New Stony Brook men's basketball coach Geno Ford speaks at...

New Stony Brook men's basketball coach Geno Ford speaks at a news conference after he is introduced at Island Federal Arena on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

A laid-back attitude never would have allowed Geno Ford to become Mr. Basketball in Ohio or to finish ahead of LeBron James on the state’s all-time high school scoring list. It was a bold style that enabled Ford to reach the NBA pre-draft camp despite the fact, at 5-6, he was six inches too short for the height chart there.

He is not about to change now that he is the head coach at Stony Brook.

Ford promised an aggressive approach to offense, defense and scheduling as he was formally introduced at a news conference enlivened by the university’s pep band. In succeeding his close friend, former teammate and former boss Jeff Boals, Ford said, “There are zero reasons we can’t compete for a championship immediately.”

His outlook echoed that of athletics director Shawn Heilbron, who promoted Ford from associate to head coach after Boals left recently to coach his (and Ford’s) alma mater, Ohio University. “I want to win right now,” Heilbron said. “Our goal is to be a household name this time of year.”

The Seawolves won a school-record 24 regular-season games and finished second to perennial America East champion Vermont. But they were upset at home by Binghamton in the conference playoffs and then squandered a 25-point lead and lost in overtime to South Florida in the College Basketball Invitational.

“Big picture, it was a great year, but the end of the year gives you that stomach punch that will hopefully make you better,” Ford, 44, said. “We want to be the toughest team in the league. We want to play a physical brand of blue-collar basketball. We’ll play a little bit faster, we will be down the floor, pressing.”

First, he must try to convince Akwasi Yeboah, the team’s best player, to stay. The graduating senior placed his name in the transfer portal. “I’ve talked to him quite a bit. He’s still trying to figure out what his game plan is,” the coach said. “We know he’s a great player. But that being said, we have a lot of great players in our locker room.”

This will be Ford’s third head coaching job. He went 68-37 at Kent State, then 46-86 at Bradley. After he was let go at the latter school, he spent a year as an ESPN analyst but said he wanted to be back on the bench so he signed on as Boals’ assistant in 2016.

“He’s going to let us get up and down [the court]. He was making jokes about taking charges and stuff, but he never played defense in college,”  sophomore guard Elijah Olaniyi said, laughing. "It should be fun playing for him.”

Ford played at Cambridge High for his dad, Gene, who coached for 41 years. The son’s 2,680 career points rank fourth in Ohio history, one place ahead of James. “I think his career has turned out OK,” Ford said. “He has probably gotten over the emotion of me outscoring him.”

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