NEW YORK — The traffic jams around the Bronx don’t bother Steve Masiello as much as they once did.
Those frigid days walking around the Manhattan College campus, where the brick arches act like wind tunnels, did not quite sting as much this winter to the Jaspers’ coach.
A year ago, Masiello was ready to leave Manhattan. He even took another job.
Now he says he is not looking for the next big thing. Having nearly thrown away a promising career with an inaccurate résumé, Masiello says he is living in the moment and enjoying his second trip to the NCAA Tournament with the Jaspers more than he did the first.
“I think it’s different because last year when I was here, I appreciated it, but I didn’t know how special it really was,” Masiello said Sunday night, not long after finding out Manhattan will play Hampton on Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, for the right to play No. 1 Kentucky. “What would I do to be back at Selection Sunday, win a MAAC championship? All those things.
“Now when you’re here … the things you kind of stressed about last year, you learn to appreciate and enjoy this year.”
Masiello and Manhattan put a scare into Louisville and his mentor, Rick Pitino, during the first weekend of last year’s tournament, losing 71-64. Less than a week later, Masiello accepted a multimillion dollar offer from South Florida to become the Bulls’ coach. One day after that, the offer was rescinded. A background check revealed Masiello did not have the degree from the University of Kentucky he claimed on his résumé.
After some deliberation, Manhattan decided to take him back if he completed his degree — which he did.
So instead of Tampa, Florida, it was back to Riverdale for Masiello.
“I think my perspective is different,” Masiello said. “I think I can enjoy the traffic coming here a little bit more if I’m a couple of minutes late. I can enjoy the walk over even though it’s freezing. It’s really not a problem. It’s fun stuff.”
Masiello said aside from the death of his father in 2008, the time between losing the USF job and being brought back by Manhattan was the most difficult thing to ever happen to him.
“I didn’t know if I was going to coach again,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to come back to Manhattan. And I think sometimes the purgatory, limbo feeling is tough.”
Masiello was a walk-on at Kentucky for Pitino and part of two national title teams. He later worked as assistant for Pitino at Louisville.
He said he never meant to deceive anyone with his résumé.
“I really believed I graduated,” he said. “Went through ceremonies, wore a cap and gown.”
Masiello maintains he never made sure his credits were in order when he left school and that’s what he told Manhattan officials. They accepted his explanation and placed him on unpaid leave until he completed an online course.
“I don’t know if it made me a smarter coach,” he said of the career misstep. “But I think it made me a better person, so in turn had to make me a better coach.”
The Jaspers were thrilled to have him back and are even happier to get another shot to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“He’s a great coach and we didn’t really get to enjoy the success [last year] the way we wanted to,” center Ashton Pankey said. “We won the MAAC championship. We go to the NCAA. We played Louisville to the wire. After that, all the drama goes down.”
Masiello knew Manhattan’s return to the NCAA Tournament would mean he would have to revisit what happened last year with USF.
He is OK answering the questions and understands more will come.
“I’m not going to hide what has happened and who I am,” Masiello said. “I’m going to be honest with people about it, as I should be. I understand everyone has a job, but I wish we would make it more about what this team has done and less about what I did.”
At 37, Masiello is still a promising young coach. This season, he righted a team that started 2-7 and led the Jaspers (19-13) to an upset of top-seeded Iona in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.
At some point, there will be more suitors. Maybe soon. After Manhattan stuck by him, is Masiello more likely to stick with the Jaspers?
“A year ago, my answer would be different,” he said. “Today, all I think about is the now. I don’t do hypothetical. I won’t even do a hypothetical with the NCAA bracket. All I’m going to worry about is what I know. That’s Hampton.”
This article was written by Ralph D. Russo from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.