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Andrew Garcia does it all for Stony Brook

Andrew Garcia drives to the hoop against UMBC

Andrew Garcia drives to the hoop against UMBC during the first half at Island Federal Credit Union Arena. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Andrew Garcia never will forget the many months when he was rehabbing alone on a side court during Stony Brook basketball practices. He always will remember the encouragement from teammates, who would look over and say, “Good shot, ‘Drew, keep it working, we see you.’ ”

They still tell him more or less the same thing, only now the words come during and after games. With his knee finally healthy after 2 ½ years, he is at the center of their success and is an intriguing X-factor for the Seawolves as they approach their playoff opener at home Saturday.

Not only is the redshirt sophomore from Harlem playing freely, showing the skills that made him a prized recruit as a junior at The Master’s prep school in Connecticut, he has taken on a whole new identity as a 6-5 big man in a small-ball lineup. “That lineup has been really, really good for us and his ability to guard the 5 man is what really makes it happen,” coach Jeff Boals said.

Any role, any position is fine with Garcia, whose knee problems began when he was a senior in high school. Surgery wiped out his freshman season at Stony Brook and allowed him only a half-season last year. This season is a completely different story. He was named America East sixth man of the year on Friday morning.

“It has been wonderful. It’s almost a sense of relief, after having knee pain every time I played and not having to worry about that anymore,” he said on the phone during the Seawolves’ trip to Vermont and Hartford (with a stop at the Basketball Hall of Fame in between). “I’m able to have fun and play my hardest and give my hardest. It’s the journey, it all paid off. I’m truly grateful.”

He is grateful to the training staff, the coaching staff and his teammates. “There was always constant positive energy,” he said. “The amount of attention kept my spirits high, even though it was hard.”

He is averaging 9.6 points and five rebounds off the bench with three double-doubles. As a youngster, he envisioned himself getting doubles and triples and home runs. His family has roots in the Dominican Republic and baseball. When he experienced an early growth spurt, an uncle suggested he try basketball. Garcia went all in, refining his game at New York City’s Rucker Park.

His career hit a roadblock with his first knee injury. He returned last season, rather tentatively. Boals, having undergone five knee surgeries in his playing career, cautioned him this season to expect good days and bad days and instructed him to tell coaches when he was having one of the latter. “Those days have been few and far between,” the coach said.

Boals and his staff, in fact, noticed that Garcia was stronger overall after all of his rehab. They approached him about playing the 5 (formerly known as center) position. “The first thing I told my coach was wherever you need to put me in, I’m going to play my hardest,” the player said.

He has become a matchup hardship for opponents: too quick for big men, too strong for perimeter players. “Drew is our sparkplug,” teammate Elijah Olaniyi said. “That’s one guy on our team you never see in a bad mood. He helps with whatever we need. He can play literally every position on the floor, guard every position. He’ll score if you need him to score, he’ll rebound. So, he’s a big part of this team.”

Garcia said, “It’s real to me. It’s the first time actually being a part of it, actually contributing, I’m so happy to be a part of a team like this and be a factor.”

Wright-Foreman a West Award finalist

Justin Wright-Foreman of Hofstra has been named one of five finalists for the Jerry West Award, which honors the top shooting guard in the country. The senior who led the Pride to the CAA regular-season title is in heady company. The other finalists are RJ Barrett of Duke, a potential top two pick in the NBA Draft, as well as 2018 Jerry West winner Carsen Edwards of Purdue, Kyle Guy of Virginia and Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech.

Wright-Foreman is averaging 26.8 points, second in the nation. His career total of 2,210 is within 12 of third place on Hofstra’s all-time list. The Pride (25-6, 15-3 in the CAA) will begin conference tournament play at noon Sunday against the winner of Saturday’s Towson-James Madison game. The tournament is in North Charleston, S.C.

Jordan coming home

The leading scorer for St. Francis of Brooklyn, which begins the Northeast Conference Tournament at Robert Morris Wednesday night, is sophomore Jalen Jordan (15.6 points) of Conyers, Ga. How does a young man from Georgia wind up at a school near Brooklyn Borough Hall? Coach Glenn Braica didn’t think that was possible until he heard from a prep school coach that Jordan’s parents are from New York and that Jalen’s early years were spent in Brentwood. It was a homecoming.

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