Last offseason, Jalen Pickett went on a vacation to Puerto Rico that extended a little more than a week.
Looking back, he said Tuesday during a phone interview with a laugh, he maybe should have spent that time playing some basketball since he’s missing it so much at the moment.
“I’m losing my mind in this house,” said Pickett, who is back in Rochester at his family’s home.
The Siena men’s basketball star has a nearby basket he can use, but can’t remember a stretch of weeks like the one he’s currently in without being able to at least play some pick-up games. He’s doing what he can to stay in shape and grow his game through whatever workouts he can manage to do on his own, but missing out on 5-on-5 action is unique.
“This long? It’s never happened,” Pickett said of not being able to play in some type of game. “This has never happened.”
Pickett’s starring sophomore season with Siena was cut short when the MAAC tournament — and every other college basketball tournament — was canceled in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MAAC Player of the Year has stayed in touch with his teammates and kept up with his classes that have all moved online, but the way the Saints’ season concluded still gnaws at him because of the missed opportunity it represented, both on an individual and team level.
“Definitely,” Pickett said. “I wanted to show I could play with the best people in the country, get my ‘One Shining Moment.’ Win a game in the tournament, maybe a couple. I mean, we were playing our best basketball.”
Siena had won 10 games in a row before its season was halted at 20-10. The Saints won the MAAC regular-season title, and the conference later declared Siena as its men’s conference tournament champion since it had entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed and hadn’t been eliminated prior to the tournament’s cancellation.
Pickett said he considers Siena to be the league’s champion, but acknowledged that the way the Saints were crowned didn’t necessarily offer him much excitement or fulfillment.
“I never got my picture with the MAAC trophy or anything, so we’ve got work to do for that,” Pickett said. “I’m not satisfied, but I’ve still got time to get another MAAC championship or two and get to March Madness.”
While junior Manny Camper is currently testing the NBA draft waters, Pickett is not joining him in that endeavor. Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello has consistently said since the Saints’ offseason started that he didn’t expect the 20-year-old guard to declare for the draft as he did a year ago, and Pickett confirmed this week that the combination of the uncertainty around this year’s NBA draft process, and a desire to save one of his two opportunities to declare and withdraw from the draft made more sense for him this offseason.
As a sophomore, Pickett built on his outstanding debut college season, averaging 15.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and six assists per game. It’s possible a proposal to allow all Division I athletes a one-time transfer waiver could pass this offseason and take immediate effect, but Pickett said he hasn’t “given that any thought.” Instead, Pickett said his focus is on his classes and leading his Saints, but that he wishes he’d had the opportunity this spring to spend more time with the squad’s outgoing seniors.
Three reserves — Georges Darwiche, Sammy Friday and Luke Sutherland — have left Siena’s program as transfers, but Siena still projects to bring back 71.8% of its scoring as long as Camper withdraws from the draft and suits up for the Saints next season alongside his fellow All-MAAC first-team selection in Pickett.
“We believe we have a lot coming back,” Pickett said, “and we’ll have a lot more experience.”
Right now, though, all the Saints have a lot of free time — too much of it for their liking. Thinking of what the Saints would be doing if they were back on campus at the moment, Pickett said, makes the current lack of activity more difficult to handle.
“We’d all just be playing pick-up and relaxing,” Pickett said.