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Gerry McNamara explains the lure of Siena, and why it was time to leave Syracuse

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Siena coach Gerry McNamara has plenty of memories — some new, some old — from the arena where the Saints play their home games.

He earned a trip to the Final Four by playing for the Syracuse team that won a regional there on the way to the national championship in 2003. He played there again in 2004, a game where he got the first dunk of his college career and dove into the Siena band to save a loose ball. And he was back there Monday night, to watch Caitlin Clark and Iowa topple LSU in a women's basketball showdown.

McNamara returned to MVP Arena on Tuesday for his introductory news conference as Siena's coach, explaining the parallel he noticed from all those games.

“This place was rocking,” McNamara said. “That's what I want.”

That's what Siena wants as well, and why the Saints lured the Syracuse icon — first from his playing days, then from 15 years as a graduate assistant, assistant coach and associate head coach for the Orange — to take over their program last week. McNamara's hiring was announced Friday, after several days of negotiations with the school finally led to a deal.

“I’ve got a lot of people to thank, but I do want to address the fans, the alumni, the supporters," McNamara said. "You know why I’m here. Anyone that knows me knows why I’m here. I’m here to win. Simple. That’s who I am. I’m here to win. It’s all I’ve ever tried to do as a coach, a player. Every day I walk in the gym, it’s with the intent to work to win.”

McNamara is replacing Siena alum Carmen Maciariello, who was fired after going 68-72 in five seasons at the school. Siena, a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference school that is about 150 miles east of Syracuse, went 4-28 this season.

It's the first collegiate head coaching stint for McNamara, a tough, sharpshooting guard at Syracuse who was brought back by former coach Jim Boeheim to join the staff in 2009. McNamara was promoted to associate head coach for the Orange when Adrian Autry took over for Boeheim a year ago.

The 40-year-old McNamara remains the fourth-leading scorer in Syracuse history behind Lawrence Moten, Derrick Coleman and John Wallace. He started on Syracuse’s 2003 national championship team that was led by Carmelo Anthony; McNamara had 18 points, all on 3-pointers, in the Orange’s 81-78 win over Kansas in the NCAA title game.

“I'm happy for my brother,” Anthony said last week when McNamara's hiring was announced.

So was Boeheim, who openly endorsed McNamara for the job — just like he did when Siena hired former Syracuse player and assistant Louis Orr in 2000. “It's a great starting point, and he'll do a great job there,” Boeheim said.

McNamara is known as a recruiter, something he started during his introductory address. He challenged fans to buy season tickets, bring their kids, bring a friend to games. And it didn't take long before someone in the audience held up a credit card.

“I promise that every team I put on the court will be prepared to play,” McNamara said. “That's my goal here. I'm here to win. I can't wait to get to work.”

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball