As college basketball season starts in October, scouting season ends. Teams that need to replace this year’s seniors and potential NBA draftees look to replenish in the pools of youth, trying to find the right pieces among the tens of thousands looking to make the leap from high school basketball to the college level.
For Stony Brook, a mid-major conference team from the America East, scouting comes with an additional caveat: trying to recruit big name players to a small name school. Head coach Jeff Boals, in his first season at the helm of a college program, had four players sign letters of intent to play for the Seawolves.
“Through 22 years of coaching, myself, and the rest of the staff — their years of coaching, you always build relationships and networks no matter who you recruit and when you’re recruiting,” Boals said.
Boals is a system coach, meaning that he recruits players around the style of basketball and a player who cannot play well in that system is of no use to the team. Prior to the beginning of the season, Boals stated that he would like to run an offense with a point guard, three athletic wings who can shoot from long range and a big man.
“I think no matter where your, what school you’re at, I don’t think stars really matter,” he said. “It’s about the right fit, not only on the court but off the court as well … We’re not going to go by rating systems. I’m going to go by what fits Stony Brook University and our system.”
But Boals does not have the advantage of coaching at a highly touted program like Duke does, nor can he talk about Stony Brook’s long history of success, since the school has only made the NCAA Tournament once. But he has the university’s reputation as an academic powerhouse, as well as his resume at Ohio State to rely on.
His experience at Ohio State has been particularly helpful as he used it to recruit Corry Long, a guard from Cincinnati. Long is a two star recruit, according to verbalcommits.com.
“The young from Cincinnati, I had seen him at our team camp at Ohio State for a few summers before I got this job,” Boals said. “I had known about him before I took the job.”
Boals also signed forward Anthony Ochefu, guard Jordan McKenzie and forward Elijah Olaniyi to next season’s roster. The three, like Long, are two star recruits. But they fit this season’s system of play of traditional guards with more versatile, athletic forwards.
“Ideally I’d love to play with a point guard, a big and three wings,” Boals said. “I don’t like to pigeonhole guys at are one, two, three, four, five. Ultimately, I’d love to have multidimensional guys that can play different positions.”
Ochefu, in particular, has the versatility that works well in Boals’ system. While he is known for his rebounding prowess, Ochefu has a wide range of offensive weapons that could make him better in college basketball than what his ranking implicates.
“He’s an eight and eight points and rebounds guy last year on a team that’s loaded with Division I and NBA talent,” Ochefu’s coach and Westtown School head coach Seth Berger said. “This year I expect him to be a double digit rebound getter and probably a double digit point scorer. Anthony can shoot the three, he scores well around the post.”
While Ochefu provides a strong front court presence in this year’s recruiting class, McKenzie brings leadership prowess. He is a fifth year player at Hargrave Military Academy. The last Hargrave alum to play basketball at Stony Brook was Tommy Brenton who was the 2013 America East Player of the Year.
Brenton also had a connection to Boals. Back when he was coaching at Akron, Boals tried to recruit Brenton. Rather than play for the Zips, Brenton became a Seawolf.
But that is not Boals’s only connection to Hargrave. He has a close relationship with the head coach as well.
“The young man that’s from Hargrave Military Academy, I actually coached his coach at Marshall University,” Boals said. “So that’s how that kind of connected.”
McKenzie’s leadership skills be important as senior guard Lucas Woodhouse is graduating after this season. But he will have to get used to playing with two other guards in U.C. Iroegbu, who has played mostly shooting guard this season, and Michael Almonacy, who has come off the bench.
Olaniyi will be joining him on the wing. He is a slasher who can also shoot, according to his head coach Anthony Tavares. The two skills are useful in Boals’s system where a player needs to be able to shoot well, but also penetrate to create space for other shooters.
“I think he’s going to be a 1,500 to 2,000 point scorer here when it’s all said and done,” Boals said of Olaniyi’s scoring ability. “He has a knack to score and, I think, he can shoot it, he can handle it, he can attack the basket. He can score at all three levels and he’s going to be an exciting player. here”
The wing comes from East Side High School in Newark, N.J. The school has had a strong tradition of graduating Division-I basketball players, including a few NBA players such Randy Foye of the Brooklyn Nets and Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat.
But basketball was not the only thing Olaniyi looked for in a school. Academics also played a key factor for him. When he first came to East Side High School, his mother was concerned about the academics, hesitant to let him leave the charter school system. But he and Tavares managed to convince her to let him transfer and now he can pursue both academics and athletics.
“[Stony Brook coaches] came down,” Tavares said. “The coaches did a good job of working hard and convincing him that Stony Brook was a good fit academically and that was that.”