Before embarking on their Stony Brook basketball careers, senior guards Dave Coley and Anthony Jackson enjoyed a get-to-know-you dinner along with their parents and Seawolves coach Steve Pikiell. The memory of that evening is fresh in Coley's mind four years later.
"Coach Pikiell said, 'I've got two gangsters in the backcourt,' '' Coley recalled. "Me and A.J., when we stepped out of the Cheesecake Factory, said, 'We're going to ride together, bad boys for life.' Those were our exact words. It's been an honor playing with A.J.''
Although the Seawolves had won their first America East regular-season title the previous season, the arrival of Coley and Jackson began the program's transition to a more athletic style. "Absolutely,'' Pikiell said. "I envisioned them as my backcourt. I liked their toughness. We're 49-15 since they've been here in conference play. They're both 1,000-point scorers. They've played in big games, and they're not afraid of those games. They're both graduating. I can't tell you how proud I am.''
Coley and Jackson will lead second-seeded Stony Brook (21-9, 13-3 America East) into its conference tournament opener against Maine (6-22, 4-12) at 6 p.m. Saturday at SEFCU Arena in Albany. The Seawolves reached the championship game in the guards' first two seasons before being upset in the semifinals by host Albany last year.
Despite two conference regular-season titles and two NIT berths, including SBU's first postseason win last year at Massachusetts, the two guards still are seeking the school's first NCAA bid that goes to the tournament winner. "Man, I'm excited,'' Jackson said. "It's the last crack at it. I've been through the ups and the downs, been to the championship game and been knocked out of the semifinals. We know what's at stake and what we're capable of doing.''
Jackson is the Seawolves' second-leading scorer with a 12.9 average and is a 36.2 percent shooter from three-point range. Coley ranks fourth on the team with a 10.8 scoring average, grabs 4.9 rebounds per game and is expected to be named to the America East all-defensive team for the second straight year.
Throw sophomore Carson Puriefoy III (12.7 points) into the mix, and SBU has a formidable three-guard rotation to share the scoring load with all-conference post man Jameel Warney (14.7 points, 7.9 rebounds) and senior forward Eric McAlister (7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds).
Stony Brook has more offensive firepower than in the past but must regain its trademark defensive toughness to challenge top-seeded Vermont. "Coach said it best,'' Jackson said. " 'Men only.' It's all about our defense and who we can stop. We're trying to put the pieces together on the defensive end.''
Approaching the final days of his Stony Brook career, Jackson takes pride in the league championship and NIT banners he and Coley have helped hang up. "Like the song from Drake says: 'Started from the bottom. Now we're here,' '' Jackson said. "Stony Brook has come a long way. Being a part of this university has been everything to me.''
As much as the basketball, Coley appreciates the friendship he and Jackson have developed. "Off the court, the guy has been there for me since day one as a freshman,'' he said. "Words can't explain how I feel to have him a part of my life, forget basketball, just to meet that type of a guy.''
If the Seawolves are going to reach the NCAA Tournament, the toughness and leadership of Coley and Jackson will be a major factor. "To top it off your senior year and get to the NCAA Tournament would be amazing,'' Coley said. "The legacy we would leave behind would be terrific."
"I'm not saying we're going to win it, but you can bet your bottom dollar we're going to compete as hard as we can.''