Stony Brook returns four starters in quest to make NCAA Tournament
Greg Logan, Newsday
The list of achievements for Stony Brook's men's basketball team was impressive last season -- third America East regular-season title in four years, school-record 25-8 mark, conference player of the year in Tommy Brenton and rookie of the year in Jameel Warney.
But the memory lingers of Albany's Mike Black driving for the winning basket on his home floor to eliminate the Seawolves in the conference semifinals and deny them a shot at earning their first-ever NCAA bid.
As senior guard Anthony Jackson said, "I carry that loss on my sleeve. To lose in the semifinal game against a rivalry, that's on my heart. But that's fuel to the fire."
The road to redemption began with Stony Brook's first-ever NIT win at UMass, but now it's back to chasing that elusive NCAA bid.
"We've done 99 things here, and no one cares about any of them," Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. "So now we've got to do 100 . . . We have to go up to Albany again and swing at the plate. But it's way too early to think about those things. Right now, I'm just trying to get them to box out."
Pikiell has four returning starters in post man Warney, forward Eric McAlister and guards Jackson and Dave Coley. Redshirt freshman Ahmad Walker is the likely starter at small forward. Sophomore guard Carson "Trey'' Puriefoy is like a sixth starter, and there is size on the bench in 6-10 three-point shooter Scott King, 6-10 backup center Anthony Mayo and 6-7 transfer forward Rayshaun McGrew.
Four freshmen will compete for playing time, including true freshmen swingmen Chris Braley and Roland Nyama and redshirt guards Kameron Mitchell and Ryan Burnett. Pikiell views the 6-6 Nyama as his two-guard of the future, but a redshirt year also is a possibility.
"Nyama's talent is off the charts," Pikiell said. "Roland is a freak athlete who can pin shots on the backboard and get tip dunks."
The determining factor in who plays, as Pikiell put it, is "who's going to help Jameel the most?" A year ago, that player was Brenton, who essentially was a point forward as the assist leader. Now the question is who will get the ball to Warney, who averaged 12.4 points and 7.2 rebounds and shot 61 percent from the field.
"Everyone," Pikiell said. "They all are well-trained. He's going to get the ball plenty."
Jackson, a 36-percent shooter from three-point range, was second in assists last season and figures to take the point guard role, but Puriefoy runs the point when he enters. "The weight is on my back to distribute the ball because that's my job," Jackson said. "But in turn, I feel I need to score the ball. I've been working in practice, trying to turn myself into a great point guard who can make the right decision at the right time, similar to Tommy."
Brenton's graduation, Pikiell predicted, will allow power forward McAlister to emerge as a force. "Eric has been awesome," Pikiell said. "I think he's going to have an unbelievable senior year."
Most everyone expects Warney, an imposing 6-8, 265-pound paint presence, to become more dominant now that he has developed a 15-foot jumper.
"Last season, I was very one-dimensional just catching the ball and laying it in and playing good defense," Warney said. "Over the summer, I came back with a good array of post moves and a little jump shot that can make me seem more unguardable."
The Seawolves face a tough non-conference schedule that includes such NCAA Tournament teams as Indiana, LaSalle and VCU. Coley, a tri-captain with Jackson and McAlister, said the seniors must fill Brenton's leadership role.
"With our experience, the importance of leading this team is drastic," Coley said. "We have a lot of talent, but we're very inexperienced. My intention is to lead these young guys someplace we've never been, and that's the NCAA Tournament."
Warney added: "That's all we think about -- NCAA Tournament. Either get there or fail."