Stony Brook’s Tyrell Sturdivant had not seen any America East players other than his teammates since the basketball season ended, but he was willing to make a bold proclamation about former Brentwood High School star Mike Almonacy.
“The jump from his freshman year to his sophomore year is going to be huge,” Sturdivant, a senior, said Monday after practice. “He’s probably going to be the most improved player in the conference by far.”
Even if that statement proves hyperbolic, the Seawolves are excited about Almonacy’s progression. A year learning from point guard and former Harborfields star Lucas Woodhouse appears to have prepared him to compete for the vacant starting role.
“We had a practice a couple of weeks ago and he was the best player on the floor,” coach Jeff Boals said. “Now it’s just going to be a consistent matter, you know, can he do it on a daily basis?”
Almonacy, a 6-1 guard, averaged 2.3 points and 1.1 assists in 9.3 minutes per game as a freshman, but he is the only candidate for the starting job with Division I experience. Boals said junior college transfer Jaron Cornish and freshman Jordan McKenzie also will be considered.
“Everyone’s going to have to step their game up,” Boals said. “There’s not going to be one person. I think it’ll be a collective effort.”
But Almonacy hopes to receive the majority of available minutes.
“My role is hopefully a starter because that’s the type of competitor I am,” Almonacy said. “Luke was a fifth-year guy. He was going to get the job. He was more experienced. This year I have more experience under my belt, and it’s just getting in the gym, getting shots up, being more consistent, which I have been lately.”
Boals has noted Almonacy’s work ethic and desire to learn, saying the three-time Newsday All-Long Island first teamer visited the coach’s office multiple times during the season and asked what he could do to learn and play more. He has recently taken the initiative to wake up for 7 a.m. daily shooting sessions, and said he has added 16 pounds of muscle to weigh in at 174 pounds.
“He didn’t play a lot, and to his credit, his attitude was great,” Boals said.
Even in limited action, Almonacy flashed signs of potential.
He shot 7-for-12 from the field for 15 points to go with three assists and three rebounds in 24 minutes of Stony Brook’s blowout loss to Hofstra. In his second college game, he had four points, two assists and zero turnovers in a close loss to Boston College of the ACC.
“He was so poised in his time,” Sturdivant said.
But playing time came inconsistently. Of course, having a senior all-conference point guard in Woodhouse occupying the starting job would have curtailed the minutes for many freshmen. Almonacy at least partially attributed his inconsistency to his mindset.
“I was overthinking what I could do to get better,” he said. “I went away from that, and that’s the good thing about last year. Now I’m back to what I did at Brentwood, getting to the gym every day, once, twice a day, watching film, watching NBA players.”
Stony Brook (18-14, 12-4) surprised the America East in Boals’ first year, finishing second after being picked seventh in the preseason. Woodhouse was the star. He and Kam Mitchell exhausted their eligibility, and Roland Nyama — the team’s third-highest scorer behind Woodhouse and Sturdivant — decided to pursue a professional basketball career.
That leaves room for Almonacy to make an impact as a sophomore.
“That man is in the gym all the time,” senior Bryan Sekunda said. “His game has changed from last year to this year significantly, and I’m excited to see what happens for him.”