The Siena Saints will embark on the 2009-2010 this fall as a more recognized national program. Siena has completed two consecutive years of making the NCAA Tournament and winning first round games against Vanderbilt and Ohio State, while giving Louisville all they could handle last season. However, it is this season that they have a chance to field their best team in school history.
I had the opportunity to speak with Alex Franklin, the 6’5 bruising, athletic forward that has been a key contributor since he stepped foot on the Loudonville campus. With Alex, I discussed the past, present and future.
This is around the time, early July, that teams are on campus for summer sessions and to run pick up. The Siena team is together and doing just that. “We’re all up here, the freshmen too. Summer is going real good right now”, Alex said. Personally, Alex said that he was about to go out to Las Vegas to workout before the fall semester gets underway.
Siena brings in three highly praised freshmen this season in; Jonathan Breeden, Denzel Yard and Oderah Anosike. Breeden and Yard will be fixtures in the back court for the future with Anosike will bring size and athleticism up front. Alex has been impressed with the young guys thus far, “They’re definitely impact freshmen and they’ll be contributing and finding roles right away.” High praise for the trio on a team that returns four starters and the MAAC 6th man of the year.
The level of talent at Siena is at an all time high and players such as Edwin Ubiles and recent graduate Kenny Hasbrouck have gained some national attention. Recently, Ubiles attended the LeBron James Skills Academy, which hosted 20 of the top college players throughout the country. For Franklin it’s gratifying to see his teammate receive such recognition, “It’s really good to see. It’s great for Eddie to get out there and showcase his talent. It says a lot about this program and the caliber of players we have.”
Anyone who has followed the Siena program recently can point out how much of a family atmosphere there is within the program. Franklin saw that early on when he first arrived on campus. “When I got here, Mike Haddix and Dave Ryan were the captains, and they took all of us under their wing. And for freshmen it’s natural to follow the upperclassman. And they were great leaders and now for us, we feel that is our responsibility as well.” Leading the freshmen and the team collectively to do the rights things on and off the court will fall in the hands of the seniors this season. Siena lost Kenny Hasbrouck and Josh Duell to graduation this spring, two glue guys of the program and now Franklin realizes the opportunity in front of he and his peers. “It will be a collective effort. Myself, Ron, Eddie and Cory Magee, who got injured last season, but he’s a huge part of this program. This year, we know it’s on us and we have the ability to lead this team.”
On the floor, Hasbrouck, former MAAC player of the year leaves tough shoes to fill at the two guard spot, but Franklin is confident in MAAC 6th Man of the Year, junior, Clarence Jackson. “He’ll step up and he know’s what his role is and what it is he has to fill. He has the talent and we all believe in him.” Jackson’s development will go a long way in Siena’s success this season, similar to last season’s progress of pivot man, Ryan Rossiter. “Ryan came a long way. He just keeps getting better and better. He’s always on the glass and giving 100% effort. It helps me out a lot down low.”
Most mid major programs set out for their season with a goal of winning their conference tournament and receiving an NCAA Tournament birth. Siena has exceeded those expectations the past two seasons. So what can the goals be this year or where is the ceiling on this team? “The goal is always first and foremost to win the MAAC championship. After that, we want to go as far as we can. We feel we can do anything, but it starts with that MAAC title.” The MAAC had a great season last year, and should continue their strong play this year. Niagara returns a talented team and Rider has a tremendous player in Ryan Thompson. “Man, it’s tough from top to bottom. Every night will be a battle. There is a target on our back now and every game will be tough.”
Finding opponents to face outside of their conference has not been an easy task this offseason for head coach Fran McCaffery. Alex said, “It’s not in my hands, so there is nothing we can do about it. We know in the end the teams on our schedule are going to be good.” News did break today that Siena and Georgia Tech will play the next two seasons, and they will feature touted post man Derrick Favors. “I’ve heard about him, he’s really highly thought of. It’ll definitely be a challenge.”
Siena faced many early challenges last season, against the likes of Kansas, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh among others. Unfortunately, with high expectations Siena got off to a rough start and could not take a victory against the top teams they faced. They rebounded greatly though, dominating the MAAC into the NCAA Tournament. “We always stayed together. We were always hungry for more. A main goal this season is to get off to a better start.”
While Siena entered last season with high expectations and will again this season, that has not always been the case. “It’s cool, kinda surprising people, but as a team we do want to be recognized. And I think we are going toward that national spotlight.”
It has been a long time going to get to that point for Franklin and his senior class. They arrived during a transition period at Siena, with Coach McCaffery replacing Rob Lanier, a current Florida assistant. McCaffery certainly landed a great class with the future 2010 graduates. What was his selling point to do so? “His passion and leadership. He’s a great guy and coach. His demeanor is perfect for a head coach and his passion for the game is incredible.”
With great fan support in the Capital Region, a wonderful head coach and talent coming in, where can this Siena program go? Franklin has seen the growth, something he wasn’t sure was possible, “You know if you told me we’d be at this point now when I first got here, I would never guessed it. But I did believe so much in Coach Mac. It was hard not to. He told us if we believed in him and followed his structure, great things would happen.”
Indeed they have.