into coaching and in a span of 14 years went from director of operations at Siena in 2005-06 (followed by stops at Fairfield, Providence, Boston University, George Washington in between) to the college’s newest head coach for the 2019-20 campaign.

The Evangelist continues its interview series with Maciariello, 41, who talks about when he was told that he wasn’t any good at basketball, the commitment level it takes to be a head coach and the elevated expectations for this year’s Saints team. Catholic Voices features a wide range of men and women in the Capital District and will appear periodically in the paper and online. 

TE: What are some of your earliest memories of

CM: First time I ever played basketball, I came to a camp (at Siena and) I was in fourth grade and I wasn’t very good. And the camp counselor told me I wasn’t very good and I actually put that online on my Twitter feed (in August) and it kind of blew up. It was 32 years ago, the same date that I put the tweet out, just 32 years later; the counselor said I was a great kid, just basketball wasn’t for me. It was the first time I ever played.

TE: Where did the love for basketball start?

CM: I had kids in the neighborhood that played, their older brothers played and I always watched. I just started to play on my own and just enjoy the game. And I really enjoyed playing CYO basketball for St. Edward’s growing up. That was always kind of a tradition; we would go to church in the morning and then I would have a game. My dad coached me when I was probably in third and fourth grade for rec basketball. And we would always get donuts in the morning before we played; donuts and chocolate milk. (I have) always been around it and loved it and never really thought I would be a coach. It wasn’t until I was playing professionally in Italy where I realized I loved coaching and teaching. And I knew I loved that too when I was working with kids with special needs in the North Colonie school district (as a one-on-one aid).

TE: What was your best moment in high school?

CM: We were undefeated in the Suburban Council and we were playing Mohonasen at our place and they scored a basket with three seconds to go and we called a timeout and the buzzer went off (inadvertantly). Mohonasen was celebrating because we were undefeated and the best team in the league. (The referees) put two seconds back on the clock and after (Mohonasen) stopped their celebration, they had to stop our full-court play, and I hit a buzzbeater to win. It wasn’t really that significant except for the fact (that) we kept our undefeated season in the Suburban Council and went on to beat Albany for the Section II title … I always thought it was so special to be able to play with friends and for your high school.

TE: after three years at New Hampshire, why did you transfer to Siena? 

CM: I was a three-year starter up there. I loved the school, I loved the area, but you grow from it and I wanted more. And I also wanted to come home and play for Siena; it was always a dream. Coming out of high school, (Siena coach) Bob Beyer said I wasn’t good enough; he said I could walk on if I wanted to. At the time I was transferring, (Siena coach) Paul Hewitt welcomed me with open arms, but they didn’t have any scholarships, so I walked on technically then, too. I knew my role. When I was going to play professionally with an Italian passport, it was going to be similar to my role here; being able to defend and rebound and shoot, an intangible guy who can do all the little things to help a team win. And we did. We won 20 games. And I was sixth man on a team that won 20 games and won a regular-season share of the MAAC title and I wasn’t on scholarship. For me, I treat everybody equal because of the situation I was in; you just earn your stripes every day. 

TE: What was it like playing in Italy?

CM: It was awesome. You are living in a foreign country, a place where my heritage is from. I got to see four different regions of Italy. I was down in the heel of the boot … I was outside Milan in a place called Novara … outside Bologna, a place called Castel Maggiore, and I was in Sicily in Ragusa. You see all different ways of life, you hear all different dialects of the same language and you are able to make friends and the game of basketball gets you to build those relationships. I still talk to some of my teammates who were Italian from over there.

TE: What spurred you on to get into coaching?

CM: When I came back from playing overseas in the summertime, I was coaching AAU (Albany City Rocks), so I really enjoyed giving back … When I was over in Europe playing basketball, you are not really having many things to do. Back then there wasn’t FaceTime or all that stuff, so I was going to Internet cafes and spending 20 Euros to be on a computer for an hour to send emails and just be in touch with people. I was reading the Bible every night, reading books, playing video games and I just needed more. That was when I started studying the game more.

That’s where I said, ‘Hey, I want to coach.’ I had that same decision whether I could play or coach when I was finishing my year here with (Siena coach) Fran McCaffery as his director of ops. The position back then was $3,000 with no health benefits and I had a desk which was just a wood table in the locker room. From there I went with a team overseas, a bunch of college kids  (and former Siena star) Tay Fisher was one of them. We were in Belgium and Holland and I got offered a contract to stay in Amsterdam and not come home. It was either come home and continue to build the relationships that I started forming when I was coaching AAU and the college basketball business or continue to play basketball and live in a foreign country. So that was a tough decision … I decided, ‘Hey, I have got to continue to go in this direction.’ 

TE: Talk about the business of basketball?

CM: I love it. I was fortunate because I got to learn from Fran here. It was great to see him work; obviously he is a phenomenal coach and to learn the business (of the game of basketball). When you are not in it, you don’t realize everything that goes into it. I am going through our schedules for September, October and November; when we are going to practice, when we are going to have off days, what we are going to do for team-building exercises, what we are going to do for special meals, official visits, unofficial visits. You don’t realize all the thought that goes into it; you have to run it like a big-time business. 

TE: Talk about the commitment it takes to succeed?

CM: The biggest thing you learn is how much time you have to spend with the players. They have to trust you; you have to build those relationships. And that is not something that is going to happen overnight. What I have been successful with is people know that I am a genuine person, so there’s not any games in how I talk or what I am going to do. I am not a used car salesman. You are around the players all the time, but then you are scouting, you are recruiting, you are doing different things on campus; you are being visible. It is a time commitment. I always tried to live close to school … it is worth it. I was a guy who was single (early in my career), so you are in the office, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, I would work out, I am making phone calls. And then I am in the office Sunday, making phone calls and recruiting. People don’t realize how much you are on the phone. I was known as a recruiter and a guy that would always be connected to different people; you always want to have information. You are in the business of knowing things and knowing information, and getting good information and you may get bad information, and you have to be able to decipher it. 

TE: Talk about the job and the Siena community?

CM: The best part of this job is the people. There are so many passionate people; the administration is great. They love their Siena basketball. Having grown up around it, I appreciate that much more. I think as outsiders come in, they don’t truly appreciate what they have here. I played in the league, I coached in the league, I coached here … we have something that is not usual as this level of mid-Major basketball. We have a beautiful arena, we are in the top 100 in attendance for the 22nd year, we have so many media stations and outlets. I am undefeated, so everybody loves me now which is perfect. It’s a special place and special community. We lost our president, Brother Ed (Coughlin), and he was always big on community and such a kind and gentle man. I think it just speaks volumes about the community, how it is close-knit. And that’s what makes it special.

TE: How did you go about getting the job?

CM:My path is unique. I was a guy who (when as an assistant at Boston University) turned down an ACC assistant job at Virginia Tech that was going to give me an extra $50,000 and my cost of living from Boston to Blacksburg would be very different. And at the same time I turn down the job, I met my wife in Boston and we win the Patriot League. And then I get the G.W. job. I have never chased the money. I thought it was a good career move to be able to come back home; my wife is from Boston and we have a 21⁄2-year-old, who is the first granddaughter in the family. My family is still here, (and my wife) will have a closer drive to Boston … I was able to learn from all the different situations and circumstances and all the different roles I was put in. And being able to learn from Jamion (Christian), he had learned from (Texas coach) Shaka Smart, he had learned from (Virginia Commonwealth coach) Mike Rhodes and Mike Rhodes helped me get the job here. It’s a relationship business, whether it’s recruiting, whether it’s learning. We didn’t invent the game of basketball, you are always picking and choosing things from different people whether it’s offense, defense, how to run a program. It came from somewhere.

TE: Winning seems to be a hallmark of the programs you have been associated with?

CM: I think you just have to work, regardless of what you are doing, my players and our staff, they all appreciate it. I love to work and when you love what you do, it’s never going to be work. It’s time consuming, but the time flies, because there is always something that you are doing and your mind is always working. And it’s about being proud of these guys; this is us now. We are able to put our own stamp on this product that people are going to be able to see in a couple of months.

TE: What was it like finally buying your own house?

CM: It feels good not to be a vagabond; you are not a nomad anymore. Like I said in my introductory press conference, I don’t plan on going anywhere. I plan on building this thing to where it was and hopefully exceeding where it has been. Fran McCaffery has proven you can get to three straight NCAA tournaments. Now that is a lofty goal for us in my first year to say we want to get to a Sweet 16 or an Elite 8, but Butler did when they were in the Horizon League and (Virginia Commonwealth) did it … so why not us? We have everything here. We have the community behind us, we have great people. At the end of the day, it’s about these guys believing in themselves and growing as people, because that’s our job as leaders and educators. 

TE: Talk about star player, sophomore Jalen Pickett, and the expectation level?

CM:  (Jalen) is going to be the guy with his picture on the dartboard. My biggest thing with these guys is, we have to be able to attack and finish everything that we do, that is our mantra. We were a .500 team last year. 17-16. The reason I am in this seat is because there were no expectations. The program was so down and having won eight games and getting a head coach removed from the program. There were no expectations and it was in disarray and we did a great job. Last year was such a rewarding year as an assistant to be able to restore some prestige in wearing that Siena jersey.  ... And now you guys are going to have all these accolades and you have a guy coming back (in Pickett) and now you are going to be the hunted, not the hunter. How are you going to handle yourself? How are you going to be when adversity hits? All the guys in the locker room caring about one another more than themselves, that is the big message.

TE: What are your goals for this year?

CM: Everyone has the same goal:  (To make the) NCAA Tournament. We want to compete for a MAAC championship every year. We have got to get to that Monday night in Atlantic City (for the MAAC final).

TE: What is your life philosophy?

CM: I enjoy the journey. I never really get frustrated with it, every day is a great day. We have a lot to be thankful for. I have a loving family, amazing sister, amazing wife and daughter and people that care about me. I am blessed to be able to make an impact. What I hang my hat on is the only reason I wanted to be a head coach was that it was never going to be about myself or accolades. It was about being able to have a bigger impact. When you are an assistant, you have ideas that you bring to the head coach about getting involved in the community, but now I am able to do all that stuff: Have our guys go swim with students at Shaker High School that maybe aren’t in the best of circumstances; (and) give back to mentorship programs on campus. Through¬≠out this, you have to be who you are and that is a credit to how my family raised me. Just being able to hold yourself accountable. Every day is a great day, even when you have a bad day, you are learning and growing from it.