Rashawn Stores and coach Steve Masiello celebrate after Manhattan’s MAAC tourney win in 2015.Photo: Stockton Photography
Steve Masiello didn’t see anything special, didn’t hear anything he hadn’t heard hundreds of times before.
When RaShawn Stores walked into his office for the first time, the 5-foot-10 guard showcased the bravado of someone with limitless opportunities, not of someone needing the new Manhattan coach to take a chance.
Nearly five years ago, The Bronx native had no scholarship offers, yet he made it seem as if Masiello had no choice but to put him on the team.
“He was confident as could be, telling me how it was going to be, typical New York City kid running his mouth, overrating himself,” Masiello said. “He told me he wanted to walk on and he said, ‘You’re going to have to give me a scholarship because you’re not going to be able to play without me.’ I said, ‘Yeah, all right. Sure. Let’s see how that goes.’
“I’ve dealt with a hundred of them, see it all the time — ‘I’m going to come in and be a star. I’m going to come in and change your program,’ especially city kids — and they disappear. But he was different. Everything he said came true. He’s impacted me more than any player ever has. I don’t know how I could coach a game without him. I really don’t.”
The reality is now sinking in for both coach and point guard that Stores’ playing days will end in the coming weeks, closing an era in which Manhattan has won back-to-back MAAC championships and played in three straight title games.
But before Stores became the team captain and an integral part of the championship core, his family found a way to pay for his first two years of school — one of which he was ineligible to play.
Before he earned a scholarship and became a starter, Stores was barely getting through practice, getting tossed out by Masiello on a near-daily basis for negative facial expressions, bad body language and even worse words.
“Man, I was hard on him,” Masiello said. “We just battled. I’d tell him to go home and quit, he’d come back the next day. He’d stare at me, I’d stare at him and we’d just got at it again. Every day, it was like two pit bulls just going at each other, but the thing I respected about him was that he always came back. He never took anything personally.”
And that wasn’t always easy.
RaShawn StoresPhoto: Stockton Photography
“It was rough for me really trusting any man because I didn’t have a dad growing up,” Stores said. “Growing up in that situation, it’s hard to trust any man. In the beginning it was hard, but I knew [Masiello] wanted the best for me. I wanted a coach that was going to be on me.”
The battles continued, but the respect grew. Masiello, a former walk-on at Kentucky, saw striking similarities — their personalities, the importance of family, their refusal to be told what their futures would be and couldn’t be.
Slowly, the relationship between coach and player blurred.
“I look at him as my coach, one of my best friends, my brother, like a father figure,” Stores said. “We argue so much, bump heads so much, but it’s all love. It’s like fighting with your big brother. Then, we go out and laugh.”
There has been the indescribable joy and pride from reaching two NCAA Tournaments together, the pain of being alongside each other at the murder scene of former Jasper Emmy Andujar’s brother.
There are the amusing pranks, like Masiello locking the locker room during warmups, knowing Stores always hustles to the bathroom with just over three minutes left, and the tradition before tip-off of the two hugging and telling each other they love each other.
“I am his coach, but I’m not his coach. We’re partners in this,” Masiello said. “We’ve been here for five years. I’m the architect and he’s the construction developer. Off the court, I’ve never had a relationship like that with any player. He’s a friend. He’s someone I confide in, that I go talk to. We’re that close.
“He says what he feels and that’s one of the things I respect about him so much. We did not always see eye-to-eye. It’s not always been this great relationship, but we’re very similar people and we relate to each other really, really well. He’s by far the player I’ve listened to the most in my career.”
Masiello is making room for Stores again, unwilling to lose the honesty and charisma and in-game intelligence he has grown accustomed to having around.
“If he wasn’t eligible this season, he would’ve been on the [coaching] staff now,” Masiello said. “When he doesn’t wear that green, he’ll be on my bench. He’ll be with me for life.”
Stores echoes the sentiment, planning on staying with Masiello “forever or as long as possible,” which the coach reminds the 24-year-old graduate student only will be as long as it takes to get his own head-coaching job.
For now, at least another few weeks of Stores’ playing career remains, a season he wasn’t promised until being granted a final year of eligibility this summer. It is another opportunity at another title, another opportunity for the Jaspers (11-14, 8-8) to make an unexpected run, like in 2013, when the sixth-seeded, 14-18 squad fell just four points shy of a title.
It is another chance to make history, but not their final chance together.
“The thing I love most about him is if you don’t kill him, bury him and then put concrete over the grave, if there’s a breath in that kid, he’s gonna fight and that gives me great hope,” Masiello said. “As long as we’re together, we’re gonna be all right. That’s just how we feel about each other.”