Scott Machado Has Eyes on MAAC Title, NBA

Machado takes it to the hoop. (Credit: ICGaels.com)

To appreciate Scott Machado as a basketball player is to appreciate the simple: the bounce pass to a cutting forward; the chest pass to an open shooter; the awareness to seek the ball after a turnover. Sure, you’ll see lob passes for dunks and crossover dribbles and deep three-pointers. But if that is all you see, you’re missing a lot.

Manhattan coach Steve Masiello calls the Iona College senior “the best point guard in the country, bar none.” Others around the game think, at the very least, Machado belongs in the discussion: he is a finalist for the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award. Scouts from more than a dozen NBA teams have visited New Rochelle’s Hynes Athletics Center to watch Machado, the nation’s leader in assists at 10.1 per game.

“If he played at the high level and had three lottery picks around him he’d have 20 assists a game,” Masiello said after Machado put up 18 points and nine assists against the Jaspers on Feb. 4. “Imagine if he was throwing alley-oops to Harrison Barnes and guys like that. He’s a pass-first guy that makes everyone around him better.”

That wasn’t exactly Machado’s role for two years under Kevin Willard, who spent three seasons at Iona before moving to Seton Hall. Willard inherited an Iona team that had won two games the previous year and ranked 326 out of 336 Division I teams in scoring. Knowing his team didn’t have enough weapons to let its point guard solely distribute, Willard gave most everyone the green light to shoot. As underdogs, he felt his team couldn’t be passive, especially from three-point range. It was a philosophy Willard shared with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Along Came Polly, a man fond of chucking shots at the playground: “Let it rain!” the actor, and Willard, would often say.

Machado proved he could score, leading the team with 12.5 points per game as a sophomore. He averaged less than four assists per game, though, a decline from his MAAC Rookie of the Year season.

Enter Tim Cluess. When he was hired following the 2010 season, he brought an aggressive offensive style that relies on a point guard willing to get everyone involved. Having coached Machado as a freshman at St. Mary’s High School (Long Island), Cluess thought Machado could fill that role.

Early on, the numbers suggested it was a perfect match: Machado averaged 14 points and eight assists through December of last season. But Cluess wasn’t satisfied, and he challenged his point guard to work harder. A summer spent playing with the Brazilian National Team (both of Machado’s parents are from Brazil) gave Machado a sense of what it takes to become a professional basketball player. He came back this season as a stronger, quicker, more dedicated player, and has led Iona to a 22-6 record and first place in the MAAC.

Professional basketball, at the highest level, now seems like a strong possibility for Machado. Most draft experts project the 6’1, 180-pounder as a second-round pick. The Director of Scouting for the NBA, Ryan Blake, said this about Machado: “The thing that is great about this kid that might not jump out at people is that he excels when he’s surrounded by players. He makes everyone better. That’s important.”

“With Scott, you can’t put too much importance on individual workouts. Your evaluation should come from his in-game performance. He makes people better, he’s disciplined, and he’s an effort player on both ends of the court.”

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas also thinks Machado has the tools for an NBA career, citing his “terrific passing instincts.” “He has really improved his body and is in great condition,” Bilas wrote in an email. “He is not jet quick, but he is strong and changes speeds. He is a good spot-up shooter and is a very good decision maker. He is not dynamic off of ball screens, but does a good job keeping his dribble and making a play. I think he’s a good prospect, and is right with North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall as the nation’s best passer.”

After Machado shredded Nevada for 15 assists last Saturday to become the MAAC’s all-time leader in that category, Wolf Pack point guard Deonte Burton and coach David Carter cited Machado’s court awareness as his greatest asset—they marveled at how he always seems to know where his teammates are and how to set them up for easy baskets. Machado’s teammate, junior Kyle Smyth, says Machado is always looking for assists and that’s why he’s fun to play with.

Coaches, teammates, opponents, fans, and journalists have all seen what Machado can do. They see the smart pass. They see the accurate shooting. They see the leadership. It seems the only one who hasn’t fully seen his abilities is Machado: After experiencing headaches earlier this season, he discovered he was nearsighted and recently started wearing contacts. Now, a MAAC title and an NCAA Tournament appearance are in his sights—and the vision has never looked clearer.

Machado and the Gaels play Fairfield tomorrow night at 9:00 EST on ESPNU.

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