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Stony Brook basketball: Time for everyone to talk about us

Forward/guard Akwasi Yeboah made the All-Conference second team

Forward/guard Akwasi Yeboah made the All-Conference second team last season. Credit: Daniel De Mato

The most amazing moment of Stony Brook’s 2017-18 basketball season occurred when the team was not even playing. It actually happened after the Seawolves’ season was over, as they watched UMBC, the team they had recently defeated, take March Madness by storm.

UMBC, representing the America East conference, became the first No. 16 seed ever to upset a No. 1 when it toppled Virginia.

“It was sort of mixed emotions,” Seawolves sophomore forward Elijah Olaniyi, who was the conference’s rookie of the year, said. “One of the announcers said, 'The last time they lost, it was to Stony Brook University.’ I was like, 'Why can’t that be us?’ At the same time, you’re rooting them because that’s the team that came out of our conference. If those guys can do it, we can do it.”

And that is the unofficial motto for Stony Brook this season. Despite having had a 13-19 record, lost five players to graduation and been projected to tie for fourth in the America East preseason poll, everyone involved with the program basically is asking, “Why not us?”

Akwasi Yeboah, a forward/guard who made the all-conference second team, said that seeing UMBC-Virginia was a game-changer. “Kudos to the coach and the players. It was really an exciting game to watch,” he said. “We know we can do it. As long as everyone is on the same page, you play hard, play your game at both ends of the court, the sky is the limit.”

Guard Jaron Cornish, Stony Brook’s only senior, admitted he did not watch UMBC’s upset but added, “Personally, I was kind of happy for those guys. For us, I just feel that last year could have been better than it was.” His belief is that this season can be better because each returnee has worked on improving. Cornish, for instance, spent the summer playing with Kings guard Buddy Hield and other pros on the Bahamas’ national team.

Plus, the Seawolves have four freshmen and two transfers that add an array of talents. There is 6-4 guard Miles Latimer, a mature scorer from Fairfax, Virginia, and 7-foot center Alex Christie from Oakville, Ontario.

“The new guys are good,” Cornish said, adding that he would love to see Stony Brook fans storm the court the way they did three seasons ago, when Jameel Warney led the team to the America East title and the Big Dance.

Yeboah is the only player still around from that season, and he did not play then because he was redshirting. He is on the preseason all-conference first team and is bullish on this new era. “Everyone is relentless right now. We have shot blockers, we have length on defense, we have scorers,” he said. “We have a lot of options coming off the bench now, too, so I’m really confident in our ability to make some noise in this league.”

Coach Jeff Boals begins his third season optimistic about the uptick with which the Seawolves ended 2017-18, including a conference tournament road win against Albany, a longtime nemesis. He knows it is a competitive league, with Vermont favored, Hartford loaded and UMBC an inspiration to the whole bunch. “You always talk about it, but when you see it happen, it gives you belief,” Boals said. “When you start off and have a lot of confidence, anything can happen.”

Olaniyi envisions the country talking about Stony Brook the way it did UMBC. “It just gives everybody on the team perspective,” he said. “It shows us the sky’s the limit. It shows us that we can achieve anything if we put our minds to it.”

Seawolves to Watch

Akwasi Yeboah  6-5  Junior 

After having led Stony Brook with 15.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, he made the final cut on Great Britain’s men’s team in the summer FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament. Playing alongside pros, he said, “Honestly, my basketball IQ improved. That was the biggest thing. This season, I’m trying to be more efficient and that really helped me. I want to bring it back here and share it with my teammates.”

Elijah Olaniyi   6-5  Sophomore

He showed immediate promise with 16 points against Michigan State, which was then ranked No. 2 in the nation, then went on to be named the best first-year player in the America East. “Even with those accolades, I felt I could have helped my team more,” he said. “So, I used the summer to get stronger, get bigger and get more skilled.”

Alex Christie  7-0  Freshman

The developing big man has dropped 30 pounds, become stronger and is “getting better every day,” coach Jeff Boals said. He was on an under-19 AAU national title team and played for the MacDuffie School in Granby, Massachusetts. He is from the Toronto suburb of Oakville, Ontario, home of John Tavares as well as Rangers legends Adam Graves and Vic Hadfield.

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