Guard Elijah Olaniyi in the opening season game against Yale during his junior year. Olaniyi has returned to Stony Brook for the 2021-22 season. EMMA HARRIS/STATESMAN FILE

The return of graduate guard Elijah Olaniyi was the spark that the Stony Brook men’s basketball team desperately needed this offseason. 

Following a devastating end to the 2020-21 season, Stony Brook was met with an all-too-familiar sense of panic and despair. It wasn’t until Olaniyi’s decision to return to the team that the tide turned for the Seawolves. Within days of his announcement, a wave of fresh transfer stars would follow in his footsteps.

Jahlil Jenkins, who announced his decision to join the Seawolves on April 8, wasn’t willing to pass up an opportunity to play alongside Olaniyi while making his transfer decision. 

“Stony Brook actually hit me up late, but I knew [associate head coach Bryan Weber],” Jenkins said in an interview with The Statesman. “When Coach Weber hit me up, I instantly answered the phone. We talked about the future with this year coming up and I knew Elijah was coming back and I wanted to play with him.”

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Jenkins considered Olaniyi’s return to be a major factor in his decision to join the Seawolves. 

“I’ve known him since AAU, so I thought it was a good fit for me to come here in my last year,” he said. 

The graduate guard from Fairleigh Dickinson also feels that he is already benefiting from his time around Olaniyi, although they still need to build on-court rapport during the regular season.

“We’re still trying to find the chemistry,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got a lot of talent on this team. We’ve got a lot of different roles, but me and him, we hang out off the court a lot. We talk about basketball all the time. Throughout the season, the chemistry is going to be very strong.”

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Jenkins averaged 14.4 points and 4.0 assists per game over four years with the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights. He led his team in points during his last two years at FDU, averaging 16.0 and 16.8 points per game during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, respectively.

One of his most notable accolades is his experience in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. As a 16 seed, Fairleigh Dickinson beat Prairie View A&M 82-76 in the First Four round. Jenkins scored 22 points and the Knights advanced to face top-seeded Gonzaga.

To this day, Jenkins still has fond memories of that experience.

“It was a dream come true,” he said. “I will never forget that. That run was insane. Before that game, we put on a stand. We won eight games straight. We were in a groove, and it was a great time and a blessing.”

Jenkins hopes his experience in the tournament will help bring Stony Brook back as a major contender in the upcoming season.

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“My goal is definitely to have this team get their first NCAA game underway,” he said. “I just want to carry this team to victory using my experience. The way I can help these guys win, the way I score, the way I make plays and the way I play can definitely help this team get a championship.”

Another enormous piece to Stony Brook’s offensive puzzle was the addition of redshirt-junior guard Anthony Roberts, who joined the 2021 transfer class on April 3. Roberts spent two years playing for the Kent State Golden Flashes, where he played in 61 games. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 12.7 points per game with a 3-point percentage of 36.3%. After his time at Kent State, Roberts transferred to St. Bonaventure, where he missed most of the season because of personal reasons. Roberts serves as a crucial piece to Stony Brook’s offensive strategy. 

“Three of our guys played point guard in previous places,” head coach Geno Ford said. “Juan here, Jahlil at FDU, Anthony at Kent State. When you’re used to being a point guard, you have the ball in your hands a lot. Now, we’re not going to have the ball in his hands quite as much, because there’s three dribblers instead of one.”

Having been a part of three different schools throughout his career, Roberts also adds another layer of experience to this Stony Brook team.

For Tanahj Pettway, the decision to join Stony Brook had more of a personal appeal. The redshirt-sophomore guard from Indian River had a few other schools on his radar in the transfer portal, but Stony Brook was an immediate standout.

“I started with Indian River, and I was getting recruited by a couple of schools,” Pettway said. “I liked being closer to home, and Stony Brook had been recruiting me since high school. So, I kind of felt like this was the right place with my relationship to the coaches, the location and being closer to family.”

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Pettway, who averaged 11.3 points and 2.2 assists per game with Indian River, was instantly drawn to the idea of being closer to his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. Despite his success at Indian River, Pettway is tasked with transitioning from junior college to the Division I level. In embracing this move, Pettway feels that his approach to the game hasn’t changed since his Indian River days.

“I wouldn’t say it changed my approach,” he said regarding the transition. “I would say, more so, it deepened my mindset to grind even harder.”

Pettway has also received a lot of support from his new coaching staff. His experiences with Ford have already proven to be invaluable for his development as a player.

“He’s been great,” Pettway said. “He’s been a great coach, always pushing me, challenging me to be better. He’s helped me as a player a lot already and I feel like I’m growing as a player.”

Ford has shown plenty of enthusiasm about working with this transfer class, especially given the offensive advantage that they bring to the team. Last year, Stony Brook finished 10th in the league in 3-point shooting. During the offseason, there was a much greater focus on adding scoring talent to the roster. Ford is happy with the individual offensive improvements to the team but feels that there is still much to be learned about the team’s overall potential.

“We have nine guys on the roster who have scored 20 points in a college game,” Ford said. “All nine aren’t going to score 20. That’d be 180 points. We would beat the Lakers, okay? So we have to get some guys in the right mentality, and the right mentality is ‘How can we get the best shot,’ not ‘How can I get a good shot?’”

What began with Olaniyi’s return to Stony Brook has turned into one of the strongest transfer classes in recent memory. This group has taken a team that finished seventh in the conference last year and made it into a preseason favorite. Although there is still much work to be done, roles to fill and challenges to face, the Seawolves feel more than prepared to get started.

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“I think all those things present challenges,” Ford stated regarding the roles of each of his transfer players. “But these are great problems to have, much different than some of the problems we had a year ago.”

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