What do we know so far? The Stony Brook men’s basketball team is playing the best it has since its inception thanks to head coach Steve Pikiell, enjoying a rapid influx of talent in recent seasons. The Seawolves have won 20 or more games in the past three seasons, but have yet to make the NCAA Tournament. Achieving this goal will hinge on Pikiell and the program’s two standout juniors, Carson Puriefoy and 2013-14 America East Player of the Year, Jameel Warney.
Just about everything else is very much in play.
Stony Brook lost four starters over the summer, including its primary defenders on the interior and perimeter as well as its third-leading scorer. Filling in their vacancies will be returning letterwinners who played limited minutes last season and mystery freshmen.
“It’s become Tre and Jameel’s team. They’re our seniors really,” Pikiell said. “We have no seniors in the program and we’re a younger program than we’ve been in the past 3-4 years, but I expect us to be right where we’ve been the past few years, competing for a league title, in the regular season and the postseason.”
Competing for the America East title is obviously the goal, but how the Seawolves do so is a whole different beast. For starters, there is figuring out a rotation that so heavily depends upon unknown factors.
According to Pikiell, junior Rayshaun McGrew is likely to be the starting four alongside Warney.
“Ray has been by far our best four man,” Pikiell said.
McGrew did not receive a great deal of playing time early on last season, but by the America East Championship, he was a key role player. Seeing him as a starter this season should not come as a surprise. His intensity on the defensive end will be much needed with the departure of Eric McAlister’s raw shot-blocking ability. McGrew can score in the low-post and has a decent 15-foot jumper.
Pikiell also mentioned Scott King and Chris Braley as stretch fours in the mix, but they are more likely to be used for situational advantages. This is as far as assurances go, however, as Pikiell will be the first to say that the rotation is going to need some ironing out.
“I would love to have one strong lineup. That’s not where this program is today,” Pikiell said. “We’ve got five freshman we’re figuring out, we have no seniors. This is more of a work in progress.”
This roster does give the Seawolves options in the frontcourt at the very least. “If I want a shooter I bring Scott in, if I want another post-up guy I can bring Tyrell [Sturdivant] in, if I want to go big I can bring big Jakub [Petras] in and move Jameel to the four spot,” Pikiell said.
One of the most imposing names of that bunch is Petras, a 6-foot-11-inch Slovakian import who Pikiell raves about.
“His IQ is terrific. He’s really good passer, he can shoot the ball, he runs the floor well. We’re excited about him,” Pikiell said. “Originally I thought he was just going to be Jameel’s backup and right now, he’s probably fighting for some more minutes with him.”
The image of a Warney-Petras frontcourt is frightening, especially since Stony Brook was already one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. But it brings up issues of spacing and finding out just how polished Petras is.
The Seawolves can experiment in the backcourt and wings department as well. Puriefoy will be the team’s main ball-handler, but the rest is a question mark. Pikiell notes redshirt freshman Roland L’Amour Nyama “stands out” as one of Stony Brook’s possible starting three, but stresses that each practice brings out new candidates.
“If you were at today’s practice, you would say Ryan Burnett will be the starting three,” Pikiell said. “Roland’s as athletic as could be. He brings that kind of athleticism that we had with Ahmad [Walker], but he’s a better three-point shooter. He’s an emergency defender too. We can also post him up a little bit, he’s real good around the basket.”
Braley was also mentioned as a name that could see minutes at the three as well.
“Chris is going to play a lot of positions for us this year. His versatility is going to be important,” Pikiell said. “I could play him at the two, the three, he’s strong enough to play the four for minutes and would give us another stretch four. I’m looking forward to him having a multipurpose role for us this year.”
The two position gets tricky, as Nyama’s shooting ability could make him a potential starter there in a bigger lineup. Another option is Kameron Mitchell, one of the team’s best shooters, who Pikiell believes is the squad’s best perimeter defender.
“I think Kam is [our best perimeter defender,]” Pikiell said. “I think he gives us a guy that really knows how to play defensively, he gives us a toughness and he led us in charges last year even in limited minutes.”
There is also incoming freshman Deshaun Thrower, who was Mr. Basketball in Michigan last year. Thrower is a gifted guard who can take apart opposing teams with his scoring.
The sheer number of roles that need filling by guys who were not major players last year may be unsettling, but Pikiell and his staff have had a history of getting the most out of his entire roster.
“Guys get better,” Pikiell said. “Where they are at the beginning isn’t always where they end up at the end. I think a lot of these freshman, you’ll be surprised at how much better they get as the year plays out.”
Once again, it is impossible to ignore that this team is both young and in the works. There will be adjustments made throughout and the team you watch on Nov. 14 against Columbia will not be the same one gearing up for the America East Tournament in 2015. For Pikiell and the Seawolves, these are not excuses.
“We compete for league titles, that’s what we do,” Pikiell said. “I expect to do that again this year.”