Pritchard Gymnasium, site of Saturday's America East basketball championship between host Stony Brook (23-9) and defending champion Albany (17-14), gives home-court advantage to the Seawolves. But it is very familiar to Albany coach and former Miller Place resident Will Brown, who often played at the venue.
"We went there looking for pickup games when they used to have three courts going across," Brown, 42, said Tuesday. "You could always find a game or two at nighttime, during the week or on the weekend. It's familiar."
Stony Brook and Pritchard was the destination for many players over several decades. Brown became a high school star at Miller Place and when he went into college coaching, Stony Brook was on his list.
Brown was coaching at Sullivan CC when Stony Brook became a Division I program in 1999. "I think I was maybe 26, 27, dumb enough to think I had a shot at the job," he said. "I wanted the job because it was home and transitioning to Division I. When I heard names like Rollie Massimino and Nick Macarchuk associated with the job, I wasn't too optimistic about the potential opportunity, but like I said, it was home."
Coaching in a game that will determine an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, well, it couldn't be much more exciting, albeit daunting.
"Me going back there knowing where we can go to eat or get a good slice of pizza or a good breakfast sandwich isn't going to help us win the game," Brown said. "I think from my standpoint, it might be comforting knowing there might be some people buying tickets down there that will actually be rooting for us. People that played for my father or friends of mine who are familiar with my family."
Pritchard holds 1,630 seats; Albany's allotment is 350.
Brown knows his way around title games. He has won three at Albany -- one at home and two on the road at Vermont.
"You get a chance to go, it means the world to everybody," he said of the NCAAs. "It doesn't get old. If we're fortunate enough to ever go again, it's not going to get old. It's special because of how difficult it is from a one-bid league. At the BCS level, if you come in eighth place in the Big Ten, you're probably going to the NCAA Tournament, so I don't think they appreciate it as much as we do in a one-bid league."
The home team is 25-5 in the America East championship game. Stony Brook lost at home to Vermont in its hastily prepared pre-renovated arena in 2012. The arena is not yet finished, so Pritchard gets the game.
Stony Brook is 37-3 in the last 40 games at Pritchard, 24-1 in the last 25 games against conference opponents.
"It is an advantage to host, without question," Brown said. "Any coach that says otherwise is crazy. It's also a double-edge sword, it comes with a lot of pressure, as well, because you are expected to win. There's no pressure on our guys. All the pressure on Stony Brook, it's another opportunity for them to try and get to the NCAA Tournament. They're playing at home in front of their fans in their building. For us, our mentality is just going to be stay relaxed, play loose, really embrace the atmosphere, not get caught up in the atmosphere."