Freshman forward Elijah Olaniyi (left), redshirt-sophomore forward Akwasi Yeboah (center) and senior forward Tyrell Sturdivant (right) celebrate after Sturdivant makes a basket against the College of Staten Island. GARY GHAYRAT/THE STATESMAN

Don’t ever count out the Seawolves.

Last season, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team faced an uphill battle the likes of which they had not seen in years. Critics and reporters did not give the Seawolves the time of day, ranking them seventh out of nine teams in the America East preseason rankings just before the 2016-17 season kicked off.

However, the team stepped onto the court and proved the critics wrong.

“Last year, we were picked seventh out of ninth, and we finished second,” head coach Jeff Boals said. “But this year, we were picked fourth, and it’s one of those deals where it’s a preseason ranking. Last year, it didn’t mean much. If you look at everyone coming back this year from our league, we lost two key guys, it’s going to be more of a 1-13 kind of deal for us.”

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The 13 men on the team look to head into the season, ignore what the critics say and just worry about playing their style of basketball.

The Seawolves’ 92-62 exhibition win over the College of Staten Island on Friday, Oct. 27 was the first showcase of the new-look team in game action. Freshman guard Jordan McKenzie, senior guard UC Iroegbu, redshirt-sophomore forward Akwasi Yeboah, senior forward Junior Saintel and senior forward Tyrell Sturdivant were the five starters for the game. Saintel led the team in scoring with 17 points while grabbing seven rebounds.

Boals asserted that the exhibition’s starting lineup was not the official starting lineup. He has yet to release any information about what the starting lineup will be for the season opening game against Maryland on Friday. Yeboah and Sturdivant are two key returning Seawolves who look to play substantial roles on the team this coming season.

Yeboah emerged as an offensive threat as a redshirt freshman for the Seawolves last season, knocking down 45 three-pointers while also showing he can attack the basket. He averaged 9.5 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game last season, shooting 37 percent from the field while shooting 34 percent from beyond the arc. Boals expects the forward to build off last year’s performance and become more of a focal point on offense.

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“Last year, we depended on Lucas [Woodhouse] a lot when we needed a basket or to create a play, and I think we’ll do the same thing with [Yeboah] this year,” Boals said. “He had some growing pains and moments last year, but the last couple of weeks he played really well. We are going to depend on him a lot to do more this year.”

Woodhouse played a major role in creating opportunities for Sturdivant to develop into a primary scoring option.

Sturdivant looks to play the mentor role for the younger players as the team’s leading scorer among returning players. The returning forward, who averaged 10.6 points per game last season, second to Woodhouse, and led the team with 5.4 rebounds per game, is prepared to bring the team back to America East glory, one he tasted back during the 2015-16 season.

Boals was also able to bring in several recruits this year, but one stands out among the rest. Freshman forward Elijah Olaniyi, ranked as the 75th-best forward in the country according to ESPN, is the highest graded recruit to join the Seawolves program since forward Jameel Warney joined in 2012. 

A position to keep a close eye on throughout the season is point guard. Boals stated that both McKenzie and junior guard Jaron Cornish will split time at the point guard position to start the season. Those plans have been derailed, as Cornish is dealing with a knee injury that should keep him on the sidelines at the start the season, according to Stony Brook Athletics.

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Taking all of these factors into account, Boals believes the success of this year’s team will not be dependent on a one-man show. Boals hopes the depth at multiple positions will help the team to make some noise this season.

“I think it’s going to be an interesting dynamic because we can play a lot of guys and it’ll be someone different on every night,” Boals said. “[Yeboah] will obviously be a big part of it, [McKenzie] and our point guards have done a really good job so far in the preseason. If you look at [Sturdivant], he had a really good year last year, and I think [Saintel] has gotten better too. But I think our depth will really help us.”

The team looks forward to stepping on the court once again and completing the goal they fell short of last year – winning an America East championship.

“The biggest thing for us is to win the [America East Tournament] and go to the NCAA tournament,” Boals said. “It’s a process and a journey and I always tell the guys that, through the process, there are ups and downs, and if you lose a game, you gotta learn from it and really continue to get better into January when the conference season starts.” 

The regular season kicks off with the Seawolves in a non-conference game against Maryland at Nassau Coliseum on Friday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

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