Manhattan Jaspers Basketball: New York City’s Team

Michael Alvarado #31 of the Manhattan Jaspers drives to the basket past Javon McCrea #12 of the Buffalo Bulls. (credit: Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

Michael Alvarado #31 of the Manhattan Jaspers drives to the basket past Javon McCrea #12 of the Buffalo Bulls. (credit: Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

By Andrew Kahn

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Syracuse University advertises itself as “New York’s College Team.” St. John’s boasts, “We Are New York’s Team.” If we’re talking about New York City, Manhattan College may have the best case. The Jaspers, unlike Syracuse, play in NYC; while both Syracuse and St. John’s fill their rosters with national talent, Manhattan has eight players from the five boroughs and another from Long Island. As Manhattan’s program rises—tonight it will play in its second straight MAAC championship—its case strengthens.

Manhattan’s third-year head coach Steve Masiello, who is from White Plains, NY, just outside of the city, believes his program, at the very least, belongs in the conversation for the unofficial title of New York City’s team. “We pride ourselves on being Manhattan,” he says. “No other team can say that with the name on their chest. When we go play in Texas or South Carolina, we’re representing New York.” He acknowledged that, like an argument over the king of New York rappers, there could be more than one reasonable answer.

Not up for debate are the Jaspers’ New York roots. Starting guards Michael Alvarado and RaShawn Stores describe themselves as brothers. They played together for two years at All Hallows High School in the Bronx and grew up playing in tournaments all over the city, both as teammates and opponents. “We’ve got a bond that a lot of people don’t have,” Alvarado says.

Senior Rhamel Brown and freshman Rich Williams played a year together on the varsity at Transit Tech in Brooklyn. “I saw a lot of potential in him,” Brown says of his younger teammate. “He just needed to focus on the game and not worry so much. He never believed me when I told him he’d be a great player. To this day I tell him I see something special in him.”

It’s unlikely you’ll ever see just one Manhattan player. They’re like family, and several players say it has translated to wins. They overcame an injury to their star player, Long Island’s George Beamon, to reach the MAAC title game last season. They finished second in the regular season this year and have ridden the league’s best defense to tonight’s title game.

Masiello says New York City kids can be difficult to coach at times because they’ve been told how good they are from a young age. “You have to break them down,” he says. But he also praised their passion. “New York City kids have so much pride about their game. Their identity is basketball unlike other players in country.” He believes a player like senior Emmy Andujar has played so well against local rival Iona because he doesn’t want to hear trash talk on the playgrounds all summer.

Manhattan doesn’t limit its recruiting to New York—the roster includes players from Illinois and Kentucky as well—but if a local player fits the school’s needs and is interested, Masiello wants him. St. John’s, on the other hand, has just one player from the state of New York. Says Masiello: “New York basketball is down across the board. Us New Yorkers need to bring it back.”

Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at andrewjkahn@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn

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