It's fitting that Ryan Rossiter's nickname is "Rooster" because the Siena forward has plenty to crow about.
Too undersized to draw much interest from Big East programs in high school, Rossiter has proved doubters wrong by emerging as a key player on a Siena team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons.
The 6-foot-9, 234-pound Staten Island native is averaging a career-best 13.8 points and 10.4 rebounds this season, helping the Saints overcome a sluggish start to rip off 13 victories in a row, the longest current win streak in the nation.
MAAC-leading Siena (19-4) hosts second-place Iona on Friday and visits Butler in a bracketbuster game later this month. Rossiter joined me for this week's Tuesday Q&A to discuss his team's NCAA Tournament hopes, his admiration for actor Vince Vaughn and the time he was nearly trampled in a court-storming incident.
JE: Siena suffered some tough losses early in the season, but now you guys are rolling. Is the level of competition more manageable in the MAAC or are you guys a better team now?
RR: I think we're a better team than we were early in the season. I don't think we were all on the same page then and we had some tough losses as a result. Our core group knew what we were doing together, but we did add six or seven new faces to the team this year. That slowed things down while we introduced everything to everyone again. That got us a little sideways early in the season, but everyone's on the same page and clicking now.
JE: Which one of those early losses would you most like to replay?
RR: Northern Iowa over the other three. I'd like to play all four of them again if we could, but St. John's, Temple and Georgia Tech, I think our focus and energy was there the whole game and we just lost those games. I don't think we were there all 40 minutes against Northern Iowa. If we played that one with 40 minutes of focus and energy, I think it might have been a different outcome.
JE: Court-storming etiquette has been a hot-button issue in college hoops this season. In your mind, when is it appropriate?
RR: I really think after a championship. The fans support us all year, so it's great for them to get on the court and celebrate with us. And it's just such a great feeling being on the court, hearing the horn go off after the MAAC championship and seeing a couple thousand people charging at you to celebrate.
JE: You got taken to the ground when Siena students rushed the court a couple years ago after a win over Stanford. Was that a harrowing experience?
RR: That was pretty crazy. That was the first time I ever experienced people storming the court, and I was caught off guard. Someone just dragged me to the floor and I kept getting knocked down. My roommate, Steve Priestley, to this day I tell him he saved my life. He was throwing people off of me and pulled me off the ground. I learned my lesson because after the MAAC championship, I ran to the sideline where the official scorebook is so I can have that to lean on in case I got knocked over.
JE: What's the funniest thing a heckler in the crowd has ever shouted at you?
RR: I look pretty young, so sometimes they'll tell me it's past my bedtime. Or they'll tell me to go eat something. I'm usually the skinniest guy out there, so they'll shout something about food.
JE: Siena has been to second round of the NCAA Tournament the past two years. To get back, do you need to win the MAAC Tournament or is an at-large bid still a possibility if you slip up?
RR: Right now, I think we have to win the MAAC Tournament because of the four early losses. We could have maybe taken two of those and turned them into wins and we'd be in a much better position, but right now we're still looking for that marquee win.
JE: If you could have chosen your opponent for the Bracket Buster game, who would it have been?
RR: I'd love to get another shot at Northern Iowa, but I know we can't by rule. So I guess the marquee matchup we'd want to see is Butler. They're ranked, they're playing really well and I think they have what we want. They're a mid-major, but over the last couple years, they've really solidified themselves into becoming a powerhouse in the NCAA. That's where we're trying to be as a program.
JE: You put up some pretty impressive numbers in high school, yet didn't receive lot of interest from Big East teams. Why?
RR: Just because of my stature. I was about 6-9, maybe 200 pounds coming out of high school. Some Big East teams backed off on that because of my strength. But I feel what I lack in strength I can make up for in basketball IQ. My dad at a young age really taught me positioning when it comes to rebounding and boxing out. I'm still going against guys who are 40 pounds heavier, but I'm able to box them out.
JE: It's been a constant battle throughout your career to put on weight. What kind of meals are you eating in the offseason when you're trying to bulk up?
RR: I'll have maybe three or four protein shakes a day, along with steak, eggs, a lot of meats, just try to get as much in my body as I can. I try to eat 5 to 6 meals a day if I can.
JE: I know you're used to the cold growing up in Staten Island, but I would think Albany is a different kind of cold. What's the coldest day you can remember up there?
RR: There are nights when I'll drive back from getting something to eat and all the parking at my townhouse is filled so I have to go across campus to park. That walk coming back is not too far but just getting hit in the face with the wind, it just hits you and you don't want to move. You almost would rather end up sleeping in your car that night.
JE: You're a Vince Vaughn guy. Give me your favorite Vince Vaughn movie and quote if you've got one.
RR: Wedding Crashers and Four Christmases. I don't know if I can narrow it to one quote, but he always has that dry sarcastic sense of humor. That's what I like. I'm big on those quick one-liners.