Ahmad Walker is proving you can go home again, and his return to Stony Brook after a year at Barton Community College in Kansas might be the missing ingredient that helps the Seawolves earn their first NCAA bid.
When Peter Hooley hit a three-pointer with two seconds left to give Albany a 51-50 win over Stony Brook in the America East title game last season, Walker was watching on TV in Kansas and sharing the pain. "I saw the Albany game and the buzzer-beater, a heartbreaker," he said recently. "I was really excited for them to win it. I thought they had it in the bag."
One major reason the Seawolves fell short was that Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy III totaled 43 points but got only seven points of support from their young teammates. They could have used Walker, who was a junior college All-American at Barton, averaging 20.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
But after making the America East all-rookie team as a freshman, he transferred because he admittedly "wasn't seeing eye to eye" with coach Steve Pikiell about his role.
"I decided to venture out and see what else I could find," Walker said. "While I was gone, I did a lot of maturing and realized how good I had it here. We reached out to each other, they had another scholarship and they wanted me back and I wanted to come back."
The addition of Walker and transfer point guard Lucas Woodhouse (Harborfields) to a starting lineup that includes Warney (who averaged 16.4 points and 11.7 rebounds and led the nation with 24 double-doubles), Puriefoy and forward Rayshaun McGrew stamps the Seawolves as the favorite to finally win the America East Tournament and earn the school's first-ever NCAA bid.
Sophomores Roland Nyama and DeShaun Thrower, who started last season, provide experienced depth along with fellow sophomores Bryan Sekunda, Tyrell Sturdivant and 6-11 Jakub Petras and junior Kameron Mitchell.
Pikiell plans to play a faster tempo this season because Woodhouse and Walker can share ballhandling duties with Puriefoy. In Walker, Pikiell also has a true lockdown defender.
"He's the best defender in the league," Pikiell said of Walker. "He's more mature now; he shoots it better; he gets to the rim and makes plays. He's our next-best passer after Lucas. He can score in a lot of different ways that we didn't have last year."
While Walker was in Kansas, he maintained constant communication with his former teammates and members of the coaching staff. The experience was eye-opening.
"In Kansas, you're more on your own," Walker said. "You've got to do everything by yourself, from lifting to working on your game and developing as a player. I had to grow up fast. I realized what was important and how hard I had to go to become a better player and be more successful at the Division I level when I came back."
Walker received a warm welcome from his teammates when he returned, and he shares their urgency to reach the NCAA goal in the final season for the 6-8, 260-pound Warney, who has attracted interest from every NBA team.
"It's unheard of that somebody can transfer and then come back," Warney said of Walker. "But it showed his character. After the Albany game, he felt he let us down. So he wanted to come back and pay his dues. It's great that it all worked out.''
Stony Brook men's basketball
Last season: 23-12, 12-4 America East, CBI tourney
Players to watch
JAMEEL WARNEY: Two-time America East player of the year led Division I in double-doubles (24) and total rebounds (409). Coach Steve Pikiell describes the 6-8, 260-pound forward as the "best-passing big man in the country" and said every NBA team either has scouted him or expressed interest.
CARSON PURIEFOY III: Point guard must adjust to playing off the ball with addition of pass-first point guard Lucas Woodhouse and wing man Ahmad Walker, but he says, "It's for the greater good. We have a three-guard tandem that can create, penetrate, facilitate for other people. We love playing together and we love sharing the ball."
LUCAS WOODHOUSE: Sat out last season after transferring from Longwood (Va.), where he was fifth in the nation as a sophomore with 6.7 assists per game, averaged 11.3 points and shot 37.4 percent from three-point range and 81.5 percent at the foul line. Led Harborfields to LI and NYS Class A titles in 2012.