Although the sporting world is currently on hold due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team has not remained quiet. After ending their 2019-20 season with a heartbreaking 64-58 loss to Hartford in the semifinals of the America East Tournament, head coach Geno Ford immediately set his sights on next year. The team would be returning all of their starters with a lineup full of seniors and looked to be the top contender in the conference.
Now, that future is muddied with the loss of a notable player and the potential loss of others.
Latimer immediately made a name for himself as an outside threat for the Seawolves, being named to the America East All-Rookie Team in 2019 after a freshman campaign that saw him average 10.6 points per game and convert 63 3-pointers. He had a career night on Dec. 19, 2018, scoring 22 points against Hofstra on nine field goals.
However, Latimer regressed in 2019-20 and saw his playing time decrease as his stats fell off. He went from starting 32 of 33 games as a freshman to 23 of 32 games as a sophomore, and his minutes dropped from 32 per game to 27. Latimer came off the bench in seven of the team’s last 11 games, starting four in between only because junior guard Elijah Olaniyi was out with an ankle injury.
As a sophomore, Latimer’s scoring dipped to 7.0 points per game, and his 3-point field goal rate fell from 39% to 35%. In six of his final nine games of the season, he was held under five points, including two goose eggs. Still, he made clutch shots such as a game-winning three against Albany on March 1, put up 13 points in the America East quarterfinals and remained a strong on-ball defender. At the shooting guard position, it appeared as if Ford favored his freshman recruit, Tyler Stephenson-Moore, who took Latimer’s place in the starting lineup and impressed early with a pair of 19-point games.
Olaniyi officially declared for the 2020 NBA Draft through a Twitter announcement on March 28. “Throughout the draft process I will not sign with an agent and keep my eligibility,” Olaniyi said, leaving the door open for him to return to Stony Brook for his senior season. NBA scouts have expressed interest in Olaniyi due to his breakout, but he was injured during the Seawolves’ nationally-televised clash with Vermont.
Olaniyi blossomed into the leader of the Seawolves’ offense as a junior, averaging 19.7 points per game before suffering an ankle injury at New Hampshire and missing the following five games. His final season numbers — 18.0 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game and a 44% field goal percentage — were still impressive for a dynamic player who had a stretch of five double-doubles in eight games.
The last America East player to be selected in the NBA Draft was Hofstra’s Speedy Claxton, who was taken 20th overall in 2000. An America East player has not played a game in the NBA since Stony Brook all-time points leader Jameel Warney, who earned a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks in 2018 and saw action in three NBA games.
Vermont senior forward Anthony Lamb also declared for the 2019 NBA Draft as a junior but pulled out before the deadline in order to retain his NCAA eligibility. It is possible that Olaniyi will do the same, especially as NBA scouts have halted all activity as a result of COVID-19.
Olaniyi can return to Stony Brook for the 2020-21 season, but his interest in exploring other opportunities is something to keep an eye on for the Seawolves.
On March 31, ESPN insider Jeff Borzello announced that junior center Jeff Otchere is expected to graduate and transfer, making him immediately eligible for the 2020-21 season. Otchere, the 6’11” big man who won the 2019 America East Defensive Player of the Year award, averaged 17 minutes this season as a consistent starter but earned less playing time than junior forward Mouhamadou Gueye, who often came off the bench.
Otchere recorded 127 blocks in 66 games with the Seawolves, second in the program’s Division I history. His departure would open up more playing time for sophomore forward Frankie Policelli, the Dayton transfer who sat out all of 2019-20.