Bashir Mason’s Wagner Seahawks made a statement on game one of the college basketball season back in November: A stunning 67-58 win over the then-No. 18 ranked UConn Huskies, a highlight part of Wagner’s season; even this far in, according to Mason.
“I think that’s what the ceiling was for this group,” Mason reminisced. “That was a really good UConn team. We walked in there and beat them.”
To kick off non-conference play with such a loud bang, conventional wisdom would assume Wagner probably takes advantage of such incredible momentum and steam roll from there. But no one could have expected Romone Saunders, who dropped 15 points in their effort against UConn, to suffer a broken bone in his left foot that required surgery, as reported by the Staten Island Advance/SILive.com’s Cormac Gordon.
Back on a beautiful, partly cloudy late fall afternoon; October 26, 2016, the Northeast Conference men’s basketball preseason poll was announced at the fifth annual NEC Basketball Social Media Day at Barclays Center. And so far, it has been a good outlook on the 2016-17 season.
The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, who were voted No. 1, are currently No. 2 behind the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, who were picked tied for fourth with the LIU Brooklyn Blackhawks. While the Wagner Seahawks and the Bryant Bulldogs are both playing below expectations tied for fifth; each were looked at to be No. 2 and No. 3 in the conference, respectively, with the Seahawks tallying four first-place votes.
Robert Morris, St. Francis Brooklyn, Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut are all in the bottom half of the conference, where they were voted by the coaches. One team not mentioned, chosen to finish ninth and not receiving enough attention for how they’re performing is Saint Francis University, currently fourth in the NEC.
The Westfield Bulldogs of Chantilly, Virginia, lost the 6A state championship to the Colonial Forge Eagles of Stafford by the final of 47-46 to end the 2014-15 season. And although it may have been a disappointment, it helped give rise to the leadership of one of their own: then-junior guard Blake Francis.
Failing to capture the Virginia title, he felt an immediate sense of urgency to step up because of how far his team had made it without any of the satisfaction. Plus, he knew that in the following season, he’d be a graduating senior.
His coach at the time, Doug Ewell, placed the responsibility on Francis to relay the message to his teammates that now wasn’t the time to drift apart over losing one game, regardless of its importance. It was instead when they should come together to work toward satiating their ongoing hunger for their ultimate goal: winning it all.
“No limits, I don’t want any limits. When you limit yourself, you fall short. I want no limits, so I’m going to go hard and keep praying to God for no limits at all.” – Michael Carey, Wagner Seahawks senior guard, on what legacy he wants to leave behind as a player
TO BE CONSIDERED FAMILY, TRUST
Wagner head coach Bashir Mason called Michael Carey on the phone during his recruitment to see if he’d fit the team’s brand. That identity he was looking for is synonymous with Mason’s play as a former Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year at Drexel as a freshman in 2003-04, just that: Defense. And it’s not only play on the court he keys in on, it’s how you conduct yourself off it around people on a daily basis and, of course, your teammates.
The thought behind it is simple: “Attitude next play.” What that phrase means is all the minute parts of the game that don’t appear on the back of a player card. It’s defensive deflections, offensive rebounds, taking charges, diving on the floor and assists. Also, it’s coupling the physical with the mental side of not becoming overly caught up in either a positive or negative way and moving on.
With all this in mind, Carey sold Mason on adding him to the roster by saying the following: “If I trust you, I’ll run through a wall for you. And if I don’t know why I’m running through a wall, I’m going to keep running until you tell me to stop.” After hearing that, Mason knew in that very moment Carey was the kind of player he wanted and one he’d like to coach because of the level of seriousness he gave off.
Former four-year Wagner veteran forward Josh Thompson remembered one experience at Wagner right away that he sees as shared with his teammates and family in being a part of something bigger than anyone: beating the Pitt Panthers in their own Petersen Events Center, who Thompson recalled being ranked No. 15 in the country at the time.
What it took to achieve what seemed prior to that game as a daunting task was Thompson and his fellow Seahawks knowing they had to go onto the Panthers’ home court and believe in each other. By doing just that, they made it come true through playing the game the way they always did.
After experiencing an historic 2014-15 season, when St. Francis Brooklyn tied a program record with 23 wins and earned their first Northeast Conference championship since 2003-04; plus an appearance into the National Invitational Tournament for the first time since 1963, finishing off 2015-16 with a 15-17 record was a step back of sorts, and early indications from college basketball insiders seem to think another may be on its way this year.
Since being named LIU Brooklyn’s head coach in 2013, Jack Perri has seen his team teeter like a seesaw.
His first year showed off his ability toward continued success, and to no surprise due to his knowledge of the program after having spent seven seasons as an assistant under his predecessor Jim Ferry, the current Duquesne head coach.
Perri led his players to a 20-14 record in that 2013-14 campaign, which garnered the Blackbirds their third consecutive Northeast Conference championship and also rewarded him with the Joe B. Hall Coach of the Year award, given out annually to Division I first-year head coaches.
Whenever every new season is fast approaching in mid to late-October, basketball coaches know every team is at the same place. They have a vision as to where they should be, and work toward reaching that point.
For a second time already, and the 2016-17 campaign hasn’t even begun, Wagner head coach Bashir Mason referenced the 10-win 2014-15 season when he had seven new players — five of which were freshmen. He said it was difficult starting all over again from the ground up because coaches and players alike were learning new things.
The 2015-16 season was one of program history-making accomplishments for the Wagner Seahawks.
It has been said and repeated, but they were the Northeast Conference regular season champions for the second time, earned their first-ever postseason win in the National Invitational Tournament, and posted 20 wins in a season for the seventh time.
After winning the Northeast Conference regular season championship, but falling short of earning the championship victory by a mere eight points to the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line, the Wagner Seahawks will look to sustain the success they found for the upcoming year and not only maintain it for the future of the program, but to return to the conference’s final game and walk back onto the team bus with a trophy.
That’s the date of the Northeast Conference championship game. Entering his fifth season as the head coach of the Wagner Seahawks, Bashir Mason already has that date circled on his calendar and memorized.
Why? He and his players are starving to return to the big stage to reverse the loss they took to the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, 87-79, in the same matchup and scenario last year.
When Thomas Capuano was a kid, his passion for basketball was quite obvious to his mom, Janet.
“Anything you’re worried about. Any stress in your life, it’s just gone,” Thomas said when asked about how basketball makes him feel. “You just have to focus on one goal and you use your teammates to achieve that.”
He was always in the gym. He’d attend every practice he had to go to and then to any other practice other teams held. Any opportunity he had to be around the game, he’d take it, even if it was sitting in on other teams’ practices. There was no limit and he just wanted to do it. All of it, Janet recalled.
“It was that discipline that is a big part to getting to where he is today,” she said.
“No one has seen Tom play more than I have since the third grade,” Capuano’s mom added. “I understand it’s biased coming from his mom but I’ve always known what he’s capable of and believed in him 1,000 percent that he could play at [the Division I] level and succeed at that level. He has always had to prove himself, he was the underdog a lot of the way, just in terms of his height — [ 5 feet 11 inches].”
From Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) through college, almost everyone who knows Capuano well describes him as tough; a grinder; determined; a hard-worker; hard-nosed; blue-collar. The list can go on.
If someone told him he had to work on his strength, for example, he’d do push-ups and sit-ups before bed without fail. And if he forgot to do them one night, he would get up when he remembered. When he has a goal he goes for it, his mom remembered.
“He’s the toughest mentally, physically that I’ve ever had as a coach,” Chris Ward, Capuano’s former AAU Spartans head coach, said, “and I’ve been coaching for 28 years. He’s got a special quality, charisma.”
Manhattan College didn’t look like itself in the first-half of its eventual classic Steve Masiello style, 84-77, win over Quinnipiac University. And all it took was a 15-minute halftime cooldown in addition to a pep-talk from Masiello.
“I said, ‘Let me tell you how this is going to go.’ (We spoke about faith and the process.),” Masiello said. “‘Believe in it. Just believe in it. Believe in what’s ahead. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen, how it happened– just know if you do what you’re supposed to do things will happen. There’s no way we’re not going to continue to not have a run, shoot the ball this bad. Good things will happen just stay with it.’”
Well, Manhattan’s win, obviously, didn’t solely rely on Masiello because then it could pretty much say goodbye to its chances at winning a third consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title. It also had the offensive punch from Sha– Zane Waterman (19 points, 11 rebounds); ESPN 3 Pepsi Player of the Game, Calvin Crawford (18 points, five rebounds, three blocks); Rich Williams (18 points, five rebounds, two blocks); and RaShawn Stores (15 points, three rebounds, six assists).
“I’m getting more comfortable with playing with these guys, knowing my role better– coach is emphasizing with me rebounding, that’s all I got to do,” Waterman said. “The points will come.”
“It was fun. The only word I can think of, and I know we keep saying it, but rebound; rebound,” Crawford said, “because [Quinnipiac] is crazy on the glass. All I was saying to myself, self-talk was rebound, rebound, and good things will happen from there.”