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Elijah Olaniyi returns to SBU with winning attitude

Elijah Olaniyi of the Stony Brook college basketball

Elijah Olaniyi of the Stony Brook college basketball team on Thursday, November 4, 2021 at Island Federal Credit Union arena in Stony Brook. Credit: Dawn McCormick

Apparently, you can go home again.

It was 18 months ago when Stony Brook star junior Elijah Olaniyi decided he didn’t want to stay home. After leading the Seawolves in scoring, he craved better competition, a bigger stage and a brighter spotlight for his senior season. He transferred to Miami, expecting to sit for a year per NCAA rules before suiting up for the 2021-22 season.

When the NCAA changed the rules and the Hurricanes suffered injuries, Olaniyi found himself in Miami’s starting lineup. And by most accounts, he had a fine season, averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in 32 minutes.

But when the NCAA granted athletes an extra year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Olaniyi did not sign up for another year in the ACC.

He transferred back to Stony Brook.

"I went to Miami and the season I played there looked good, but it wasn’t really what I went there to do," Olaniyi said. "Given another year, I thought I would come back and complete the unfinished business. I knew I’d play right away and there would be a chance to go out a champion."

Olaniyi envisioned sitting for one season and then becoming a central scorer the following year. The NCAA rule change making transfers immediately eligible opened the door for him to play last season, and Hurricanes injuries necessitated it.

"They needed me to be the team’s jackknife and do a lot of things," Olaniyi said. "The coach had to play me because it was in the best interests of the team. I went to the ACC to sort of showcase what I can do. But I come back confident, having affirmed that I can play on that level. Now I want that to rub off on my teammates."

Now a grad student playing a fifth season, Olaniyi enjoys being back in familiar surroundings. Still he concedes "I am a little nervous and need to play that first game to get comfortable."

"I’ve done just about everything here except win a championship," he added, "and I didn’t come back here for us to have an average season."

The 6-5 shooting guard is part of a major influx of talented guards that has transformed the Seawolves. Stony Brook — 9-14 overall and 7-9 in the America East last season — will play an all-new up-tempo style and unleash an array of speedy players who can score from all over the floor.

The Seawolves were tabbed as the conference favorite in a preseason poll of America East coaches, and SBU coach Geno Ford said, "Obviously, to see the talent we’ve added, we feel we should have a shot to win a championship."

Joining Olaniyi in the new wave of Seawolves guards are cat-quick FDU transfer Jahlil Jenkins and athletic St. Bonaventure transfer Anthony Roberts.

Jenkins averaged 16.8 points and 3.2 assists at FDU last season and Ford called him "the most dynamic guard I’ve been around in 25 years in the game." Roberts was a standout at Kent State before becoming a Bonnie but played in only three games last season.

They will mix with point guard Juan Felix Rodriguez, who led the Seawolves with a 13.3-point average, and wing Frankie Policelli, who averaged 10.7 points, to make an army of players who can get their own shot.

SBU is likely to start 6-9 Jaden Sayles at center, but the 6-5 Policelli could slide down to that spot for a five-guard look.

"The key is that all of them are wired to get their own shot, but we are going to need them at times to do other things like pass, facilitate, rebound and defend," Ford said. "Those things and getting used to playing together may take some time, but what will come out on the other side is a very exciting team to see on the floor."

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