Three years ago, Stony Brook Men’s Basketball junior forward Jakub Petras came to the United States. He barely spoke English and was in a country that was 4,235 miles away from his home in Rajec, Slovakia.
“If we had this conversation my freshman year, you would not get a lot out me,” Petras said.
While there was no solution to the distance, there was one to the language barrier: Petras’ then-roommate Bryan Sekunda. Sekunda, now a junior forward for the Seawolves, helped teach the native Slovak speaker English.
“He helped me a lot,” Petras said of Sekunda. “He was coming from a family where his dad played overseas. He understood me, how I needed to be explained some stuff sometimes when I didn’t understand a word. He understood how much help I needed.”
However, it was only last semester that Petras passed WRT 102, a class that native speakers typically finish in their first two semesters at Stony Brook.
However, the language barrier has not stopped him from being one of the most energetic players on the team. He regularly yells and celebrates during games. After a fast break dunk against UMass Lowell, his second of the season, Petras celebrated by chest-bumping head coach Jeff Boals.
“Jake’s an energy giver,” Boals said. “There aren’t a lot of guys like that. He talks and he’s just got great energy. You can tell in practice. The teams that he’s on in practice have more bounce to them, are more energized.”
Petras’ energy has allowed him to become a fan-favorite. After all, a 6-foot-11-inch tall center yelling his lungs out after a big play only further electrifies crowds.
“In random places, people are like, ‘Oh, we’re season ticket holders. Great job last time,’” Petras said. “It’s amazing when people recognize you for being on the team.”
He was not always the crowd-pleaser that he is today. During his high school years, Petras played in a small town about half the population of Stony Brook University. The fan interaction was casual and minimal. During his time in Spain playing for Canarias Basketball Academy, the team’s culture and schedule did not promote a fan environment.
“In Spain, there was nothing like that, like a fan base,” he said. “At home, I didn’t play in the highest league. I was in a small city where you almost know everybody. … But it’s nothing crazy like here with unknown people just approaching you.”
When he began his Stony Brook career, Petras was a bench player, averaging 6.7 minutes per game and 1.1 points per game. His minutes decreased in his sophomore season, averaging 4.3 minutes per game during Stony Brook’s America East Championship-winning season.
Now under a new head coach, Petras’ minutes have increased significantly. This season, he averages 13.8 minutes per game. In turn, Petras has improved in nearly every statistical category, posting career-high averages in points per game and rebounds per game. In 19 games, Petras has more than twice as many points as he did in the entirety of last season.
“Jake’s one of our better passers,” Boals said. “To a fault sometimes, he looks to pass too much. I kind of yelled at him that one game, might’ve been Maine, he was not looking to score and he ended up 4-for-5 from the field. He’s really comfortable with his role right now.”
Off the court, Petras is quiet. He does not call attention to himself in class, or at least any more attention that his status as a basketball player and his giant frame do not already draw. But on the court, Petras is himself: loud, energetic and just trying to have fun.
“If you play, you have to enjoy it,” Petras said. “It’s all about enjoying.”