Last season, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team reached its pinnacle: the America East Championship. Confetti rained down from the rafters as the crowd stormed the court, celebrating the first NCAA berth in program history.
But now the crowd is gone. The confetti is all swept up. All that remains of the championship team is a lone starter and a bevy of back ups. The championship-winning head coach Steve Pikiell is gone, having packed his bags for Rutgers in April.
After weeks of rumors about who would be hired to take over the program, former Ohio State assistant coach Jeff Boals was selected to be his successor. The responsibility of returning the luster to the now-dulled program was his.
“I felt like this is a special place,” Boals said. “Any time you go from assistant to a head coach, things change and you’re not just in charge of recruiting or scouting, you’re in charge of everything.”
Stony Brook came with a set of challenges that would cause any first-year head coach to cringe. The program lost the best player in its history with the graduation of Jameel Warney. Losing last season’s second-and-third-leading scorers in Carson Puriefoy and Rayshaun McGrew, respectively, to graduation only further softened the once-loud roar of talent.
“We don’t have the luxury of having a guy like Jameel here,” Boals said. “He’s probably, arguably the best player ever to play in the America East, so he was a dominant player. This year, we’re going to rely on more of a whole than just one player.”
Boals looked to the junior college system in order to bolster the team. He found three potential solutions to the problem: junior guard U.C. Iroegbu, junior forward Junior Saintel and sophomore guard Blair Mendy.
“We know Junior loves to jump and get dunks,” Iroegbu said. “So [Mendy and I] find him in the post all the time and on the perimeter. They kick to me for shots all the time and we know Blair likes to drive and attack. We just, early on, learned how to play with each other really well.”
The three transfers join senior guard Lucas Woodhouse and junior guard Bryan Sekunda, the lone starters from last year, in an effort to continue to increase the program’s prestige.
Redshirt freshman guard Akwasi Yeboah and classmate center Alonzo Campbell, along with freshmen guards Andrew Garcia and Michael Almonacy, will also be looked upon to add value to the team. The rest of the roster consists of role players from the Pikiell era — including junior forward Tyrell Sturdivant, who started in the team’s exhibition game. Sturdivant will try to step up as a leader for the Seawolves.
“I really don’t care about numbers or stats,” Sturdivant said. “But one stat I do want to work on this year is my assists. We have a lot of shooters this year and I do want to take that part of my game from Jameel — his passing.”
Inside scoring is a concern for the new look Seawolves. Warney and McGrew were the featured big men last season, with Sturdivant only playing 11.8 minutes per game. But Sturdivant’s ability to shoot the ball may offset problems in the paint. Junior center Jakub Petras will be relied upon to lead from the bench.
“Tyrell has the ability to knock down a 15-, 17-foot jump shot,” Boals said. “Jake’s a very high vocal guy, energy guy, who plays hard. So we’re definitely going to try and play to our strengths.”
Rather than defending their title atop the preseason polls, the Seawolves were ranked seventh out of nine teams in the America East. It was clear that Stony Brook’s lack of talent echoed across the conference and for the first time in the past three years, the Seawolves were no longer considered a favorite to cut down the net.
“We had players like Jameel, Ray and Tre to lean on last year,” Woodhouse said. “You could throw the ball into Jameel and he can just score at will. This year we have to just be more together and it’s got to be a balanced kind of scoring.”