Steve Masiello made a mistake last year. He agreed to leave Manhattan and become the next head basketball coach at South Florida.
What’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing. Only South Florida rescinded the offer when it discovered Masiello had not actually graduated from the University of Kentucky, as indicated on his resume. Masiello returned to Manhattan last April, was put on leave until he finished his undergraduate coursework and became a bit of a sports-media punching bag.
It was a pretty rough time.
Yet, almost one year later, Masiello, 37, has emerged from this saga a better coach and a better person. He realizes he’ll likely have to address this issue several times in the coming days and weeks – Manhattan beat Iona in the MAAC Championship to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament – but Masiello intends to embrace the blunder head-on and respectfully answer any questions he is asked.
“I’m only going to embrace it because it’s a part of my past,” Masiello said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “So I’m not going to be in denial about it or try to act like it didn’t happen. But in the same breath, I also want to make this about my players. Us being back in the NCAA Tournament, it really shouldn’t be about me. It should be about my guys and my senior class and what they’re accomplishing and not necessarily about what happened last year. But when I’m asked about it, I’m not going to hide from it or anything like that. It’s something that took place. It’s part of my past, and I’m going to own it and move on.”
Because of his mistake, Masiello felt his players couldn’t enjoy their success as much as they should have last season. This year, he was motivated to get back to the NCAA Tournament so that they could experience it the right way.
“I have such great kids,” he said. “I don’t think it was motivation for them, but it was motivation for me. I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be around a lot of good teams that we could advance and have some postseason success. So I know what comes with that, and I know how much fun it is. And when it’s all said and done, our guys never got that. They never got to be welcomed by the students the way they should have and the administration and the fan base and just recognized for being the champion because it was diluted with things that were going on with me. So my motivation was to get these guys back so they could enjoy it the right way.”
Manhattan started the season 2-7, which had less to do with Masiello’s controversy and more to do with the schedule. The Jaspers, who lost a trio of 1,000-point scorers, played 11 of their first 13 games on the road, including games at Florida State, Massachusetts and George Mason.
“I wanted this team to be battle-tested early because I knew how difficult it was going to be to defend the championship,” Masiello said. “So once we got through that part – and we did – I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. And I knew where this team would be come February because of the character of these young men and their work ethic.”
Masiello was right. Manhattan (19-13, 13-7) went 11-3 in its final 14 games. His players got better, and Masiello gained perspective on his experience.
It was win-win for everyone.
“You lose your gratitude sometimes,” Masiello said. “I’m extremely humbled by what I went through. I understand that at any given moment, this could all be taken from you, and I also understand I’m not that important. These kids are the ones that are important. They’re the reason I was welcomed back to Manhattan. They’re the reason we went to two MAAC championship games and won it. They’re the reason we’re going to two NCAAs. It’s about the kids. So you quickly get another view of yourself and really your relevance from that perspective.”
As Masiello can attest, it’s easy for coaches to lose perspective on the game. Coaches are the ones making the money, doing the interviews and getting the attention. As a result, people tend to focus on them – as opposed to the players – in good times and in bad. Especially the bad.
“I’m not complaining about it, and I’m not upset about it and I’m not trying to say I’m a victim by any means,” Masiello said. “I’m just saying the way that it’s structured, that’s how it goes. The kids come for four years, (and) they move on. Or (they) come for two years (and) they move on. And the coaches are kind of more landmarks in college basketball. That’s the culture we’re in. And I’m not speaking for other coaches. I’m just speaking for myself. Sometimes you can lose perspective. Sometimes you can lose what your roots are. And the bottom line is the roots are the student-athletes. For me – and I said this last summer – (this experience has) made be a better person and a better coach.”