The Stony Brook men’s basketball team was riding the longest winning streak in the country last season: 19 games. They were on the road, going up against their biggest rivals: the Albany Great Danes.
Late in the game, then-sophomore shooting guard Bryan Sekunda collapsed to the ground with an all-too-familiar pop in his knee.
“[It] was a non-contact injury,” Sekunda said. “It was one of those freak accidents that just happen. But you just have to move on.”
Sekunda, now entering his junior season, had last season cut short because of a torn ACL in his left knee. The injury kept him sidelined for the historic Seawolves postseason run, in which they reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.
Now, after eight months of rehabilitation, Sekunda enters the 2016-17 season as the top returning scorer, after the team lost stars Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy to graduation. Along with senior point guard Lucas Woodhouse, Sekunda will look to lead the Seawolves back to the promise land.
Sekunda has faced the adversity of an ACL tear once before. Back in the summer before his senior year at State College High School in Central Pennsylvania, he tore the ACL in his right knee during an off-season scrimmage.
Sekunda remembers the play very well.
“It was a very awkward play,” Sekunda recalled. “I jumped to get the ball and I got bumped. Then, I landed on someone’s foot then [my] foot was stepped on and it just happened. A very weird moment.”
Sekunda was a focal point of his high school basketball team, as he was a 1,000-point scorer in three years of play. State College assistant coach Rudolph Burruss made it very clear that the team wanted Sekunda to come back as healthy as possible for his college career, and the pair did everything in their power to help the rehab process.
“He was always invited to the gym when it was open,” Burruss said. “Bryan was our team leader in high school, our go-to guy. So we made sure to always invite him to come into workouts with the team. We even got permission from the school to let Bryan use the school pool for non-weight bearing workouts.”
Sekunda was able to make a complete recovery and began his career with the Seawolves his freshman year. In his first game with the team, he made two late three-pointers against Columbia.
From his freshman to sophomore seasons, his minutes increased from 12.7 to 20.0 per game, playing the role of the team’s primary spot-up shooter his sophomore year, the year his injury occurred.
Stony Brook men’s basketball head coach Jeff Boals, who was hired from Ohio State during the offseason, is no stranger to this kind of injury. Boals tore his ACL three different times in his playing career, and he was able to give Sekunda proper advice on how to come back from his second ACL tear.
“I told him to make sure that he is 100 percent healthy,” Boals said. “I know that with a coaching change, he could press and try and come back too quickly. But I think I told him, ‘Make sure that knee is 100 percent. We’re not going to win a game on June 28, so don’t try and come back too quick.’”
Boals is not the only one who gave advice to Sekunda. A close family member who helped inspire him to be a basketball player did, too.
Glenn Sekunda, Bryan’s father, played college basketball at Syracuse before transferring to Penn State. He then took his talents overseas after college where he played professional basketball in Italy for 12 years. Bryan grew up in the country watching his father play professionally, which inspired him to play the game as well.
“I watched him play when I was little,” Sekunda said about his father’s career. “Whenever you’re a kid and you see your dad doing something, you want to follow in his footsteps. I fell in love with the game.”
Glenn Sekunda was able to win a championship in his first year as a pro, under current NBA head coach Mike D’Antoni. But a torn ACL during the summer of 2006 saw the beginning of the end of his career. He missed the entire 2006-07 season, and only played in 16 games of the following season before retiring.
So when it came to his son’s first ACL tear, he had been through the process and was able to help him through it.
“I was kind of able to help him through that process of rehab,” Glenn said about his son’s first major knee injury. “I had been through the process before and was able to help him. He did a great job with it. He stuck by the rehab process and understood the hard work that was needed to overcome it.”
After finally settling down in State College, Pennsylvania, Bryan started honing his craft more. He used the influence of his father’s style of play, emulating the game of both him and of an NBA great.
“I’ve definitely tried to have some of Larry Bird’s aspects in my game,” Sekunda said. “It’s hard to use because he’s a legend, literally. He’s got a game better than anyone else, but I’ve tried to tie aspects of his game into mine.”
As one of a few returning members from last season’s team, Sekunda has begun to take on a bigger role. His coach believes that not only has his shooting gotten better, but his all-around play has improved too.
“I think he will be able to expand his game,” Boals said about his expectations for Sekunda. “Along with being a shooter, he can do things on the defensive end from an IQ standpoint. He’s been able to put the ball down on the floor and move with it along with his shooting.”
Woodhouse also has big expectations for Sekunda, and not just from his play.
“I think he’s becoming a leader on the floor,” Woodhouse said. “He’s become much more vocal and staying positive. Along with putting the ball on the floor and expanding his game, I think he’s going to become one of our leaders this season.”
Following Warney’s departure, the game plan moves toward a shooter-oriented style of play, which plays to Sekunda’s strengths.
In the season opener on Nov. 11, Sekunda and Seawolves will face off against the Columbia Lions, the team he knocked down a late game three-pointer against in his Island Federal Credit Union Arena debut. The recovery from injury brings Sekunda’s career full circle.