Hasbrouck leading Siena on long road back to the NCAA tourney
Siena has played six opponents who played in last year's NCAA tourney
Guard Kenny Hasbrouck and wing Edinw Ubiles are drawing NBA scouts
At 6-0 in the MAAC, the Saints stand alone in first place
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Shortly after five o'clock on a wintry morning last Monday, Fran McCaffery and his Siena Saints boarded a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Kansas City, Mo. Twelve hours later, having endured a two-hour plane de-icing, a "quasi-emergency" landing in Detroit due to a gear issue, an hour spent circling the Motor City to burn off fuel and another delayed takeoff, they arrived sleep-deprived and hungry. "It was an absolute nightmare," said McCaffery, whose team faced defending champion Kansas the next night in Lawrence.
Added point guard Ronald Moore, who scored 18 points in the 91-84 loss at Phog Allen Fieldhouse: "Those things just add to the madness for us."
It is the Madness of March that the Saints are chasing across the country. In mapping out the toughest schedule in school history, McCaffery, whose team upset Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, booked top challengers Pitt, Tennessee and Kansas. "There's not a game on the docket that we're worried about them overlooking," said McCaffery, who returns five starters and is off to a 6-0 conference record and is 12-5 overall.
McCaffery, a Wharton Business School graduate whose father served as a security guard at The Palestra growing up, has shown his smarts on the recruiting trail. Courted by few out of Cardinal Gibbons in Baltimore and Maine Central Institute, senior combo guard Kenny Hasbrouck, the 6-foot-3, 192-pound son of a disabled Vietnam War veteran, caught the attention of Five Star Basketball Camp counselor Tony Bergeron during a spring team event in 2005. At the time, McCaffery, who inherited a Siena team that went 6-24 the year that winter after building a strong program at UNC-Greensboro, was filling out a seven-man roster depleted by defections and needed a linchpin for his lineup.
On the recommendation of a friend as well as Five Star impresario Howard Garfinkel, Siena assistant Mitch Buonaguro blindly reached out to Hasbrouck without ever seeing him play. Also being wooed by Jacksonville, Hasbrouck mentioned to a Siena assistant that he was impressed by Jacksonville's taking him to McDonald's during his official visit. Upping the ante, McCaffery made reservations for five at Jack's Oyster House, a high-end seafood restaurant in the state capital. Unsure of what to order, Hasbrouck took the coach's recommendation of the surf and turf. "He never had lobster before," said Buonaguro, who followed McCaffery from UNC-Greensboro. "Now he's ordering it and loving filet mignon every time we take out a recruit."
Paired with the table-setting Moore (6.0 apg) in the league's best backcourt, Hasbrouck, who scored 30 points against Vanderbilt last season, struggled early with his newfound role as a marked man this season. At the Old Spice Invitational in Orlando, Fla., NBA scouts eyeballed him and opposing coaches ran out a rotation of fresh-legged defenders, limiting his penetration options as the Saints dropped all three games. Worn by the increased attention, he was held to six points by Tennessee, managed 10 points against Oklahoma State and went scoreless against Pitt. "Pitt threw the first punch against us," said Hasbrouck. "No one can guard me one-on-one in the open floor and I have to be confident I can destroy everyone who guards me."
The scouts are not coming for Hasbrouck alone. Wiry wing Edwin Ubiles, a 6-6, 197-pound local from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., via St. Thomas More (Conn.) has emerged as a MAAC Player of the Year candidate. Quick to the rim yet controlled enough to pull up from midrange, the junior leads the Saints in scoring (14.8 ppg) and has developed defensively after locking up SEC Player of the Year Shan Foster in the NCAA win. "Kenny could be the next from our league to make that jump to the NBA," said Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen, whose team lost to Siena 68-64 on Sunday while scouts from the Charlotte Bobcats and Los Angeles Clippers looked on.
"Ubiles is not far behind," said another MAAC assistant.
While Ubiles adds finesse, it's been the Saints' toughness that has been tested early. During a win against Holy Cross on Dec. 30, McCaffery, who lost junior forward Alex Franklin to a back injury after he crashed to the floor against the Crusaders last season, saw Moore take an elbow beneath his lower lip while pressing on defense. In addition, senior forward Josh Duell suffered a black eye. Moore needed stitches, Duell's x-rays came back negative and McCaffery, refusing to shake hands with Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard afterward, waved his team off the court and called Willard's team "dirty". "That was a bloodbath," Buonaguro said.
Nationally respected for the bruises absorbed against six NCAA tournament teams in its non-conference schedule, McCaffery knows that the road back to the NCAA only gets longer as the bus trips shorten. The Kansas game, which was played for a guaranteed sum of money in order to pay for the Saints' six-day summer trip through Italy, marked the last contest of that caliber, but without an upset to pad its resume, winning the MAAC tournament will be the only route back to the dance. "When Kenny is confident and we're clicking, we'll be expected to win," McCaffery said. "We take off with him just as the program has since he came."