Practice for the 2012-13 college basketball season begins Friday, and Stony Brook University has a very clearly defined goal: Make the NCAA Tournament.
After coming close the past two seasons, the players believe this finally could be their time.
"Every practice, every workout, we're going with the mind-set to get to the tournament,'' senior forward Ron Bracey said Thursday as the team gathered to honor heart transplant patient Arthur Plowden of Amityville. The 44-year-old, who became the first patient to receive a lifesaving cardiac implant at the university's heart institute, fulfilled a dream by shooting hoops with the college team.
Bracey said the team is driven to make the NCAAs. "That's on our mind every day, every drill, every rep, everything we do,'' he said. "We're going to do whatever we need to do to make sure we get there this year.''
Fifth-year senior forward Tommy Brenton added, "I really want to get to the NCAA Tournament and add that to my resume. I won a state championship in high school. In prep school, we won the national championship. In college, I want to get to the NCAA Tournament.''
That feeling has been conveyed to newcomers such as 6-8 freshman power forward Jameel Warney, the team's star recruit. Warney averaged 17.0 points and 13.5 rebounds at Roselle (N.J.) Catholic last season but said he felt the loss when host Stony Brook (22-10) was defeated by Vermont, 51-43, in the America East Tournament championship game. The Seawolves had an exciting finish to the season as they drew Big East member Seton Hall in the NIT and played well in a two-point loss.
"It's another year. We have to put that [Vermont loss] behind us and go win the championship this year,'' Warney said. "I just believe in the program here a lot. The coaching staff is amazing. I think I can survive well around this environment.''
Coach Steve Pikiell said of Warney, "You never promise a starting position, but he's as good a freshman as we could ever bring in. He's got great hands, catches everything.''
After Bracey, Brenton and Warney, others expected to see significant playing time include guards Dave Coley, Carson Puriefoy and Anthony Jackson and forwards Eric McAlister, Anthony Mayo and Scott King. Guards Marcus Rouse and Leonard Hayes provide strong senior depth.
The season opens Nov. 9 at Marist.
Pikiell, in his eighth year, realizes the expectations for his team, saying, "When I first got the job here, we weren't talking about March. Now we talk about March. Our players talk about March. We've had two league championships. Now we've got to have that great weekend.''