Steve Masiello sat in his Draddy Gym office, clad in his Manhattan track suit and brimming with optimism borne by a new season’s imminent start. It was late October, and the Jaspers coach was speaking about how he would replace three players — George Beamon, Mike Alvarado and Rhamel Brown — who had carried his program last March to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004.
One obvious solution seemed to be Emmy Andujar, a statsheet-stuffing senior point forward. Andujar averaged 8.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals in 23.3 minutes per game as a junior, and had shown flashes — like his 28-point outburst in Manhattan’s 80-77 win over Iona last February — that he could be Manhattan’s new alpha dog.
Masiello hedged, saying Andujar could be one of many potential alpha dogs along with Ashton Pankey, Shane Richards and Rich Williams.
“I think this team has a lot of guys that could really step up and really have what I call ‘alpha roles’, but I don’t think you’ll see the same guy have alpha roles every night, which I like because how do you prepare for it?” Masiello said. “Well, if you prepare for Emmy, then Shane or Rich are going to go. If you prepare for Rich, then AP and Shane are going to go. That’s a nice luxury as a coach. I don’t want it to be this guy’s team because it’s easy to prepare for that.”
Fast-forward four months, and those three other players have had their alpha moments and games, especially lately. Andujar, however, has asserted his value as Manhattan’s do-it-all playmaker. He’s leading the Jaspers in scoring (16.3 ppg), rebounding (7.2 rpg), assists (3.4 apg) and steals (2.0 spg) while shooting 52.1 percent from the field. Those marks rank fifth, sixth, fifth, second and third, respectively, in the MAAC. He’s second in the conference with 6.8 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, and no MAAC player his height (6-foot-6) or smaller has an offensive rebounding rate higher than his 10.4 percent.
Manhattan (12-11, 9-5) has won 10 of its last 14, and Andujar has averaged 18.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.2 steals while shooting 55.6 percent in 13 games played during that stretch.
“I think his value is more than it’s ever been,” Masiello said. “It even now has surpassed what I envisioned for him because he’s doing everything at such a high clip, from his scoring to assists to field-goal percentage, offensive rebounds, defending. I think he’s having a terrific senior year.”
Yet Andujar hasn’t won a MAAC Player of the Week award, and that frustrates Masiello, who also questioned the credibility of a media outlet that named Andujar a fourth-teamer in the preseason and the conference coaches who voted him to the second team.
Disclaimer: Andujar has been a mainstay on OBW’s MAAC Fab Five, but he has not once been our Player of the Week.
“From where I’m sitting, I never thought he got the respect he deserved,” Masiello said. “I think he’s one of the most disrespected kids there is, and I do feel that way. I don’t think he got the credit he deserved coming into this year on a defending championship team as the leading guy back. He didn’t get nearly the credit he deserved, and I still don’t think he’s getting it. He’s one of the few guys that hasn’t gotten Player of the Week, and his team is in the top three in the conference. He’s the only guy that’s had that. There’s something there where people don’t think he is where he is.”
Andujar’s 25.3 percent turnover rate is high. His 26.7 percent 3-point clip and 68.5 percent free-throw percentage are low. Masiello would obviously prefer those numbers to be better, but he is pleased with Andujar’s overall production.
“He has met everything I’ve asked and done everything,” Masiello said. “If I asked him to go outside and stand in a blizzard, he would do it. If I asked him to go get 20 rebounds, he would do it. He’s done everything I’ve asked. Other people might say, ‘oh, I want to see him do this more.’ Well, I’m not asking him to do that, so it’s unfair.”
Don’t count Iona head coach Tim Cluess as an Andujar doubter. In Cluess’ first meeting with Masiello’s Jaspers, Andujar’s banked 3-pointer at the buzzer capped Manhattan’s comeback from a 17-point deficit for a win in New Rochelle. He was just a freshman then, and he has saved some of his best performances for Iona.
“He gets [respect] from us,” Cluess said. “Emmy’s a really good player. He’s a top-level player in this league, and if anyone doesn’t give him respect shame on them.”
When Manhattan and Iona clash tonight on ESPNU, Andujar will face his stiffest competition for MAAC Player of the Year: David Laury and A.J. English, who rank first and third on the league scoring chart. They have led the Gaels (19-6, 12-2) back to the top of the MAAC standings while stuffing the statsheet.
“Everything we do starts with them,” Cluess said. “They’re the leaders of the team. They’re the best players on the team. They’re the ones who set the tone in the game on both ends of the court and in the locker room and preparation.”
Andujar has played his way into the conversation with them for Player of the Year, and you can bet Masiello will campaign for his star to win it.
“The first thing I look for when you talk about Player of the Years and you talk about first teamers is if you’re that good, does your team have a chance to win it? So that’s the first thing you’ve got to talk about,” Masiello said. “I think we’re right there… He’s done his job of having us in contention for it. Then obviously his numbers and his play have backed that up. I think he’s done what he’s supposed to do as a senior, as a guy who’s kind of taken the reins over of being the next guy up from George, Mike and Rhamel.”
For live updates from tonight’s game, follow Ari Kramer on Twitter.