After losing nine players from last year’s squad, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team is returning only four for the 2022-23 season. The team was in desperate need, so head coach Geno Ford and his staff brought in some outside help.
The Seawolves will rely heavily on their five new transfer students, who bring a unique set of skills different from the ones that last year’s team possessed. Expect them to be integral to the Seawolves’ success as they look to make a mark in their first season in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).
“Transfer-wise, we’re kind of counting on all those guys,” Ford said in an interview with The Statesman. “I mean, they’re older and we need production from them.”
Stony Brook had high hopes coming into last season with a group of star-studded transfers, but all of them are gone now. Last year’s team was built to outscore everyone in the conference in an attempt to cover up any deficiencies on defense. The team wound up with the worst scoring defense in the America East, leading to an entirely different recruiting approach from Ford this past offseason.
“We had a lot of guys that had scored a lot in their career,” Ford said. “Last year, we were really fast. But if you got by us, we were in big trouble, because we didn’t have anybody that could protect the rim.”
Lack of size was a culprit in the defensive flaws for the Seawolves, and Ford was quick to address the issue by bringing in 6-foot-10 forward Kenan Sarvan as the first signee of the offseason. The Dutch big started his career at the Division I level at Coppin State in the 2020-21 season. There, he was named to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference All-Rookie Team, but he wanted a bigger role following his freshman year.
Sarvan decided that it would be best for him to take a step down to the junior college (JUCO) level in hopes of finding a Division I team that he would be featured more on. He transferred to Mineral Area College in Missouri before the 2021-22 season to showcase his abilities to potential Division I suitors.
“The transfer portal was pretty much packed, and I had offers being pulled away in like a week or two,” Sarvan said. “A good friend of mine, Malevy Leons, played for [Mineral Area] and he told me ‘If you come here, you’re going to win and you’re going to boost your stats and go back to Division I.’”
He decided to come to Stony Brook due to Ford’s reputation and resumé.
“[Ford’s] background is just amazing, as a player and a coach,” Sarvan said. “It’s mainly because of Coach Ford that I’m here.”
Sarvan averaged 11.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game in his lone JUCO year. Though he is an ideal rim-protector’s height, Sarvan is a versatile big that will bring the Seawolves shooting and playmaking at either power forward or center.
“He’s got the prototypical European big man game, and I love that about him,” Ford said. “He’s one of our best dribblers, he’s one of our best passers, and he’s one of our best shooters. And he’s 6-foot-10. He plays a huge role because we need the other team’s big guy to come out and play him.”
Sarvan shot 39.5% from three-point range last year on 5.9 attempts per game. He made it clear that Ford will be giving him the green light to be a volume shooter from deep this season.
“At my JUCO last year, they played the same way,” Sarvan said. “I’m a guy who’s shooting eight to 12 threes a game, if not more than that. So a lot of playmaking and a lot of shooting.”
Guard Aaron Clarke is another key piece in this transfer wave. After playing four seasons at Sacred Heart, Clarke will bring value to the Seawolves this season as a veteran facilitator and scorer. He is expected to fill the role of point guard after losing both Jahlil Jenkins and Juan Felix Rodriguez.
“I just wanted to find something new, like a new opportunity, a new journey,” Clarke said. “It’s different. I was at Sacred Heart for four years, and I just wanted a challenge honestly.”
In his senior season with the Pioneers, Clarke was second in the Northeast Conference in assists per game (4.1) and led the conference in free throw percentage (.872). Clarke also ranked third in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.73), highlighted by a 10-assist, zero turnover performance against LIU. This will greatly help the Seawolves maintain their offensive efficiency after ranking fourth in the America East last season in that statistic.
“We’re counting on big things because he’s the most experienced,” Ford said. “Just having a guy like Aaron who’s been an all league player is comforting because hopefully he can help us with the organization of offense.”
The New Jersey-native will also be a scoring threat for Stony Brook, averaging 16.0 points per game last season and eclipsing the 1,000 point mark for his career. He displayed his ability as a dual-threat guard last season in a 26-point, eight-assist performance against St. Francis.
Clarke was named an All-CAA honorable mention in the annual preseason poll, but he made it clear that the recognition will not get in the way of his goals for this season.
“It’s always good to be recognized in some form or fashion,” Clarke said. “But I just have to prove that I’m not honorable mention, I’m one of those first-teamers. We’re competing for a CAA championship, and that’s my number one priority.”
This year’s transfer class also includes center Keenan Fitzmorris from Stanford. Standing at a towering seven-feet tall, the graduate student will bring a much-needed paint presence for the Seawolves this season.
“It’s been a great transition,” Fitzmorris said. “I love the people… It makes it feel like home even though I’ve been really far away from home. I love it here.”
The Kansas-native spent four years as a Cardinal, but was only active for two of them after redshirting as a freshman and missing last season due to injury. Despite being the 13th-best center of the 2018 high school class according to Rivals150, Fitzmorris got little playing time at Stanford when he was active. He made only 18 total appearances in his career, averaging less than two minutes per game.
“I’d redshirted my freshman year, and I had a COVID year, and I had shoulder surgery my senior year,” Fitzmorris said. “So I had some adversity, and I wanted to go into a new situation where I could be in a new surrounding and get a fresh start. I think that there’s something special with new beginnings, and being here has been really special.”
Fitzmorris will be stepping into the biggest role of his collegiate career at Stony Brook. His size gives the Seawolves a player who can erase mistakes at the rim, set screens and post up. The Seawolves were middle of the pack in rebounding last season, and Fitzmorris’ ability to clean the glass should help.
“I really love the mentality that we have here and how our coach really trusts us on the floor,” Fitzmorris said. “We have an incredible amount of shooters and people stretching the floor. Being able to play inside and find guys outside, it opens up the entire floor.”
Along with being somebody that can score inside, Fitzmorris also has the ability to pull from deep. This will be a valuable asset to Stony Brook’s offense, as Ford will be able to roll out five shooters at a time without needing to downsize.
“Keenan has been really good for us at the five spot,” Ford said. “He can stretch [the floor] and shoot threes. He has experience and he’s a good athlete.”
The Seawolves also snagged two impactful guards from the transfer portal: Dean Noll and Sabry Philip. Noll spent four seasons at Cornell and was selected to the All-Ivy Second Team last season, averaging 12.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Philip is a hard-nosed, athletic guard who averaged 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season at Navarro College.
Unfortunately, both will miss the entire 2022-23 season due to injury.
The two were expected to fill major roles this season for the Seawolves. As guards, they bring a physical aspect of the game that most of the team’s other guards do not.
“We don’t have slashers with Sabry and Dean being out,” Ford said. “That really took away two of our major penetration threats.”
Given the upgrade in competition and the many losses of talent, the Seawolves may take a step back this year in the win-loss department. However, Ford has brought in veteran talent who will make a difference on both ends of the floor. Though there are less natural scorers on this year’s squad, the transfers bring enough playmaking and shooting ability to keep the team competitive. The new collection of players has also helped turn a weakness into a potential strength overnight, as the defense figures to get much better with the new bigs on the frontcourt.
These new pieces will look to help the Seawolves get over the hump and find their way back into the NCAA Tournament. Though new to town, the transfers share the same goal as everyone else in the Stony Brook locker room. Sarvan did not waver on his expectations.
“Win in February, and go dance in March.”