Stony Brook women’s basketball head coach Ashley Langford knows a thing or two about managing guards: she was one as a college player. Now, she finds herself with a star-studded group of guards, presenting a revamped look to the Stony Brook offense.
Langford’s embarrassment of riches at the guard position will look to compensate for the missing stars on the frontcourt. The depth at the position will give Langford the opportunity to run several types of athletic lineups on the court.
“We’re just going to play a little bit more positionless this year,” Langford said in an interview with The Statesman. “There will be a different look for everybody.”
The backcourt will be headlined by guard Annie Warren, who is a key player in the Seawolves’ offense. She averaged a career-high 12.0 points per game last year while shooting a respectable 34.4% from behind the three-point arc. She led the team in three-pointers made last season while also playing the most minutes on the team. Warren’s impressive play on offense landed her a spot on the All-America East First Team. Expectations remain high for Warren now in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), as she was named to the Preseason All-CAA Second Team.
Warren’s prowess has earned her the nickname “Annie Buckets.” The Seawolves will need all the buckets they can get from Warren this season, as she will be the team’s first scoring option. This should not come as a surprise as Warren has done nothing but score at a high level since her freshman year with Stony Brook. Warren is confident in her abilities to fill the void that former star India Pagan has left as the team’s top scorer.
“It does feel good to be able to play that role,” Warren said in an interview with The Statesman. “It’s just exciting.”
Warren can score at all three levels. She is one of Stony Brook’s most decorated scorers, ranking sixth in program history in three-pointers made with 128 and 10th in three-point shooting percentage at 32%. She also converts on 77.5% of her free throws.
“When you can shoot, people have to play you honest,” Warren said. “I can get to the rim or pull up. It’s very helpful.”
In the backcourt, Warren will be joined by guard Gigi Gonzalez, a pass-first player who will be tasked with running the offense. She posted a team-high 3.9 assists per game last season, good for third best in the America East. Her playmaking ability is a major asset to the Seawolves and adds another level of complexity to the offense.
“I want to get my teammates the ball as much as I can,” Gonzalez said. “They’ll be running for the ball, so I’m going to try to find them as much as I can.”
Gonzalez made her presence felt last season and became a key contributor on both sides of the ball. She started in 28 of her 29 appearances after starting just six times through her first two seasons. Last year’s experience is something Gonzalez is grateful for, as it helped her grow as a player.
“It gave me a lot more experience,” Gonzalez said. It just helped me learn the game a lot more. I’m so grateful for those starts because it really changed my game as a player.”
Gonzalez fits like a glove into Langford’s scheme. She is a solid scorer as well, posting a career-high 9.6 points per game last year. Before the final two games of the season, she was averaging over 10 points per game. Gonzalez is also a strong defender who totaled a team-high 47 steals last season. She posted new career highs in almost every category across the stat sheet, something she feels she can improve upon in 2022-23.
“You can expect more career highs,” Gonzalez said. “I’m planning to get more assists, things like that. Helping my teammates and just winning is really a prime focus for us.”
The pairing of Gonzalez and Warren gives Stony Brook a dynamic duo in the backcourt, as their veteran presence will help guide the team. They have taken it upon themselves to be leaders in the locker room and on the court.
“Annie was already a leader; she was our captain from last year,” Langford said. “Gigi has her leadership role. Her growth and development as a person has been tremendous over this last year, and it’s been fun to watch.”
The backcourt depth runs deep, with several guards who can come off the bench and make an immediate impact on the game. That includes guard Kelis Corley, who was a pleasant surprise last year for the Seawolves. She quickly became a key contributor on defense after playing sparingly throughout her freshman season.
“Kelis is sometimes an unsung hero,” Langford said. “She’s just a glue player for us and does a little bit of everything.”
Corley is a strong defender with active hands. She only started five games last season, but was the go-to player off the bench. She logged 546 playing minutes, sixth-most on the team.
Corley has the ability to lock down opposing players and create turnovers, something she is always trying to improve upon.
“I do like to work on my defense a lot,” Corley said. “It makes me feel good when I lock down a player and they don’t score as much.”
Corley has the potential to be a reliable three-point shooter and defender for Stony Brook. She shot 30.8% from three-point range last season, fourth best on the team. She is still working on her offensive game, as she hopes to become a more well-rounded player.
“I’m trying to work on getting a quicker release in my shots,” Corley said. “Also, I want to work on mid-range jumpers so that I can have a three-level scoring ability.”
The Seawolves also bulked up their backcourt through the transfer portal, landing guard Daishai “Dai Dai” Almond in the offseason. Almond is a three-year starter from Southern Mississippi and is entering her fifth season of NCAA basketball.
The addition of Almond adds another experienced defender and playmaker like Gonzalez. The playmaking potential of Almond and Gonzalez could turn out to be one the best pairings in the CAA, as they can both run an offense. Gonzalez sees great potential in the backcourt with Almond and herself.
“So glad to have Dai Dai on my team,” Gonzalez said. “She is a great player. She has a lot of energy and a high motor, and she’s going to be an amazing asset.”
Almond racked up 109 assists last season at Southern Mississippi, including 14 in one game. Over the past three years, she has averaged 3.9 assists per game.
Her playmaking ability is something she is particularly proud of.
“I take pride in passing the ball and getting my teammates open,” Almond said.
Almond has shown extreme selflessness at Stony Brook, as she is committed to doing whatever it will take in order to be successful this season. She said she wants to do whatever is best for the team, even if that means moving positions or coming off the bench.
“Move me to the three; give me another opportunity to get to the basket,” Almond said. “To get points for the team, stuff like that.”
Almond’s commitment and sacrifice have made her a leader in the locker room, and her veteran experience is just another reason to be excited about this Stony Brook backcourt.
“I set a goal for myself to be more of a vocal leader and put everybody in positions to be successful,” Almond said.
A breakout candidate in the backcourt this season is sophomore Erin Turral. Turral saw limited action last year but won an America East Rookie of the Week award last December. She played her best basketball towards the end of the year, including a career-high 11-point performance that helped the Seawolves avoid an upset against UMass Lowell.
The sheer amount of depth in the backcourt helps the Seawolves match up well on both sides of the ball.
“It definitely creates a mismatch and an advantage on the offensive end for sure,” Langford said. “Defensively, we just have to dig in and be tough and physical.”
The backcourt will need to play a vital role down the stretch in March, as guards dictate play when it comes playoff time in the NCAA.
“I don’t think we have too many guards,” Langford said. “I mean in March, it’s all about guard play and there we’ve got a lot of versatility.”
With a mix of both veteran and youth talent, the Stony Brook backcourt will play a pivotal role in the outcome of its 2022-23 season. The backcourt has the potential to help lead the Seawolves to great heights in what could shape up to be a very successful inaugural season in the CAA.