Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Manhattan’s Masiello ‘Would love the opportunity’ to play Kentucky
Manhattan coach Steve Masiello says he “would love the opportunity” to play undefeated and top-ranked Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
And of course the Jaspers (19-13) may just get their chance if they can get past MEAC champion Hampton (16-17) in a play-in game Tuesday in Dayton. The winner of that game gets No. 1 Kentucky on Thursday in Louisville in the Midwest Region.
“I would love the opportunity but we gotta worry about Hampton right now and go one step at a time,” Masiello, a former Kentucky walk-on and former Knicks ball boy, told Bruce Beck of WNBC-TV in New York.
When Beck asked if Masiello wanted to play 34-0 Kentucky, the coach smiled and said, “No, absolutely not, I do not want to play them.”
Masiello knows that Kentucky is loaded with nine McDonald’s All-Americans and is the consensus pick to win the national championship and finish 40-0 as the first undefeated team since Indiana in 1976.
“Really what’s so impressive is the way they hit the court every night, they’re just very professional,” Masiello told Beck.
“They come out, they respect everyone and they bring it every night. They’re going to go down arguably as one of the best college teams ever to take the court, 34-0 that’s not easy to do, I don’t care what level, where you are. They have so many options, they’re so deep, just a special group, a special team, they’re going to look to make a deep run in this tournament.”
Of course, if Manhattan gets to face Kentucky, it means they have already won an NCAA Tournament game, something they haven’t done since then-coach Bobby Gonzalez took down Florida in 2004.
Last year, the Jaspers were a No. 13 seed and pushed Masiello’s mentor Rick Pitino and No. 4 Louisville before losing 71-64 in the first round.
Though he failed to win a tournament game, Masiello’s stock exploded to the point where he was offered the job at South Florida, which would’ve paid him $6.2 million over five years.
Masiello reportedly asked Pitino before taking the job, “What do you think [about the USF job]?”
Pitino responded: “I said, ‘For you, it’s a grand slam.’”
But when it was discovered during a background check that Masiello had never graduated from Kentucky, the entire storyline flipped.
Not only did South Florida back out of hiring Masiello (they ultimately hired Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua), but Manhattan placed Masiello on leave in late March and his future seemed uncertain.
In April, Manhattan reinstated Masiello and by May he had completed his degree work at Kentucky.
Through the tough times, Masiello said he enjoyed tremendous support from his players and the administration at Manhattan.
“I’m so appreciative of Manhattan, President [Brennan] O’Donnell [and AD] Noah Lefevre, them giving me a second chance to come back,” Masiello told Beck. “But the players, I just have great kids who welcomed me back, never wavered and were in my corner the whole time. And just that we have is really special.”
Despite two regular-season losses to MAAC conference champ Iona, Manhattan stunned the Gaels 79-69 in the MAAC championship game.
Now one year after pushing Louisville to the brink, Manhattan is one game away from another fascinating showdown with Kentucky.
“If we’re fortunate enough to win, I’m not looking forward to seeing them,” Masiello said.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.